Defend Truth


World’s most critical issues are aired at Davos — and SA has a chance to state its case


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.

As the World Economic Forum gets under way in Davos, South Africa can drive the message that it is open for business despite the challenges and will address all the self-created, self-inflicted harm that has plunged the country into an existential crisis.

Just a day before the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the commencement of talks in Davos, Switzerland on a “Ten-Point Peace Plan” that he has been promoting for an end to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. Because, if history is anything to go by, “good diplomacy and strategic alliances can secure the future, even where there are deep ideological rifts”.

This 15-19 January weeklong meeting has seen more than 2,800 leaders — 60 heads of state, 40 foreign ministers, more than 350 government officials, central bank governors and public servants; alongside 1,600 business leaders, academics, members of civil society, youth organisations and foundations from 120 countries — who are convening for the 54th annual WEF meeting at the scenic Alpine village of Davos.

This meeting takes place “against the most complicated geopolitical and geo-economic backdrop of the last few decades”, according to WEF organisers, with elections taking place in more than 50 countries in 2024 — among them the US, India and 15 African countries, including South Africa. This represents a quarter of the world’s eight billion people.

Understandably, much hangs on the WEF’s need to have open and constructive conversations about how to drastically improve its legitimacy, make substantial progress on its stated mission of “improving the state of the world”, drive public-private cooperation at the highest level, accelerate the transformation of enterprises towards more sustainable and responsible business models, scale best practices in corporate sustainability, rein in rampant corporate greed, navigate the intricacies of the environmental landscape and provide insights through advancements in society, technology, science and industry, with a special emphasis on exploring the opportunities enabled by new technologies and their implications on decision-making and global partnership that benefit the global community.

These global challenges underscore the necessity of international collaboration in tackling humanitarian, climate, social and economic challenges, encapsulated by this year’s theme, “Rebuilding Trust” — “in our future by moving beyond crisis management, looking at the root causes of the present problems and building together a more promising future” — to contribute to progress on four tracks:

  • Achieving security and cooperation in a fractured world;
  • Creating growth and jobs for a new era;
  • Artificial intelligence as a driving force for the economy and society; and
  • A long-term strategy for climate, nature and energy.

Resilience for future generations

With the world still reeling from the pandemic and economic woes — challenges in supply chains and inflation — of the past three years and now confronted with wars in many parts of the world, global leaders are seeking long-lasting solutions to, among others, an increasingly isolated Russia, assertive China, India’s soaring economic power, the rise of global trade tensions, technology wars, growing inequality, mis/disinformation, extreme weather events, climate change, escalating geopolitical tensions, evolving economic policies, sustainability, protectionism, nationalist policies, societal polarisation, migration, the rise of populism and rapid technological advancements.

The meeting will address the most critical issues today and for the future, with the WEF having forged partnerships with numerous international organisations and companies, focusing this year on projects related to creating resilience for future generations, reimagining globalisation, the unintended adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence technologies, guiding the green transition and addressing power gaps and economic inclusivity.

Because malaria, tuberculosis, Aids, and Covid-19 are still with us, we must, on the one hand, increase intergenerational leadership and decision-making models that can promote mutual learning and shore up strong commitment to long-term transformation and, on the other hand, “fighting the climate and biodiversity crises and shifting towards regenerative economies”, one topic participants at the forum will discuss this week

Both will require a fundamental break with the past in our beliefs, mental models and the timescales guiding businesses, organisations, civil society, academic and policy institutions.

The European Chief Sustainability Officers, Club of Rome, Changemakers from the Global Shapers Community, Young Global Leaders, the Schwab Foundation for Entrepreneurship, key experts and civil society leaders will also contribute to building new ideas and partnerships to improve outcomes for people, economies and the planet.  

A chance for SA

South Africa is well represented as we drive the message that we are open for business despite the current challenges and will address all the self-created, self-inflicted harm that has plunged the country into the current existential crisis.

The elections this year give us an opportunity to vote for a political party or individual that is committed to transformation, ethical leadership, good governance, service delivery, law and order, and safety and security. To show that we have demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that we are now better prepared to put our shoulders to the wheel and together create a sustainable country in the short term while building a more resilient South Africa in the long term.

A South Africa that is globally competitive; can better leverage the natural resources window of opportunity; expand rural and urban economies and markets through public-private partnerships; willing and able to focus on productivity and growth; invest in growing our own timber and talent; grow more and larger black businesses and create more African champions; fully embrace digital across all areas of the economy; lead in implementing the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement; step up regional tourism, collaboration, flows and investment and aggressively drive green business opportunities with pace, scale, size, scope and urgency.

More critically, have we put in place the type of leadership required?

Leadership that not only promises to uphold, protect and respect the supremacy of the Constitution but demonstrates this in deeds; puts the interests of the country above party; is pro-labour, pro-business and pro-poor; that is serious about reshaping the country; leans into volatility; actively seeks new and more opportunities; demonstrates a heightened sense of urgency; uses hindsight to gain insights that will better inform foresight to commitment to execution; is ambidextrous; a proactive challenger and sparring partner with the ability to assume a defensive posture.

This being my 21st WEF in Davos, I have had the privilege of witnessing how a small town became a powerhouse for economic transformation and how the dream of one man, Professor Klaus Schwab, a German-born engineer and economist, who wanted participants to be able to escape from the everyday hustle and bustle of life, has succeeded in placing Davos, firmly at the centre of the world.

The small town in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland, is now renowned far beyond its geographical size. Hosting the WEF in Davos brings with it a complex interplay of economic and environmental impacts that significantly affect the local community.

The global exposure Davos receives from hosting such a prestigious event enhances its profile as a destination, potentially attracting more tourists and investors year-round. Economically, the event has “the flywheel phenomenon” as the influx of visitors boosts revenue for tourism and hospitality — hotels, restaurants, downstream businesses, security, chauffeurs, cleaners, farmers, clothing and souvenirs — the possibilities are truly endless and mind-blowing. DM


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  • Ben Harper says:

    SA has stated its case clearly – it does not want investment or trade from anyone other than dictators, thieves and genocidal maniacs

  • Louise Louise says:

    “Rebuilding trust”? Where the WEF is concerned, it is not going to happen. The WEF is a failed organisation because it’s real agenda has been well-publicised.

  • James Webster says:

    It’s amazing how an academic such as this one uses all his skills to carefully skirt around the real issues such as the corruption and immorality of the majority and its representatives in government.

  • Ritey roo roo says:

    Who are these people and who elected them?

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    Self created and self inflicted. By whom? The corrupt ANC have been doing this for thirty years. Yes we need foreign investment. How other will the pigs at the trough be fed. Stop trying to sell South Africa to the world and get the useless ANC to first sort out the local theft, fraud and corruption in their one ranks. After all the ill-gotten wealth that has been siphoned off the ANC can go into well deserved retirement and the rest of us can attempt to salvage what’s left.

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