Skip to main content

Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Black Business Council Gala Dinner, Radisson Blu, Kempton Park

Programme Director,
President of the Black Business Council, Mr. Elias Monage,
CEO of the Black Business Council, Mr. Kganki Matabane,
National Officer bearers of the BBC,
Representatives of the business community,
The generous sponsors of this evening’s dinner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening. It is a pleasure to be here, and it is indeed always an honour to be invited to the annual gala dinner of the BBC. 

Our relationship as government with the Black Business Council has deepened since the sixth administration took office in 2019, and I think I can say with confidence that it is also stronger.

I would like to begin by paying tribute to a business legend, Dr. Sam Motsuenyane, who passed away yesterday.

He was a pioneer and a visionary. His founding and stewardship of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce marked a pivotal point in the trajectory of economic transformation in this country.

Dr. Motsuenyane’s impact was a lasting one and on behalf of the government and people of South Africa I offer my condolences to the family, to his peers and to the black business community at large.

In my inauguration speech five years ago I called on all South Africans to join us as we set our collective sights high, on a future of growth and economic opportunity. 

I further called on all of society to mobilise their respective resources and capabilities to make this a reality. 

The Black Business Council, the men and women in this room tonight, and your membership across the country, did not hesitate to answer this call.

You have rallied both with us and around us as government, in what has been a turbulent period marked by a global pandemic, civil unrest, natural disaster, crises in energy and logistics, and slow economic growth that has been further exacerbated by all the aforementioned challenges. 

We also know that as the sixth administration took office, we were also confronted with the task of rebuilding capacity in key state institutions practically from the ground up, following the devastating years of state capture. 

What has been immensely encouraging is that the door of engagement has always remained open, and that has government and the BBC our engagements have been productive, and have always taken place in a positive spirit of partnership.

I would like to thank the leadership of the BBC for the support you have given us as the sixth administration. I believe we can continue to count on this support for the incoming administration following the national elections in late May.

This year we celebrate 30 years of democracy, and it is a time that we reflect on the progress we have made in building a South Africa of equality, human rights, freedom and mutual prosperity. 

Of course it is also a time for sober reflection on the substantial challenges we face and how we are going to overcome them. 

High unemployment, the energy crisis, challenges in logistics, infrastructure and other sectors, crime and corruption, and the effects of poverty and underdevelopment on economic growth are just some of the problems we are contending with. 

Even as we do so, and continue to engage on various platforms, I think tonight is an opportunity to reflect on just how much the economic landscape has changed over the past thirty years with respect to transformation. 

In my State of the Nation address earlier this year I told the story of Tintswalo, a metaphor of democracy’s child. 

It was as story of how the transformative, pro-poor policies and programmes introduced under democracy have changed the lives of the millions born into freedom.

A story that has not being fully told or explored, and we should think of how we do this both as government and as the BBC – is of how the democratic state working in partnership with black business, have pushed the frontiers of economic transformation in this country.

This year marks twenty years since the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act was enacted into law. 

The BBBEE Act is the singular most significant, far-reaching piece of legislation introduced under democracy to bring about the transformation of the South African economy, and its impact has been considerable.

This law, alongside affirmative action legislation and supportive initiatives like the Black Industrialists Programme, worker shareholder schemes, and funding for black entrepreneurs, have enabled fundamental transformation in the economy over the past thirty years.

During apartheid the prospects for black business, for black entrepreneurs, and for black South Africans in general were bleak.

The economic landscape was extremely unequal. A small number of white-owned firms exerted significant control over the major sectors, and new entrants faced barriers to competition, further entrenching the concentration of economic power. 

As black South Africans we were systematically excluded from owning businesses or operating them outside of townships and in the so-called homelands. 

Access to capital or the ability to accumulate capital was constrained. 

Laws around land ownership made it impossible for those black businesses who had managed to eke out an existence in the system to expand, grow or become sustainable. 

This led to highly concentrated markets in key economic sectors like chemicals, steel, finance and retail, which were dominated by a small minority of white-owned firms.

Afrikaner capitalism, so called Volkskapitalisme, skewed the economy even further as the state mobilised the savings of Afrikaner farmers to create a capital base that they used to further entrench white minority business interests.  

With respect to the workplace, job reservation and lack of meaningful educational opportunity closed the door to black professionals in nearly every sector.

When South Africa's first democratically-elected government took office, it inherited an economy in crisis. 

Over the preceding decade, GDP growth had stagnated at a mere 1,2 per cent. The early 1990’s saw our country emerge from a deep four-year depression, marked by high public and foreign debt.

It is undeniable, particularly given the state of the apartheid economy in 1994, coupled with the scale of the market and workplace distortions we inherited that we are light years away when it comes to economic transformation.

Our economy, despite its present challenges, has opened the doors of opportunity for millions of  black South Africans and for black business. 

I like to think of this new frontier we have created together as a galaxy

The transformative economic policies of democracy have birthed stars and leading lights, constellations of interconnected and interdependent black-owned businesses, and indeed, supernovas as well. 

Many are in this room tonight. 

Men and women who are established and respected senior business leaders. CEO’s of black-owned companies both small and large. Heads of listed companies that have grown from humble beginnings.

Many of us will remember the news stories from the early days of democracy. Being a black person at the helm of one’s own business, being a black CEO, a black or female chairperson of a board. This was the headline. This was how decades of professional personal experience was condensed, because it was a rarity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

That this is no longer something prioritised as being of news value, in itself speaks volumes about the progress we have made on our collective journey.

In 1994, total employment stood at 8.9 million, with black South Africans predominantly in wage employment while skilled workers, managers, and executives in both public and private sectors were overwhelmingly white.

Since 1994, the number of South Africans in employment has increased to 16.7 million in 2023, reflecting a doubling of opportunities and livelihoods for our people.

While unemployment remains a challenge, the proportion of black South Africans in executive management positions has increased almost five-fold between 1996 and 2016.

The Black Economic Empowerment Commission reports that black ownership of firms in South Africa has grown from negligible levels in 1994 to approximately 30 per cent of reporting firms today, with black women's ownership averaging around 14 per cent. 

The Black Industrialists Programme that we initiated in 2016 had an initial target of 100 black industrialists to be supported and developed.

Today, in 2024, we have over 1,700 black-owned and black-managed firms across all sectors of the economy that are benefitting from the programme.

Last month we hosted the Second Black Industrialist and Exporters Conference, which brought together more than 1 200 black-owned businesses. 

The Conference was an opportunity to reflect on progress made, on challenges encountered and on steps to be taken to boost black industrialist development in the next 5 years. 
These firms are active in the food and agriculture sectors, in clothing and furniture, in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, high-tech, steel and the creative sectors, amongst others. 

These firms have a combined R330 billion annual turnover, measured in their operations and that of their core suppliers. They support over 282,000 direct and indirect jobs. 

These black industrialists are investing in fixed capital stock, in factories, machinery and equipment, mobilising working capital and bringing the spirit of entrepreneurship to their businesses. 

Many are exporting to the continent, to the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  

The Africa Continental Free Trade Area or AfCFTA holds immense potential in this regard. 

We will be setting ourselves an ambitious target for expanding trade with our fellow African countries over the next five years leveraging the AfCFTA. 

This strategic initiative will form the cornerstone of our efforts to deepen economic integration and maximize the benefits of regional trade.

As government we plan to roll out a program aimed at assisting companies to take advantage of the AfCFTA. 

This will include identifying critical markets, products, and value chains where targeted support can make a transformative impact. 

By adopting a nuanced and adaptive strategy, we aim to foster sustainable partnerships and unlock new avenues for trade and investment within Africa.

At the Black Industrialists Conference, we secured R261 billion in pledges to buy from more than 230 black-owned firms over a period from 1 to 5 years through private sector procuring entities in retail, automotive, metal fabrication, food and agriculture, ICT, the financial sector and others.  

What we are also pleased to report that of this, R11,8 billion in pledges were made by 18 black industrialists to procure goods and services from 55 black industrialists in turn.

We are also seeing more black industrialists making pledges at the annual South Africa Investment Conference. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is all progress. This is transformation. This is change. We will not be swayed to shy away from it or to diminish it. The landscape for black business has fundamentally transformed since 1994. 

We know the picture is not all rosy. Much more remains to be done if the SA economy is to enter a phase of transformation, dynamic and inclusive growth.

Resolving the crises in the energy sector, in logistics and in critical infrastructure is key to the viability of businesses. The scourge of unemployment threatens to roll-back our hard won gains under democracy.

I want to call on black business and on black industrialists in particular to be part of the effort to rebuild our economy.

Without investment there can be no jobs, and without job creation on a large scale, our prospects for achieving full economic transformation are diminished.

By strategically investing in the economy we are laying the groundwork for prosperity, connectivity, and opportunity across our nation. 

Green industrialisation is an area of opportunity for black business. 

As government we are prioritising the production of electric vehicles, green hydrogen production, and the processing of critical minerals essential for the battery value chain. 

In February 2024, we announced a comprehensive set of incentives designed to spur investment in these critical sectors, which will be rolled out over a ten-year period. These incentives will stimulate innovation, attract private capital, and accelerate the adoption of green technologies, ensuring a just and equitable transition towards a sustainable future.

By embracing green industrialization and promoting a just transition, we are not only safeguarding our environment but also fostering economic resilience and creating new opportunities for our workforce. 

As part of our commitment to fostering economic inclusion and levelling the playing field, the Competition Commission will continue to embark on market inquiries across the economy.  

These inquiries are aimed at addressing high levels of economic concentration and encouraging greater participation by small businesses. By identifying barriers to entry and promoting fair competition, we will create opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute to our economy.

These initiatives underscore our dedication to promoting economic empowerment, fostering entrepreneurship, and creating a more inclusive and equitable economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over the past thirty years South Africa has undergone deep, fundamental and irreversible change. It has been tangible and its dividends are there for all to see. 

Black business has been a valued partner along this journey and I have no doubt will continue to be so for time to come.

We salute you for your solidarity, your positive, cooperative spirit with us as government, and above all for your patriotism. This year’s celebration of democracy is a celebration of you all, and of your achievements.

As we look to the future with optimism, let us continue to work together on this journey towards a fully transformed economy where no one is left behind. 

I thank you.

 Union Building