Constructing Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) as a Radically Transformative Policy in South Africa: Government v Corporate Discourse

Author: Metji Makgoba (University of Limpopo, South Africa)
Speaker: Metji Makgoba
Topic: Discourse Analysis
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


This paper investigates how the South African government and mining corporations have appropriated anti-apartheid and anti-colonial discourses to legitimise Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) as a radically transformative policy without being transformative in conception, discourse, or action. There is a presumption in academic circles that BEE is a panacea for radically transforming historical, structural, and unequal power relations in South Africa. This article rejects this presumption by demonstrating how the conception and discourse of BEE have ignored these power relations and their underlying political economic structures of apartheid capitalism even before the policy was implemented or enforced by the government. Using [Young, Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Oxford: Oxford University Press] critique of the distributive paradigm of justice, and employing [Fairclough, Norman. 1992. Discourse and Social Change. Cambridge: Polity Press] three-dimensional model of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), this article argues that the government and mining corporations present BEE as a new measure of radical transformation while simultaneously reducing this transformation to the micro concept of economic participation, focusing on numbers, representation, and targets rather than on historical, structural, and unequal power relations. As a result, the government and these corporations have reinforced and maintained these power relations while employing the discourse of BEE to masquerade as advancing their transformation. The crux is that BEE encourages Black people to operate within economically and institutionally oppressive structures which amplify the conditions they purport to be challenging.

Keywords: discourse, ANC government, mining corporations, neoliberalism, apartheid