Trick or Treat: rethinking black economic empowerment (review)
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Reviewed by
Jenny Cargill (2010) Trick or Treat: rethinking black economic empowerment. Johannesburg: Jacana Media.

BEE is trying to be something of a miracle maker. How do you transfer large financial assets to those who have no money? We’ve been trying to build a building from the fifth floor.

(Laurie Dippenaar of the FirstRand Group in Cargill 2010:31).

Trick or Treat: Rethinking Black Economic Empowerment is an important contribution to the scholarly literature and provides a unique approach to the understanding of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) in South Africa. The book is about BEE policy; however the author focuses solely on ownership and deliberately avoids other aspects of BEE, such as employment equity, transformation, training etc. The author defines BEE as the ANC government’s ‘grand paint-by-numbers scheme dictating clear form and direction for racial transformation in the business environment’ (Cargill 2010: xi). The book is divided into three parts and consists of eleven chapters. It provides a memorable reading experience as the author guides the reader on an experiential journey (enriched by 15 years in the BEE arena) of BEE from its genesis to the current state of the policy. In addition to this historical account, the book gives recommendations for a more productive policy transformation.

Cargill formulates her arguments with brevity, in easy to follow points within short paragraphs and chapters not longer than 8 to 11 pages each. The main arguments are well articulated and the use of accessible language enhances understanding of the BEE corporate ownership. This is achieved by avoiding the use of quantitative terminology or graphs, tables and charts [End Page 152] to illustrate correlations but rather using a qualitative, case study-based approach. Knowing that BEE is usually an economics term, which could be intimidating, Cargill uses humour to make the subject more approachable than it is perceived to be. Examples of this levity include her reference to BEE as the ‘two-ton pointy piece that was dangled before black South Africans like the low-hanging apple before Eve’ (Cargill 2010:10) and her comparison of the BEE scoring system with the apartheid government’s infamous pencil test (Cargill 2010: 32).

Cargill’s involvement in transformational investment and the advocacy of economic equity through her brainchild company ‘BusinessMap’ illustrates her interest in BEE. In the book, she challenges common perceptions of BEE as a treat for the elite and a trick to the rest of South Africans. Her concern is that the BEE policy has failed to achieve the desired outcomes set by the anti-apartheid liberation movement. For instance, she argues that ‘based on [her] experience as an exile working for the ANC in Zimbabwe and many subsequent years of involvement as a researcher and consultant in empowerment, social policy should incorporate flexibility’ (Cargill 2010: xii).

It is particularly clear after reading the first chapter that Cargill’s ambitious project cannot be compared to recent publications by Balshaw and Goldberg (2005) or Mangcu et al (2007). The former provided a detailed analysis and discussion of BEE score-cards which focused on unpacking the scores, and the latter drew on opinions from BEE trailblazers in politics, economy and management to propose social values that should underpin BEE. Instead, Cargill provides a unique departure by attempting to reach a wider audience including workers, communities, NGOs and rural people. Her use of approachable language is a method to include laypersons (uninvolved in BEE) who would like to understand the policy. She uses her experience as founder of BusinessMap – an investment strategy and advisory company which began as a research and publishing house specializing in transformation within South Africa – and her expertise with regards to the nuances of political and economic spectrum and management philosophy transitions in order to explain the philosophy underpinning BEE and debates around ownership. It would be a mistake to argue that she is insensitive to what others have said about BEE. In fact, she uses the political and business knowledge gained from 15 years of intensive work on BEE transactions, from both interaction with relevant policy makers and the experiences of others to formulate her argument and provide a detailed account of the BEE...