Defend Truth


From our archives: Dear Mr President, business is ready and waiting to be part of getting SA out of this mess. Please call us


Bonang Mohale is chancellor of the University of the Free State, former president of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), professor of practice at the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) in the College of Business and Economics and chairperson of The Bidvest Group, ArcelorMittal and SBV Services. He is a member of the Community of Chairpersons (CoC) of the World Economic Forum and author of two bestselling books, Lift As You Rise and Behold The Turtle. He has been included in Reputation Poll International’s (RPI) 2023 list of the “100 Most Reputable Africans”. He is the recipient of the 2023 ME-Vision Academy’s “Exclusive Recognition in Successful Leadership” award.

Business is a critical partner that must be taken much more seriously, not called names, white-anted or scapegoated. Business wants to continue to be constructive, talk frankly and honestly, be part of the solution, but needs clear direction from a government that is aligned and pragmatic, values meritocracy and honesty, and not just beholden to ideology.


“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it” — George Orwell.

When we have a bold, fearless and determined country, Mr President, everything is possible. A president who is excited about transforming our country and puts the African child at the centre to ensure that the story of Africa is different. It depends on all of us. It will take bold decisions. Let us not allow challenges to distract us and stop our vision, as cogently articulated by our father of democracy, President Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela when he implored us that, “the greatest glory of living, lies not in never falling but rising up every time you fall”.

Just nine years into democracy, I felt absolutely blessed and humbled to be a part of the 127 organisations invited by the then deputy president Thabo M Mbeki, to Skukuza in the Kruger National Park to seriously work on business unity. A few of us were subsequently asked to reconvene a few weeks later at the Mopani Camp of the Kruger National Park to formalise the agreement that was to be known as the “Mopani Memorandum of Understanding”, which gave birth to Business Unity South Africa (Busa) and Ntate Tlhopane Patrice Motsepe was elected the inaugural president.

The Black Management Forum’s (BMF) Baba Bheki Sibiya (Sotobe) became its inaugural managing director with a measly budget of R7-million, to be succeeded later by another BMF member, Baba Jerry Vilakazi. ’Me Futhi Mthoba was the first woman to be the president and ’Me Nomaxabiso Majokweni was the first woman CEO. Sincere gratitude to Tata Dr Sipho Mila Pityana and Martin Kingston, the immediate past president and deputy president respectively for having ably and competently steered the ship at these unusually deadly times. They succeeded Baba Dr Jabulane Albert Mabuza.

Busa and the Black Business Council (BBC) created Business For South Africa (B4SA) as an incredible affirmation, made up of individuals who have volunteered their time, knowledge, skills and capacity to respond quickly to the coronavirus pandemic with agility and to help develop a set of proposals as to where the economy currently is and where it is going — without the usual constraints of, nor undermining, the mandated forum.

Business developed and shared its “Economic Recovery Plan” and made it clear that, as always, it wants to help. Not to rebuild, but repurpose the economy post the pandemic. Business understands that it is manifestly in its own interest to drive for change, address inequality and help deliver inclusive socio-economic growth.

To create jobs in large numbers, the imperative is creating markets of the future because if business doesn’t succeed in this critical mission of helping to deliver the South Africa of Mandela’s dream, the South Africa we have all been praying for, thereby attaining nation-building, social cohesion and social justice, there will be no business in 20 years’ time.

There must be greater use of business’s vast and experienced resources. It is a critical partner and because of its centrality and contribution, it must be taken much more seriously, not called names, white-anted nor scapegoated.

Business wants to continue to be constructive, talk frankly and honestly, be part of the solution, and for that it needs clear direction from government — a Cabinet that is aligned and pragmatic, values meritocracy and honesty, not just beholden to ideology. Business thrives under appropriate conditions, a conducive environment and where there is regulatory certainty and policy stability. Hard decisions need to be made and there are significant levers to be pulled to get the country out of the “sub-investment” grading, accelerate the mass vaccine roll-out, speed up additional vaccination site accreditation, increase investments, catapult economic growth and continue to do well by doing good.

Capital flows to where it is partnered, valued, appreciated and protected. Business laments the fact that this sixth administration continues to put the party before country; has squandered a golden opportunity to further rationalise Cabinet; fails to look beyond the party for demonstrable talent; and is the very first that has not yet engaged business on a bilateral basis and, therefore, is still without a formal and structured business and government forum.

All engagements have been at multilateral fora with social partners. We must — together — build and cement relationships with all social partners and resuscitate the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) with the requisite senior leadership, effectiveness and fluidity as a platform that is fit for purpose. There is a need to review the structure, processes and how we work to, among other factors, avoid duplicating work that has already been done.

In the second half of 2012, our economy was under pressure due to the unabating wave of strikes that engulfed the country. In October 2012, then-president Jacob Zuma convened a high-level meeting of all the social partners, a timely intervention that we, as business, welcomed. The outcome of this high-level engagement was a social compact with a package of urgent interventions aimed at alleviating the pressure on the economy and addressing causal factors for the violent strikes the country was experiencing.

This was a decisive leadership intervention when the country was experiencing violent strikes which did not only have a negative impact on the country’s mining and agricultural sector, but on overall investor sentiment.

Busa has also not only endorsed the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 but is actively engaging with government in an effort to find ways to enable collective implementation of the plan. In August 2012, business and government held a follow-up high-level bilateral meeting. The focus of that engagement was the implementation of the NDP. The meeting reaffirmed the need to move with urgency in implementing the NDP.

To this end, it was agreed that joint technical teams co-chaired by business and government would be established to develop an action plan to work on the collaborative efforts between government and business to improve education and skills development outcomes; a regulatory environment conducive to investment and ease of doing business; a labour relations environment that instils investor confidence and an infrastructure roll-out programme that acknowledges government’s role in rolling out public investment — while also recognising the private sector’s role as a provider of skills, technical and project management capacity as well as funding specific measures to ensure inclusive socioeconomic growth through implementation of transformation legislation and interventions. This will also be achieved by giving the required support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

In the interest of “South Africa Inc”, Busa and the BBC have made great strides in forging a working partnership on various key areas affecting business. Key among these was the memorandum of understanding signed by Busa and BBC to maintain a single business caucus at Nedlac, with the BBC participating in that caucus. In the area of SME supplier and market development, Busa also entered into a cooperation agreement with the BBC and the United Nations Development Programme.

Busa has also had various engagements with the BMF and Nafcoc, the oldest black business organisation, with a view to finding the best model to ensure a unified and inclusive apex business organisation.

Business needs to be a unifying force that continues to assert its voice, clearly, candidly and honestly, where its legitimacy is unquestionable and has consistency — not just superficially rebranded away from an arrogant and tone-deaf “white monopoly capital” perceived as anti-transformation, but to one that is fundamentally and demonstrably seen, felt and experienced as a force for good.

And not to be overly eager to support nor just kowtow to government even before it has pushed for its views in particular, which still defer to a much-weakened, fractious and fractured labour movement that is unsparing in its criticism of business.

The community constituency could be stronger and cohesive. We must graduate critical initiatives like the Job Summit from merely being projects that paper over deep structural fissures in the economy — a Band-Aid at best — to the now-urgent inclusive socioeconomic growth; transform SOEs/SOCs like Eskom into multinationals that are net exporters of integrated energy, not just domestic monopolies, and so on.

As a response to the president’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan (ERRP), business highlighted certain comments to commence substantive engagement:

  • To explore all reasonable alternatives to retrenchments in distressed companies and sectors with the intention of developing a detailed set of guidelines and a code of good practice within which retrenchments are the last resort;
  • Reinforcing an ethical culture including refraining from abuse of dominance behaviour and excessive pricing;
  • Business organisations taking firm and decisive action, together with law enforcement agencies, against private companies and professional service firms in the business community that facilitate collusion and corruption, including State Capture;
  • Civil society and trade unions acting against corruption in their organisations, or against officials and office-bearers who facilitate corruption, including State Capture;
  • Promoting genuine entrepreneurship, innovation and new enterprise creation;
  • Identifying key mining value chains for greater downstream beneficiation and localisation;
  • Jointly develop a new competitive exploration strategy within three months to target 3% of global exploration expenditure;
  • Implementing and promoting norms and standards for biosafety protocols by the tourism industry;
  • Promote full tax compliance, including taking steps against measures such as transfer pricing, base erosion and profit shifting, non-payment of customs duties and tariffs, tax boycotts and tax evasion through offshore arrangements and use of tax havens; and
  • Support the commitments made at the Presidential Investment Conferences and R100-billion industrial financing for enterprise and supplier development (ESD) through the Financial Sector Code.

The three weeks that marked our own “winter of discontent” exposed a number of truly painful truths. It is the classic intersectionality between our wholly unviable society, the fractious privileged elite in the ruling party, rampant criminality, lawlessness, breakdown of services to local communities, below living-standard wages and genuine widespread societal desperation of the poor.

It was a rebellion against State Capture and the stubbornly high levels of inequality. It laid bare the extent of the chasm in the ruling party; it is self-evident that government was taken by surprise; that there was a monumental intelligence failure, that security forces were overwhelmed; that the SAPS is grossly under-resourced, under-trained and ill-prepared; that youth unemployment is the single biggest systemic risk and that — at our most vulnerable — government is incapable of protecting its citizens.

The “treasonists”, arsonists and thieves must be publicly exposed in a court of law and the guilty sent to prison. In the short term, we must urgently rebuild our economy to hardwire the required sustainability. In the medium term, we must recreate the Peace Accord and the Business Trust.

In the long term, we must address the welfare of our people away from the grinding, dehumanising and self-perpetuating vicious cycle of abject poverty to ensure resilience; to salve and bind the long-festering sores as well as deep and septic wounds; to deliver the promised social justice and human rights, especially freedom from hunger; to restore people’s hope so that they can also have a stake in the system that also works for them; and the protection of the status quo and preservation of the democratic project to engender trust that their un/elected leaders genuinely care about their fate.

Because ordinary people who have property to protect don’t ordinarily run around looting, destroying and burning other people’s businesses and government property. People who have their own livelihoods to protect don’t destroy the livelihoods of others. DM


Footnote: Busa is a unified, primary and fully representative confederation of South African business organisations, contributing to a vibrant, transforming and growing South African economy. Busa was created in October 2003 through the merger of the BBC, representing black business interests and Business South Africa, that was representative of established business organisations. The comprehensive Memorandum of Incorporation (MoI) was signed on the occasion of its 10th anniversary, 21 November 2013 by representatives (Dr Jabulani Albert Mabuza, Cassim Coovadia, Thero Micarios, Lesego Setiloane, Christo Owen van der Rheede and Motse Maxwell Mfuleni) of the five categories of membership.

The merger created the first truly unified organisation for business in South Africa. The vision was to unite organised business and build upon the instrumental role played by certain business in the peaceful transition to democracy — being more coherent, with a network of business leadership and largely an advocacy organisation that is best placed to drive the country’s economic trajectory, exercise influence in its primary role of overarching macroeconomics and front-loading issues that affect the whole economy, not just sectoral interests, to be more organically connected.

We represent the interests of over 55 chambers of commerce and industry, professional associations, corporate associations and unisectoral organisations. We adopt a uniform approach towards influencing macroeconomic policy locally and ensure that business is heard when government formulates policy. Busa is the formally recognised representative of business at Nedlac; represents business on the Presidential Business Working Group and is represented on the CEO Initiative Steering Committee. Internationally, Busa represents business at, inter alia, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Organisation of Employers (IOE), Pan-African Employers’ Confederation and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Employers Group as well as playing a role in the B20. Busa is committed to building an enabling environment to achieve a vibrant, diverse and globally competitive economy that harnesses the full economic and human potential of South Africa. The objectives of growth, transformation and employment are mutually reinforcing. 

Busa structures its work through two policy committees, namely the Economic & Trade Policy Committee and the Social Policy Committee. All deliberations on policy are considered through the policy committees. This includes new and changing areas of policy and legislation. Both policy committees have a specific focus on transformation and small business. The policy committees are the engine rooms. This is where we keep members updated on latest developments; consolidate the input on various policy development processes; identify where further work is required; mandate and finalise positions and nominate and coordinate the participation of member representatives on various structures and processes.

Each of the policy committees has subcommittees. The Economic & Trade Policy has four subcommittees, namely, energy; tax; transport, trade and logistics and environment. The Social Policy Committee has a subcommittee on education and training.

Busa has 10 strategic objectives, namely, a transformed, inclusive economy that creates sustainable employment; a thriving small and medium enterprise (SME); a predictable, certain and enabling regulatory environment; affordable, reliable and sustainable energy and infrastructure (technology, water and road transportation) to meet current and future needs; productive and stable labour market; progressive tax system that supports inclusive growth objectives; trade regime and international cooperation that enables South African business; education and skills development for current and future work; affordable comprehensive social security framework for future generations and an ethical and accountable business for cooperation and influence globally.


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  • Miles Japhet says:

    Bonang is on the button here. The ANC, if it wishes to survive, needs to pivot away from its bankrupt ideology and adopt proven pragmatic policies where growing our country’s wealth is front and foremost in its objectives. This requires a non racial view of South Africa, where successful, hard working business people are actively partnered with to give hope to the poor.
    Our organisation stands ready to play it’s part along with our fellow Insurance industry players.

  • Caroline de Braganza says:

    I’m holding on to hope that sanity and unity will prevail.

  • Antonette Rowland says:

    Is there a place for the faith community in promoting ethics and accountability amongst its members and the community in general? Would business lend its support to this?

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Yes, the faith community and civil society organisations certainly have a critical role to play, especially when government and politics are so completely dysfunctional.

  • Stephen T says:

    While I agree with much of what is set out here, I think the approach is back-to-front. It is government that is in need of direction from business, not the other way around. The ruling party is hamstrung by its own internal squabbles, so cut them out of the equation. If Busa wants a free market economy based on meritocracy, go ahead and make it happen. Leave this has-been ANC and its labour union cronies to tie their own nooses. Time to forge ahead without them.

    • Charles Parr says:

      Agreed, it’s time to cut the utterly useless ANC out of the equation.

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Absolutely, it is time that business and other civil society organisations who want to address the critical issues facing the economy and the country generally just start implementing initiatives themselves regardless of the government, the government is such an obstacle to progress and sitting around and waiting for them to provide any direction is absolutely hopeless, meanwhile the situation continues to deteriorate rapidly. Solutions need to be found in spite of, and not be delayed waiting for, the government! Get the solutions out there now and build support among business and the public, and let us get sorting these crises that the country is facing out!

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Wonderful! What a pity that it has to be addressed to a government that neither knows how to govern, nor cares about anything other than staying in power and slaying their opponents, within and outside of the party. Arguably we would be better off without a government than we are with this example of mediocre ‘cadres’. If business could run SA we would be better served, pre-supposing honesty in that community!

  • Sandra Goldberg says:

    Professor Mohale thank you for this article- if only business, as a united force for good, would act on your message if “no more kowtowing to government”! And please stress that cadre deployment is a concept really inimical to good governance and a safe environment which we all want. Merit , discipline and ethical behaviour is what all right thinking SouthAfricans desire and I do think that business together with civic and faith based organizations,is the correct way forward!We can only hope that the ANC is receptive to such combined forces.

  • P G Muller says:

    Prof Mohale …Mr Pres should have you on speed dial ….but I fear your phone is unlikely to ring!
    Wasting words on those that will not hear ……………

  • Steve Rogers says:

    And the progress since then?

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