As the country reflects on the contributions made by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, his bold views on a range of topics have also come into sharp focus. November 2004, at an address at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Tutu questioned Black Economic Empowerment saying it seemed to benefit a small recycled elite.
During his lecture, Bishop Tutu called for action against poverty saying too many South Africans were living in “gruelling demeaning, dehumanising poverty”.
Tutu asked then whether the proposed Basic Income Grant (BIG) was not really a viable way forward, a topic that is still on the table 17 years later.
“We should discuss as a nation whether BIG is not really a viable way forward. We should not be browbeaten by pontificating decrees from on high. We cannot glibly on full stomachs speak about handouts to those who often go to bed hungry. It is cynical in the extreme to speak about handouts when people can become very rich at the stroke of a pen,” said Tutu.
Labour unions are currently calling for a Basic Income Grant of R1500. However, so far the government has extended the R350 social relief distress grant to cushion the effects of the pandemic on the poor and unemployed.
An estimated nine million South Africans currently collect the grant, which the president extended until March 2022.
Since then, there have been many debates around the usefulness and of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), with many saying it does not do what it was meant to do.
“What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority, but a small elite that tends to be recycled? Are we not building up much resentment that we may rue later? It will not do to say people did not complain when whites were enriched. When were the old regime our standards? And remember some of the most influential values spoke about, ‘the people shall share’,” said Tutu.
The Archbishop suggested at that lecture adopting a family with a monthly gift of R100 or R200 or paying the school fees of a poor child, adding that they also need a leg up.
Reflection on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s legacy: