By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The huge Black Economic Empowerment deal that was announced by Old Mutual last week has been met with mixed reaction, but on balance it appears to enjoy a largely positive reception. There are many who question Old Mutual’s Johannes !Gawaxab’s claim that the BEE transaction is broad-based, and avoids the pitfall of enriching a few already wealthy individuals. Beneficiaries in the new deal, among others, are Hosea Angula, Dr Tjama Tjivikua, Anne Gebhardt, Patrick Kauta, Linea Shaetonodhi, Nora Appolus, Ellen Musielela, Hilda Basson-Namundjebo, Sandra Tjitendero, Lucia Hamutenya, Michaela Hubschle and others. People were quick to point out that many of the individuals mentioned in the deal are hardly short of a crust of bread to put between their teeth. Also raised in the issue of political connectivity. There was in fact a distinct smell of money around some of the prospective Old Mutual shareholders present when the BEE announcement was made. This sense was heightened by the warm glow of satisfaction emanating from people comfortable in the knowledge that in a few years they will join the select circle of the seriously rich. The perception among some members of the public seems to be that although the beneficiaries are not yet mega-rich, they are certainly part of the affluent black upper-middle class. This is the same black upper-middle class that some feel has already benefited handsomely from affirmative action since independence. People have been heard quietly muttering that perhaps some new faces should have been allowed a look through the door. Most are however careful not to speak out too loudly lest they be accused of the dreaded sin of jealousy. Others are prepared to give Old Mutual the benefit of the doubt, saying at least some effort was made to be inclusive, unlike many previous BEE deals. Chief Executive of the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), Tarah Shaanika, goes further than this, wholeheartedly endorsing the transaction. Shaanika says the Old Mutual deal is a welcome move that needs to be emulated by other companies. The BEE deal, according to Shaanika, is the most broad-based seen in Namibia as it includes a large number of beneficiaries, and not just a small group of them. “What is even more attractive is Old Mutual’s emphasis on education capacity building. True empowerment is only possible through skills development and capacity building of previously disadvantaged Namibians,” he said. President of Swanu, Rihupisa Kandando unlike Shaanika has serious reservations about the way Old Mutual and other companies have approached BEE. Kandando argues that if BEE is to be implemented the benefits must trickle down to the poor Namibian masses. Echoing what seems to be a commonly held view, he says the problem with BEE is that you keep hearing the same names that have been heard in previous deals. “They represent the same elite as found in other deals even though the names may not necessarily be the same. These are the same people who serve on five or six boards of directors, as though there are no other people who can do the job,” he complained. Swanu, he adds, feels that people who are included in BEE deals should be conscious of their moral and social obligation to their community. The party also strongly feels that blackness should not be the only criteria for empowerment, and that empowerment needs to be extended to the poor. “Otherwise you are not really addressing the needs and aspirations of those at the bottom of the ladder in society. We prefer the concept of class economic empowerment, or CEE,” he said. Samson Ndeikwila of the Forum for the Future says he appreciates the initiative taken by Old Mutual towards Black Economic Empowerment. He was particularly pleased that Old Mutual employees have been brought in as shareholders, because this would give them a sense of ownership. “This will give them an incentive, as they will feel they are working for something they are part of. It will also give them a feeling of security for the future,” he felt. Ndeikwila said he was disturbed by the idea of giving shares to individuals because of their political connections, which had been the trend in the past. He was happy about the emphasis Old Mutual placed on participation by women in their BEE programme. “If you want resources to be properly utilised, it’s better to put the resources in the hands of women. This will benefit more people,” he remarked. Three prominent Namibian churches were also included in the Old Mutual BEE transaction, but Ndeikwila sounded a note of caution to these churches. He is concerned that when churches become too rich, they become institutions where corruption and stagnation can easily set in. “I don’t mean churches should be poor, but often the richer they become, the less spiritual they also become,” he warned. Pastor of Inner-City Lutheran Congregation Reverend Ngeno Nakamhela says his church participated in recent meetings about introducing a Basic Income Grant in Namibia. These meetings reflected on how to eliminate poverty, and when he hears of BEE he wonders how far it will have an effect on reducing poverty. “I welcome the idea of BEE if the focus is going to be on poverty reduction. I would however fear if gestures such as Old Mutual’s contribute to widening the gap between the haves and have-nots,” he said. With regard to his own church’s inclusion in the Old Mutual deal he hopes the church leadership will make sure vulnerable groups also feel they have benefited. “I congratulate all those listed as beneficiaries by Old Mutual, and hope they will not close their eyes to the real poverty the majority of our people are living in,” Nakamhela said.
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