South Africa is in the eye of a slow-building economic storm: junk status, political upheaval, civil unrest, spiralling unemployment, state capture and the fallout from Covid-19. There is no better time to assess the impact of one of the biggest economic experiments in Africa that began a quarter of a century ago: black economic empowerment, or BEE, the legislation-backed effort to transfer wealth to black people and to facilitate their broader participation in the economy to redress the inequalities created by apartheid.
In The BEE Billionaires, Chris Bishop gets up close and personal with some of the biggest names in BEE: Sandile Zungu, Gaby Magomola, Sipho Nkosi, Richard Maponya, the Kunene Brothers, Gibson ‘Mr Gautrain’ Thula, Fred Robertson, Ipeleng Mkhari, Tshepo Mahloele, Tim Tebeila, Linda Mabhena-Olagunju and even President Cyril Ramaphosa. These are the people who made it, who carry the flag for black empowerment. By examining their struggles and the impact of BEE on their successes, Bishop seeks to uncover the ways in which BEE as an upliftment scheme has both succeeded and failed. Because, while BEE has made billionaires of some, it has ruined others and remains one of the most controversial policies born in those first heady days of democracy. There is also a debate over how long the BEE codes should remain.
By examining those individuals who have been either shunned or burnt by BEE, as well as various deal facilitators and other key insiders – including the president of South Africa – Bishop hopes to answer one very complex question: Has BEE achieved what it was set up to do, or, in the long term, will it prove more of a hindrance than a help?