Let’s get back to business
On Monday, the Guptas announced that they were selling their comedic media assets to one of their favourite puppets. Quite appropriate, given how hilarious The New Age and ANN7 are. Who better to run them than a puppet.
This was to be followed by an announcement two days later that they were offloading their mining assets to a shoemaker. Not sure about that one, but there must be some logic.
On Tuesday, Stats SA told us a horrific story about the extent of poverty. The part that grabbed the headlines and sent chills down our spines was the fact that 55% of South Africans now live in poverty, up from 53.2% six years ago. In plain numbers, that’s 30.4 million people living below the poverty line, 13 million of them children. As many commentators and ordinary people pointed out this week, the fact that poverty is on the increase in this developmental state of ours clearly shows we are losing this war very badly.
Stats SA warned that this meant the country would not be able to meet many of the National Development Plan targets and Millennium Development Goals by the 2030 deadline.
“Although South Africa was making progress between 2006 and 2011 with reducing poverty, since 2011, we have seen poverty levels increase. This means that the country has lost ground in the war on poverty and will have to reduce poverty at a faster rate than previously planned,” said the nation’s statistical service.
Quite predictably, the survey found that the “main victims” of poverty were black, female, young, rural and uneducated”. This means that, despite improvement in the Gini coefficient, this is so marginal and slow that “by 2030, South Africa would remain one of the most unequal countries in the world”.
“Too many people are still denied opportunities”
So, it was with this stark, depressing thought that this lowly newspaperman headed to Alexandra township on Wednesday for the launch of the Contract with South Africa and the Business Integrity Pledge launched by the leaders of the country’s corporate sector.
Drawn up by Business Leadership SA (BLSA) and signed by the country’s most powerful business leaders, who head the biggest companies, the two documents spell out a commitment from business in resolving the country’s challenges. They consist of bold commitments which – if carried through and embraced by other social partners – have the potential of unjamming our stuck conversation around the economy, inequality, transformation and corruption.
Top of the list is job creation, which is the biggest answer to the picture painted by Stats SA. The BLSA also commits to “encourage and empower senior black leadership”, invest in black-run businesses and “to grow a new generation of black business leaders and entrepreneurs”.
Further pledges are to build a highly skilled workforce, both at plant and managerial level and to help finance and mentor new businesses.
Last, but not least, the BLSA beats the anti-corruption drum, saying “corruption and state capture are the cancers that are eating away at our society”.
“They must be rooted out, crushed and punished where we find them in the public or private sector.”
In the Business Integrity Pledge, the captains of industry vow to “actively combat corrupt practices wherever we encounter them”, including in their own midst, to protect whistle-blowers and provide information, and not to act anti-competitively.
Speaking at the launch, the BLSA’s chief executive officer, Bonang Mohale, described corruption and cronyism as “a moral stain on our country”, which, if left unattended, will see South African adults “leave our children with a worse country than the one we live in”.
Saying that the fabric of South Africa’s constitutional democracy had “chronologically, systematically and methodologically” been eroded over the past decade, Mohale stated that “we live in dangerous times” and business could not stand by idly while the country was ravaged.
Reversing corruption, he argued, was a major prerequisite for getting the country back on a growth path.
“We cannot create conditions for inclusive growth in the presence of rampant corruption,” he charged.
Mohale said business recognised that “too many people are still denied opportunities”, that corporate South Africa was still too white, that some executives were paid too much and that some elements had still not bought into transformation. This had to change and the Contract with South Africa was a major step towards this.
The BLSA launch follows the release by Business Unity SA a few months ago of a document titled Business Approach to Black Economic Transformation for Inclusive Growth. That document wholeheartedly endorsed the urgency of transformation and outlined a road map to “the desired end-state of a deracialised economy that seeks to broaden and deepen economic benefit and participation”.
So, here you have two powerful organisations representing big capital taking a leadership role in charting a path towards an inclusive future and building a South Africa that rejects malfeasance. You have captains of industry committing en masse to playing a leading role in rescuing the country and creating a prosperous and balanced society.
A government and a governing party that was serious about radical economic transformation would seize this opportunity and seriously engage with business and hold them to their commitments. It would make sure that these were not just pretty words.
By Mondli Makhanya