Defend Truth


SA on slippery slide down the slope of misery towards a wasteland


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.

Many people are now left with no choice but to face economic fears without a trust safety net. Distrust breeds polarisation and polarisation worsens fears, where many see deep divisions and don’t think that we will ever get past them.

On the eve of 30 years into democracy, it is apt to remind ourselves of what the longest-serving President of the ANC, Oliver Reginald Tambo opined in Angola, in 1977 when he observed: 

“Comrades, you might think that it is very difficult to wage a liberation struggle. Wait until you are in power. I might be dead by then. At that stage, you will realise that it is actually more difficult to keep the power than to wage a liberation war. People will be expecting a lot of services from you. You will have to satisfy the various demands of the masses of our people. In the process, be prepared to learn from other people’s revolutions. Learn from the enemy also. The enemy is not necessarily doing everything wrongly. You may take his right tactics and use them to your advantage. At the same time, avoid repeating the enemy’s mistakes.” 

How so very prophetic, as all the matrixes are pointing in the wrong directions and thereby proving beyond any shadow of doubt that South Africa is on a slippery slide to the slope of misery and wasteland. 

This country was birthed with so much global goodwill and so many are still heavily invested in our prosperity. And yet this country held so much promise and hope, not just for South Africa but the aspirations of the whole African continent. Hope that it is possible to have, at least one of our own that will puncture the inflated fallacies, disprove the negative perceptions and negate the narrative of yet another failed African country — characterised by internecine strife, wars, famine, drought, greed and coup d’états.

It is now self-evident that we were so eager and desperate to attain our political office that we did not think deeply and profoundly about how we are going to use this office to fundamentally transform the economic system — pretty much like a dog chasing a car — to facilitate the participation of the majority of our people in order for them to simply reach their (not even fullest) potential, reclaim their self-worth and self-respect. Because there is no nobility in being poor. 

As a result, we are the only African country that became free and did not both substantially increase our educational levels and exponentially increase the ownership of the economy by the indigenous people by double digits.

More than five years ago, when the late Dr Jabulane Albert Mabuza handed over the baton of the Business Unity South Africa (Busa) presidency to Dr Sipho Mila Pityana at The Palazzo, Montecasino, he lamented the fact that he was not successful in bringing back the Black Business Council (BBC) into Busa. 

Considering the criticality of a united and single voice of business, this primary objective must not be left to die. It is not sustainable that big business is still largely white and rich whilst black business is still largely small and struggling. No wonder, that 29 years into democracy, poverty still has primarily a black and feminine face. Business, therefore is not South Africa’s second but last chance, especially because in the 20th anniversary of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2023 which focuses on ‘navigating a polarised world’. The survey highlights four forces that lead to polarisation: 

  • Economic anxieties (economic optimism is collapsing around the world, with 24 of 28 countries seeing all-time lows in the number of people who think their families will be better off in five years);
  • Institutional imbalance (business is now the sole institution seen as competent and ethical, government is viewed as unethical and incompetent. Business is under pressure to step into the void left by government);
  • Mass-class divide (people in the top quartile of income live in a different trust reality than those in the bottom quartile, with massive gaps in Thailand, the United States and Saudi Arabia); and
  • The battle for truth (a shared media environment has given way to echo chambers, making it harder to collaboratively solve problems. Media is not trusted, with especially low trust in social media).

Many people are now left with no choice but to face economic fears without a trust safety net. They see the social fabric continuing to weaken, where ideology becomes an identity where few people would help, live or work with the other side. Distrust breeds polarisation and polarisation worsens fears, where many see deep divisions and don’t think that we will ever get past them.

What business can do to garner trust 

First is to concede that none of us has succeeded in eliminating the legacy of the 48 years of institutionalised apartheid (on top of the 98 years of separate development and 370 years of colonialism). 

The economic power patterns have been set for generations to come unless we break this cycle of screaming violence and brutality of poverty — the self-perpetuating, vicious cycle of abject poverty. 

You just have to be born black and the chances are that you are condemned to live in the squalor of Alexander, if you are the lucky one. And you just have to be born white and the chances are that you are destined for the leafy suburbs of Bryanston if you are the unlucky one. The scenario must look different if we are to break the cycle that a poor black mother begets poor black children. 

Second is to accept that, not only did some business benefit from State Capture but that others actively agitated and orchestrated for it, as called out by name in the Zondo Report. 

Third is to stop the enablers of this poverty. Just imagine how far we could be, as a people with great natural endowments if business complied with the laws of this country and actively and proactively supported transformation. Since the 1970s, we embarked on: 

  • the Ford Motor Corporation’s Chairman, Rev Leon Sullivan’s Equal Employment Opportunities (following The Sullivan Principles);
  • Diversity and Inclusion (DEI);
  • Affirmative Action;
  • Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) Act;
  • Codes of Good Practice (CoGP);
  • the 1998 Skills Development (SD) Act and the 1998 Employment Equity (EE) Act; and
  • the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Act 53 of 2003.

All these transformative instruments were and still are intended to establish a legislative framework for the promotion of black economic empowerment, thereby ensuring that this economy is broadly reflective of the demographics and pragmatically and tangibly contributing to nation-building and social cohesion. 

Business must make every effort to pay small and medium enterprises in 30 days, at the latest; implement, not just gender equality and gender pay parity but gender justice; stop fronting and intentionally surrounding themselves with docile, conforming creatures who can’t even say boo to a goose. 

With the powder keg of youth unemployment that threatened to reach 74.6% at its peak, business can’t continue to bring back employees that have reached retirement age simply because of bad planning on their part as the retirement date of every employee is known at the point of employment. Imagine if business were, not only to sign (not the non-racism) the anti-racism pledge but deliver anti-racist outcomes. Especially because equality is not justice. Instead of business continuing to fund political parties commensurate to their representation, imagine if business insisted on only funding parties that prioritise good governance, service delivery, transformation, law and order and safety and security at the heart of ethical leadership. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Stucke says:

    Sir, your bulleted list of interventions has failed to result in the desired outcomes, primarily because it’s using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. And let’s not forget that it’s copied from Malaysia, one of the 4 remaining countries in the world with statutory Apartheid.

    Government, at all 3 levels, plus its >700 SOEs all following the PFMA (or MFMA) represent an enormous economic power. However, the stipulation that ALL entities must have appropriate BBEEE qualifications for the 80/20% or 90/10% tender evaluation process simply leads to Fronting. Some well-connected ANC cadre type gets 25% of the action simply because of the colour of his or her skin. This increases the procurement cost by 25% – 30% for equipment and services bought from overseas. There is nothing “broad-based” about it all.

    Ask yourself why we don’t have Starlink in South Africa, but Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria already do, and another 11 African countries are set to get it this year.?

    Because they don’t demand that Elon Musk gives them 30% of his global company for the privilege of operating in just one country. (30% HDI ownership is required for a spectrum licence.)

    Our arrogance is breathtaking.

    What SHOULD we be doing to change the balance and empower the previously disadvantaged?

    1. Educate everyone. Properly.
    2. Recognise that handcuffing businesses won’t encourage them to employ more people.
    3. Remove a long list of restrictive legislation.
    4. Remove Exchange controls.
    5. Devalue.

  • Ben Harper says:

    The anc have focused solely on taking what was someone else’s instead of creating an environment to encourage the development of new businesses. The anc have built nothing, they have only stolen and destroyed – typical of a terrorist organisation pretending to be a government

  • Steve Broekmann says:

    William Stucke, how do you devalue if there are no exchange controls?

    • Jane Crankshaw says:

      Getting rid of Exchange Controls after getting rid of policies that inhibit investment would automatically see the Rand stabilise and gain value in roe – I suspect he means the Rand would “revalue” by having to pay less Rand for other currencies!

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    There is only one deciding factor in all of this. The ANC. Imagine South Africa with functional and profitable SOEs. Imagine our country with a competent and productive civil service. Think where we could have been if the ANC had allowed business to develop without erecting hurdles every which way. Then also explain to me why is something that has happened everywhere in the world, over and over again for thousands of years, termed as colonialism in Africa and then blamed for everything?

    • Lil Mars says:

      “And you just have to be born white and the chances are that you are destined for the leafy suburbs of Bryanston if you are the unlucky one”. – please justify that statement. Its not only blatantly untrue but also irresponsible and divisive.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    How can the lives of African black people ever improve if they continue to bear children with no thought of how they will feed, house and educate them ? In less than 50 years the population of black Africans in South Africa has more than doubled, with the economy stagnating. China saw the result this would have and did something about it. African countries just carry on regardless and expect developed countries to bale them out.

    • Ben Harper says:

      Not to mention that 70% of Black children in South Africa grow up without a Father – 70%

    • William Stucke says:

      Oh, Puleese. The population growth “problem” is NOT a case “Tell them to stop breeding!”

      I suggest that you look for an excellent video on YouTube entitled: “DON’T PANIC — Hans Rosling showing the facts about population”.

      He is able to clearly show that poor people have lots of kids for two reasons: –
      1. High infant mortality means that more kids need to be born to ensure that enough survive, and
      2. As insurance for their old age.

      Once people escape poverty, their birth rate drops dramatically. So much so that most “developed” countries actually have a negative growth rate.

  • warrick43 says:

    The statement “And you just have to be born white and the chances are that you are destined for the leafy suburbs of Bryanston if you are the unlucky one.” is plainly false. The extent of inequality in the country is undeniable, unacceptable, and needs to be addressed with urgent intent. However, the above statement is not reflective of reality at all. It paints over the fact that most people in SA, across the racial spectrum, are under enormous economic pressure and currently face a less promising future. Currently only a miniscule percentage of people (of all races) are destined to live in “the leafy suburbs of Bryanston”, despite property values having plummeted in Johannesburg in recent years. As a country we need to implement effective policies that eradicate poverty and poor education, grow legal businesses by all, and not just bring hope but deliver a better future for all through a service and people focussed government, deeply rooted good governance, QUALITY education for all, progressive policy that encourages investment and creates long-term meaningful employment, and greater ease to doing business (amongst various other priorities). South Africa can flourish and live in harmony! But self-serving politicians need to be chased into the wilderness (or prison if their actions have determined so) where they belong.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Much like communism has been a wicked curse on the world, so has the anc been in SA. Both destroy, break and steal in the name of the people, leaving a wasteland and bankruptcy, but in reality, it is all a self-serving and rapacious exercise in wholescale theft, misappropriation and looking after their own at the expense of the country. Their interest and only theirs trumps all else. After the initial flutter of liberation in 1994, it has been a downward slide since the mid 2000 – 2010. Not only have the current and late anc betrayed the values and principles of their founding fathers, but they have ignored the warnings as so implicitly set out by Oliver Tambo in 1974. Furthermore, we now identify with and close ranks with the most vile, murderous and despotic nations on earth. Putin, the evil mass-murdering monster, is our paymaster and master no matter how much the duplicitous anc spin it. Our stupid, subservient and blind Cyril the spineless and his hideous anc government have dumped/and or selectively apply human rights, freedom and democracy as and when it suits them. The arrogance, hypocrisy, betrayal and treason is staggering to say the least. There is only one solution – get rid of this putrid anc as this country will never progress and achieve its potential under these criminals and parasites.

  • Mario de Abreu says:

    Considering the long list of credentials this bonang has, I’m very surprised he has written nonsense like this. Makes you wonder if becoming a chancellor was through intellect or by some other nefarious means. Mind you, chancellors nowadays have the same relevance as a supermarket cashier.

  • Bb S says:

    Well written opinion piece. The European South African has always wondered how the South African business landscape would be changed to align to political changes. Key wise and speedy interventions by large companies such as Anglo-American saved the day in the early 1990s…but they could not be expected to last forever, unless the form of government was re-arrested to suit the prevelant business landscape. The delays to this government change has caused a lot of concern and the few recent business and employment wins have proved insignficant when compared to scale of the challenges at hand. This now raises the possibility of a “cross – roads” scenario becoming inevitable, where the final die will have to be cast, where a little is saved or else everyone loses…either ways when the dust settles I predict a dwindled European South African population with very little economic power and almost no political power left.

  • If the statements below are true, why don’t the ANC and the DA in the Western Cape get together for the sole purpose of aiding the poor? They could just leave politics behind for this effort and simply work together without looking for any accolades and without sloganning. Just do it for the RSA people!

    Tyhido further said that the ANC leadership in the region must be aware of the plight of the communities it served.

    The DA is South Africa’s most pro-poor party. We do best at providing those living in poverty with the things they need most, such as jobs, piped water, sanitation, electricity, education, school-feeding programmes, ECD support, healthcare, safety, and financially sustainable government.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    No. If you are truly ‘lucky’ you get to be born the child of a cadre. Then you too can live a lifetime of shame – knowing that you benefitted from Apartheid.

  • R IA says:

    When I started reading your article I thought, ah, someone who knows what he’s talking about. It only took a few paragraphs and I totally lost interest.

  • Jaco Janse van Rensburg says:

    If not responded by Mr Bonang, personally, would DM be so kind to find out if this is the opinion of BUSA or just Mr Bonang.

    Your statements are an affront to every South African who have made choices to improve their own lives and the lives of others despite their circumstances and back-ground.
    How are we, young South Africans, to trust the institution your preside over if you deepen division with your ‘opinion’.

    • Mario de Abreu says:

      Well said Jaco, I really can’t believe that DM would allow divisive tripe like this to be published. I wonder if they would give that demonic halfwit, malema a platform to spew his rubbish from.

    • Mario de Abreu says:

      Bonang, you should down on your knees and give thanks every day that there are still White owned companies out there that, despite the enormous hurdles this corrupt regime places on them, they still manage to put food in the supermarkets where you can go and spend your non profit salary instead of foraging in the bush for your sustenance.

  • James Webster says:

    As usual it’s all the whites’ fault that black people have not built businesses and become billionaires. Perhaps if the author were to examine why black people have not generated the sort of wealth that white people have he would discover that when the Afrikaners took over from the English they did not just carve up English wealth and demand by law that the English give said wealth to them, rather, they built their own conglomerates and because independently wealthy as a result. It is just so much easier to blame the whites than it is to examine why blacks have not succeeded. What’s more, is that to whine about 370 years of colonial rule is disingenuous to say the least. Without 370 years of colonial rule, blacks would not have had reading or writing, modern science, modern engineering and modern medicine to say the least. Additionally these wicked colonial masters also built roads, bridges, railways, national parks and cities, none of which blacks would have had without these colonial masters, and which the ANC ( a black majority party one must point out ) has decimated through it’s incompetence, selfishness and corruption. Perhaps you should consider spending some time analysing exactly why black people have not been as successful as white people rather than ( as usual ) blaming white people for the failures of black society.

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