What was supposed to be a meeting to brief Parliament’s committees on tourism about the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism sector, and the mitigating measures initiated by the Department of Tourism, turned out to be a debate about the “fairness” of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) policy in deciding who will benefit from the Tourism Relief Fund set up by the government to assist businesses that suffered losses as a result of the outbreak of the virus.

The Minister of Tourism, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane and her department appeared before the joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism, and the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Economic Development, Small Business Development, Tourism, Employment and Labour yesterday to brief the committees on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the tourism industry, and the mitigating measures initiated by the department.

The department told the committees that the government has established the Tourism Relief Fund which will provide a once-off capped grant assistance to small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) in the tourism sector to ensure their sustainability during, and after the implementation of the government’s measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa – capped at R50 000 per entity.

This, the department added, will be guided by the Tourism Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Codes of Good Practice approved by the Minister of Trade and Industries in 2015 (in line with the B-BBEE Amendment Act No 46 of 2013), the Tourism Relief Fund is administered in line with the objectives of economic transformation, and the department’s vision to ensure sustainable and inclusive tourism development.

Some members of the committees questioned the use of the B-BBEE policy, and some warning that it had the potential of discriminating deserving enterprises which did not subscribe to the code.

An NCOP delegate, Ms Sonja Boshoff, argued that 26 years down the line since the dawn of democracy “we should not be playing the race card; this virus knows no colour – many of the businesses that don’t qualify because they don’t comply with the B-BBEE policy have got people of colour in their employ – people will lose jobs.”

She was supported by another NCOP delegate, Mr Tim Brauteseth, who warned that unemployment figures are going to rise exponentially as businesses close. “When people get told the reason they lost jobs is because of a policy that the governing party has adopted, you are going to have pandemonium. We just want to have people employed, that is all we are asking for, this is not a racial ideology,” he said.

Ms Lusizo Makhubela-Mashele, who is a member of the Portfolio Committee on Tourism, hit back and defended the B-BBEE policy, arguing that the criteria will avoid “a situation where the previously advantaged put their hands in the limited resources”.

Minister Kubayi-Ngubane also defended the government’s decision to use the B-BBEE policy as one of the requirements for tourism business to qualify for the relief fund that was established to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 in the sector.

“B-BBEE is just one of the criteria and we are not able to change that, our resources are limited we needed to have criteria for selection – if we had more money, we were going to give it to everybody,” she said.

The Minister also challenged members of the committees to read the B-BBEE policy to better understand its good intentions in society. “It seems some members have not processed the policy, please go and read it, the insinuation that black people are good enough just to be employed is so disappointing coming from Members of Parliament,” said Minister Kubayi-Ngubane.

The Chairperson of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, Economic Development, Small Business Development, Tourism, Employment and Labour, Mr Mandla Rayi, said it was unfortunate that the entire meeting ended up being a debate about transformation instead of the impact of Covid-19.

“It is unfortunate that the focus of the meeting was on the issue of transformation instead of the impact of Covid-19, and it is unfortunate that the discussion was just about transformation or against transformation,” he said.

Solidarity Union and Afriforum took the Minister and the Director-General to interdict them from proceeding with the Tourism Relief Fund on the basis that the fund is based on race-based criteria.

On 30 April 2020, the court dismissed the application on the basis that the criteria do not perpetuate an unfair advantage for some other applicants based on race. The committees welcomed the court judgement.

By Sakhile Mokoena
5 May 2020