The small man in the natty suit waltzes into Boggel’s Place, sits down and opens his briefcase. The patrons at the bar gape: he didn’t return their chorus of helloes.
“I have no time to waste,” he announces to no-one in particular, “I still have to visit Grootdrink before I do all the businesses in Upington.” He pulls out a thick sheaf of documents, several pens and an invoice/receipt book, which he arranges in front of him. “Now, who owns this place?”
“Me,” Boggel says timidly, “er … are you from the tax people?”
“No.” The small man seems irritated at the question. “Not at all. Fill in your name here.” He points at the space at the top of a document. “Print clearly. The clerks have a hard time deciphering the gibberish you people call writing.”
Vetfaan gets up to tower above the newcomer. “Listen, you’re rather abrupt and really not friendly…”
“I’m not paid to be friendly.” He interrupts Vetfaan and waves him away with an impatient hand. “I have a job to do. An important job. Friendliness has nothing to do with it.”
“And what, Most Important Sir, does your work involve? We have the right to know, you know?” Gertruida tries another approach. “If we know, we can help you get out of here faster.”
“I’m a Senior BEE inspector. Here’s my card.”
Gertruida takes the card to read out loud: Lucky Makwena, Senior BEE Inspector, Republic of South Africa,
“Have you any other ID, Mister Makwena? You must realise this is very strange. All the Makwenas I know , are Black – and you are…”
“Don’t say the word, Madam!” This guy has perfected the art of interruption. “In the New South Africa, we prefer the term Pigmentally Challenged. Black is still acceptable, but the W word is not.” Despite his curt attitude, he does seem to soften a little. “Listen, I used to be Lukas Fouche, but I realised my prospects for the future were rather slim. Since I changed my name, I’ve been promoted from assistant at the reception desk to senior inspector. It’s the way things work these days.”
“And now you are a Black Economic Empowerment inspector, to make sure your New Family in the New South Africa gets to have their hands in the till? You surely get a cut, don’t you?” Servaas raises a sarcastic eyebrow.
“Oh no! This is all above board. I do get an expense account, a vehicle, a housing subsidy, ample sick leave, the right to strike, annual leave, compassionate leave, fed-up leave, a thirteenth cheque and a bonus. There’s absolutely no necessity for any underhand dealings.”
“Okay, so you do BEE inspection. Whoohoo! What, exactly do you do?”
“Well, ahem.” For the first time the small man seems a bit nervous. Men in these parts can become very physical… “It works like this: Every business in the country must register for BEE Compliance. To make sure we wipe out the inequalities of the past, see? That means an inspector – like me – must inspect every business in every town, to certify compliance with the BEE requirements. Depending on what I find, I then issue a certificate. Bronze means you fail. Silver means you have to improve. Businesses with an adequate BEE strategy, gets Gold. And then there is Platinum…”
Gertruida – who knows everything – can only stare at the man. The things the government comes up with! “What about Platinum?”
“That’s the ultimate certificate, Madam. It implies a business which is solely Black-owned, with at least 50% women on the board, employing physically handicapped people and has at least one White gardener. Such a certificate makes future inspections unnecessary. Very few companies manage that of course, they need too many BEE points.”
“And who determines these points? I suppose the BEE inspector?” Vetfaan is starting to see a glimmer of light.
“Er…yes. That’s me. I do.” He glances over at Boggel, who is still filling in the form. “Yes,” he says – pointing at a column on the document. “That’s where you declare your shareholders. And, of course, their race. That’s how I determine your BEE points. Hurry, now, I’m behind schedule.”
Boggel is really worried now. “Shareholders? You mean people who have bought in to the business? I suppose that’s all of us here – except you, of course. But…I’m not sure about their race? I mean, how do I know Vetfaan doesn’t have a Zulu as a great-grandfather? Or Kleinpiet – look at his curly hair? How can you tell?”
“Oh that’s easy. We use the pencil test. Just like in the old days, see? If I stick a pencil into your hair and it falls out, you’re White. If not, you’re eligible for BEE points. Simple, really.”
A stunned silence follows the remark. Servaas is the first to recover.
“But I’m bald…without a test, you must give me the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise you’re discriminating. Boggel’s hair is so short; you won’t even be able to stick a match in there. And Kleinpiet is obviously Black – just look at those curls.”
“Yes, and Boggel does have a hunchback. He’s the CEO, as well.” Precilla runs a hand through her hair. “I washed my hair with that silky shampoo this morning, which disqualifies me from being tested.”
Sersant Dreyer, who just walked in, holds up a hand. “This is a load of bull. If anything you say approaches something near the truth, you are enforcing Apartheid all over again. The superiority of one race over the others. I thought we were way past that.”
“I’m only doing my job, Sir.” He wipes a bead of sweat from his brow. “But … you can buy BEE points, of course. It saves the government the trouble of fining you later – it works like a plea-bargain, see? It means you feel so guilty about hogging all the business for yourself, that you’re prepared to give money to help others do the right thing.”
“But that’s stupid! Buying BEE points? That money goes to the government – and we know how good they are at managing their finances.” Precilla shakes her head. “How much do those points cost, anyway?”
“Ten Rand a point. A business like this will need … let me see … a hundred points. Yes, that’s it. R1,000 will buy you a Platinum. And you’ll be free of future inspections, remember?”
Waiting for a kettle to boil is much like watching the plume of smoke over a volcano. You know what’ll happen if you are patient enough, but few of us have the time to hang around for the inevitable. Kleinpiet has been watching Sersant Dreyer’s face as it got redder and redder while the little artery next to his left eye throbbed. Vesuvius is about to blow…
“He certainly left in a hurry,” Servaas smiles as he signals for a beer.
“You can’t blame him, Servaas. And you have to admit he got off lightly. I mean, no broken bones or anything. That black eye will heal in no time.” Boggel shakes his head. It was a quite impressive show.
“Yes, when Sersant Dreyer promised him the rest of him would soon match his name, the poor man produced that Platinum certificate in record time. I’ve never seen anybody write that fast.”
Maybe the only one of the patrons, who realised that the BEE inspector was a con-man, was Gertruida. She could have blown his cover the moment he opened his mouth. But then again, sometimes it’s much more fun to allow the rest of the group to sum up the situation.
She says Rolbos is such a quiet place; one must milk the situation to make sure you get as much out of it as possible. It’s just like BEE, she maintains: it may not be fair, nor may it be profitable – but it does look good on paper…