Finance: AfriForum buys Vodacom empowerment shares for poor “white”
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AfriForum, the civil rights initiative established by Solidarity, this morning succeeded in submitting an application at a post office in Gauteng to buy some of Vodacom’s YeboYethu black empowerment shares on behalf of an empoverished young “white” resident of Bethlehem settlement. AfriForum will monitor whether the shares will indeed be allocated and will take legal action if the shares are not allocated. According to the prospectus of Vodacom, all applicants will be informed within 30 days after 11 September 2008 whether their applications for shares had been successful.
Bethlehem received media attention recently when Mr Jacob Zuma stated during a visit to this settlement to the impoverished “whites” living there that poverty knows no colour. The Bethlehem resident on behalf of whom AfriForum would like to buy the shares, is a minor boy, who up to a week ago still lived in a wooded area in the vicinity of Irene and who owns no property at all.
According to Kallie Kriel, CEO of AfriForum, his organisation would like to use this step amongst other things to establish whether the YeboYethu shares scheme genuinely is aimed at eradicating poverty and inequalities in the country, or whether the eradication of inequalities merely is a smoke-screen to justify racial discrimination. If the application for shares by an impoverished “white” were to be rejected, it would, in Kriel’s opinion, amount to unfair racial discrimination which could be challenged in court. Kriel stated that poor “whites” are an integral part of those who find themselves in an unequal position in the country and therefore should not be excluded from empowerment schemes.
In terms of the YeboYethu scheme, “black” investors get a total exposure of R15 625 in Vodacom SA for every R2 500 invested. This is realized by giving discount on the shares, financed from future dividends. According to YeboYethu’s rules, “black” people refers to Africans, Indians, brown and Chinese individuals. Given the lack of legislation pertaining to racial classification and objective measures for classification, Kriel emphasised that no legal framework exists in terms of which Vodacom can claim that empoverished residents of Bethlehem are not Africans.
Kriel indicated that the residents of Bethlehem with “pale” complexions regard themselves to be Africans, as they feel themselves to be deeply committed to the continent. In light of the fact that racial classification legislation had already been revoked 15 years ago, the residents, according to Kriel, call on President Thabo Mbeki’s definition of an African, as contained in his “I am an African” speech. On 8 May 1996, President Mbeki said at the adoption of the country's Constitution in Parliament in this speech: "The constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our Africanness shall be defined by our race, colour, gender or historical origins."
Kriel emphasised that AfriForum is in favour of inequalities and poverty being eradicated, but that the YeboYethu offer will contribute little in this regard, and will rather increase inequalities in our society. He pointed out that Vodacom’s racial requirements will for example make it possible for a “black” millionaire to purchase YeboYethu shares, while the impoverished, unemployed “white” residents of Bethlehem settlement and similar areas will be excluded from the opportunity, and most impoverished “blacks” will still not have money to buy shares. The new “black” elite will therefore in Kriel’s opinion be the only group to benefit from Vodacom’s racial prerequisites, at the cost of the poor of all communities.
AfriForum of Gauteng suggests that income level rather than race is a better criterion in terms of which to eradicate inequalities and poverty. If the YeboYethu shares options were to be offered to all who, for example, have an income of less than R1 000 per month, it would in Kriel’s opinion achieve much more in the process of eradicating inequalities. The majority of people who would then benefit from the scheme, would probably still be “black”, but they would be benefitting because of their level of need, and not their race, while poor “whites” would not be excluded either.
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