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Opinionista

Business unity a catalyst for SA stability and growth in an election year in the ‘most unequal society on Earth’

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Ryan Ravens is CEO of Accelerate Cape Town (ACT), a business leadership organisation representing top-tier corporate business in the Cape Town area. Established in 2006, ACT provides a forum for corporate business to connect and catalyse action to position Cape Town for economic success.

Corporate business has a critical role to play in building investor confidence, attracting foreign investment and convincing our peers that South Africa is a worthwhile investment.

It’s an election year and as the big day draws closer, our media headlines and collective attention inevitably become saturated with opinions about what might, could, or should happen to take our country forward. 

This election will mark 30 years since South Africa became a democracy, following the 1994 elections, which marked the end of apartheid and the beginning of a new era of democracy.

With our newfound democracy came the promise of equality, justice, economic development, and prosperity for all. Sadly, after 30 years of democratic freedom, we still have a very long walk to realise much of that promise.

‘Most unequal society on Earth’

We are now the most unequal society on Earth with the highest Gini coefficient (statistical measure of economic inequality) in the world. Justice has become a far-fetched fantasy as rampant corruption among the political elite has resulted in our judiciary being battered by wave after wave of attack, orchestrated by senior political leaders intent on escaping accountability for their nefarious acts.

Within this context, as South Africa also continues to grapple with the highest unemployment rate in the world, economic development and prosperity for all remains a distant dream for most.

South Africa desperately needs a government with a sense of crisis and urgency — leaders committed to the greater good rather than their own selfish interests. Leaders who are able to inspire confidence, attract investors, and leverage the full potential of the private sector.

Business has notably rallied around the Cyril Ramaphosa administration, following the Jacob Zuma government that was particularly anti-business with its “white monopoly capital” narrative. The results, however, have been considerably underwhelming.

The current administration has done brilliantly well at selling the story of working hand-in-hand with big business to get South Africa back on track — commissions were appointed, committees and workgroups formed, all overlaid with considerable PR and feelgood puff pieces.

No meaningfully addressing of malfeasance

Looking back over the past six years of this presidency, it seems increasingly as if it was all done simply to appease investors and big business, without any real intention to meaningfully address the malfeasance that defines our public sector.

Now, at this critical inflection point ahead of the elections, business needs to reevaluate how we will discharge the responsibility to contribute towards accelerated social upliftment. There has arguably never been a more important time for greater business unity — as we not only brace for the inevitable political upheaval from our own elections, but also try to navigate an increasingly uncertain global geopolitical space.

It starts with us

Of course, it starts with us — business leaders should lead by example, demonstrating ethical leadership, transparency and accountability, to inspire confidence and trust. Corporate business, as the anchor tenants of our national economy, should aim to prioritise collaboration over competition in order to address our common challenges and drive collective growth.

There is immense power in the collective voice of business. The strength and influence of unified business leadership in advocating for economic stability and policy reforms cannot be underestimated. We need to be willing to wield that collective voice without fear or favour, irrespective of who comes to power following the elections.

Stop kowtowing

Organised business should stop kowtowing to any particular political faction and instead get back to speaking truth to power. Business leaders should be wary of repeatedly signing public pledges of support while neglecting to call out the obvious corruption and incompetence destroying our country.

As our political domain undergoes its cyclical change, we should pursue stronger business unity, aligning respective interests and priorities to support initiatives that promote socioeconomic development and political stability. Far greater impact can be achieved if corporate social responsibility and nation-building initiatives are better aligned and collaboratively supported.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Business Unity SA needs to rethink its critical embracing of the unconstitutional Idac Bill

Corporate business, perhaps more so than government, has a critical role to play in building investor confidence, attracting foreign investment, and showcasing a favourable business environment. We have the collective ability to convince our peers that South Africa is a worthwhile investment, supported by a unified and committed business community.

Greater uncertainty ahead

One thing that is certain over the coming months is far greater uncertainty — with respect to everything from our own political sphere, geopolitical tensions and the US election, to climate change, basic service delivery (water and power) and social stability in South Africa.

Through sharing insights and learnings freely among a unified business community, we are able to better navigate this uncertainty, collectively mitigate risks, and seize opportunities for growth.

Thirty years into our democracy, we can no longer wait for our national government to save us from themselves — we need to acknowledge the significance of business unity and its role in shaping the economic and political landscape.

Collectively as business we should accept our responsibility in shaping South Africa’s economic trajectory and make our voices heard as we continue to speak truth to power. DM

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  • Robert Pegg says:

    How can businesses in SA thrive with antiquated banking system, incompetent government officials and a Revenue Service that is only interested in grabbing what they can from a small number of us ? If it wasn’t for the tax income from mining companies, this country would be another banana republic.
    The statement that SA has the highest unemployment rate in the world is totally incorrect. You just have to look at Zimbabwe, the DRC and many other African countries to see unemployment is over 50%. We have a large casual labour workforce, are they classed as unemployed ?
    Unless a future government does away with BEE, Local Content regulations and a dozen other regulations that restric businesses, nothing will change no matter how hard businesses try.

  • Terrence B says:

    Imagine basing a statement like “Most Unequal Society on Earth” on one highly controversial and incredibly inaccurate statistic. I mean, North Korea, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia (to name a few) aren’t even included in the World Bank rankings. No serious economist (besides Pikkety, which a stretch) takes the Gini coefficient seriously (or as a standalone statistic to base a statement like that).

    How income is measured and the data collected heavily skews the measurement. For instance, social grants and other state benefits are specifically excluded in the measurements which heavily skews the coefficient. If you include it (13 million plus beneficiaries), our coefficient looks significantly different.

    Gini Coefficient is not an accurate measurement of inequality by any stretch. It becomes even more inaccurate depending on the sample measured. For instance, Singapore ranks a higher coefficient than Kazakhstan. Which country would you bet on that has a higher likelihood to lift you out of poverty?

    Also, what does perfectly equal look like and has it ever been achieved any where in history? For some reason this measurement has picked up in popularity and has been used by every ignoramus to advocate for some half-cooked market intervention and policy.

    “Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    Nice piece Ryan, and of course you are correct. You will recall one of our Presidents, 5 year old, 100 day promises. That being a pact between Govt, Labour & Business to ‘work together, to grow together.
    That, that didn’t happen is because the ANC is wedded to the tripartite alliance and for pacts / partnerships to work there has to be mutual trust and equality between the parties.
    Yesterday you would have heard Cosatu imploring the ANC to choose a leftist coalition partner to ensure that the ‘gains of the working class are not reversed. Such statements beg the obvious response ‘and the growing lines of unemployed have gained what?’
    The problem, as I see it, is not one where Business does not want to engage but one where it’s painfully slow and time consuming to do so. Business figured a long time ago that the ANC Govt isn’t going to do much – or change much – until they run out of money – and only when they run out of money will the relationship dynamic change

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