QUESTION IS: to bee or not to bee?

Hardly a week after its launch in Bloemfontein the Congress of the People is coming under fire for one of its proposed policies.

Hardly a week after its launch in Bloemfontein the Congress of the People is coming under fire for one of its proposed policies.

On Tuesday Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota said his party was committed to the policy of affirmative action.

But he went on to say that affirmative action would not be implemented on the basis of race.

Simply put, Lekota is saying his party seeks to address the concerns of white people opposed to affirmative action and black economic empowerment.

It is clear from this that Cope is trying to project itself as a new South African party that seeks to rid itself of the country's racial history.

The essence of this mission is captured in Cope's draft policy document, which says:

"We acknowledge that the past has shaped the character of our nation today and draw inspiration from the proud history of the liberation struggle. We are, however, not held hostage to the past."

The appointment of Lynda Odendaal - a white woman with no political experience - as the party's second deputy president articulates this statement.

In the same document Cope says there is a need to revisit some of the elements of the country's economic policies, "notably the BEE and give more meaningful effect to its broad-based component as well as to examine its social costs with respect to racial harmony".

Black Lawyers Association president Andiswa Ndoni has described Lekota's statement as a lack of understanding of the rationale behind employment equity and broad-based economic empowerment policies.

"Cope seems determined to reverse the few gains made by black people," Ndoni said.

"This is short-sighted and out of step with the aspirations of black people and the equality provisions in the Constitution."

The challenge for Cope is to address the concerns of those opposed to affirmative action and black economic empowerment without undermining the reality that black people, including professionals, continue to be disadvantaged in the corporate world and the economy in general.

We continue, in this country, to have a situation where 80 percent of the wealth remains in the hands of only 20 percent of the population - the majority of which is white.

It is common knowledge that there has been and continues to be problems in terms of how black economic empowerment is being implemented in this country. It benefits only a politically connected few, while the masses continue living under trying circumstances.

This is why there are calls for a more broad-based empowerment.

It is the kind of empowerment that will see the inclusion of the majority of South Africans who, by virtue of their skin colour, continue to be excluded from the mainstream economy.

The other reality is that affirmative action or employment equity is not based on race only but also on gender and disability.

This means that it accommodates white females as well as white males who are disabled.

What this means is that Cope cannot just play the race card when it comes to discrediting affirmative action because it has also benefited whites.

It also means that while attacks on affirmative action and black economic empowerment as racist mechanisms could in the short-term project Cope as the party for "a new South Africa", objectively looked at the policy remains one of the most effective means of redressing the inequalities that black people continue to suffer due to the history of apartheid.

Any policy that seeks to disregard these realities will eventually become the new party's Achilles heel.

This especially since the majority of South Africans - who are black - continue to find themselves being held hostage by a past they were subjected to against their will.