South Africa’s black majority directly owns less than 10 per cent of the Johannesburg stock market, a study showed on Thursday, evidence that Africa’s top economy remains firmly in white hands nearly two decades after the end of apartheid.
Despite the ruling African National Congress’s drive for “black economic empowerment,” under which firms are set black ownership and other targets, millions of blacks remain trapped in poverty and excluded from the formal economy.
Coming less than two weeks before the start of an ANC leadership election conference, the study will increase pressure on ANC President Jacob Zuma – widely criticized for creating a politically connected, self-serving black corporate elite – for more “black empowerment.”
In June, Mr. Zuma called for a “dramatic shift” to redress the wealth balance in favour of blacks, who account for 80 per cent of South Africa’s 52 million people.
“If you look at the demographics of this country, what would be normal is that no less than 50 per cent of the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange) should be owned by black people,” ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said.
Mr. Zuma, 70, who ousted former President Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader in a tumultuous leadership vote in 2007, looks set to keep the ruling movement’s top post later this month because he has widespread support from party branches across the country.
While Nelson Mandela’s 100-year-old liberation movement has brought housing, electricity and running water to millions since it came to power in 1994, economic disparity is still stark.
Inequality fuelled labour unrest this year, unleashing a wave of crippling strikes that began in the mining industry and spread for months, unsettling investors.
Frustrated by the slow pace of change, the ANC’s Youth League has called for the wholesale nationalization of mines and banks and the seizure of white-owned farms – a policy that triggered economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe in 2000.
The League’s former leader, Julius Malema, was expelled from the party this year but he remains popular among the young and poor, and the JSE figures add weight to his calls for radical redistribution of land and state seizure of the mines.
“If you’re not making changes there then all you have is this cosmetic facade on the JSE – and it’s not even an impressive cosmetic facade,” League spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni-Khawe said.
The JSE-commissioned study showed that black investors directly hold 9 per cent of the bourse’s top 100 companies, which represent nearly 90 per cent of its $834-billion (U.S.) market capitalization.
Black ownership rises to 21 per cent when pension funds and other indirect holdings are taken into account, and a heady 33 per cent when foreign holdings of Africa’s biggest stock market are stripped out.
But some experts question the ability to track black ownership through pension funds, which ultimately represent thousands of people, or exchange traded funds.
“I have a problem with what comes after the 9 per cent,” said Duma Gqubule, a consultant who specializes in black ownership issues. “In South Africa we’d call it manga manga accounting – financial witchcraft.”
Trevor Chandler, the consultant who ran the study, said the research was in line with government guidelines for calculating black ownership that recommend stripping out the value of foreign holdings.
Despite the ANC’s misgivings, a black business lobby group said the incremental progress made had hammered home the need to redress three centuries of white economic dominance.
“There’s reasonable progress in the level of ownership by black people, notwithstanding the fact that the economy has not grown significantly over the last year,” Sandile Zungu, head of the Black Business Council, told Talk Radio 702.
“What that really means is that there’s beginning to be an attitude among South Africans that we have to transform the economy.”