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Ebrahim Patel — a tough but principled negotiator whose word is indeed his trust

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Bobby Godsell is a retired South African businessperson and the former CEO of South African gold mining company Anglo Gold Ashanti, a position he held from 1998 to 2007. He was the Non-Executive Chairperson of Eskom from 2008-2009 and was appointed to the National Planning Commission of South Africa by President Jacob Zuma in 2010.

Throughout his unusually long ministerial career, Ebrahim Patel has been focused on not only growing but also deepening the South African economy, and in using every opportunity available to him to ensure that this is indeed an economy that serves all South Africans.

My first engagement with outgoing Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel was in his role as General Secretary of the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) and as a key Cosatu leader.

An arena of engagement was the Millennium Labour Council, created as a discussion forum for senior business and labour leaders.  Here I found Patel a tough but principled negotiator whose word was indeed his trust.

When Patel moved into government in 2009 in the newly created Economic Development Department, I had engagements with him in my role as Chair of Business Leadership.

An immediate area of engagement was the challenge of the 2008/2009 global financial crisis. A series of mitigating measures were agreed in the framework of Nedlac. Not all were equally successful. However, the engagement itself created a partnership between business and labour to address national challenges.

Two key national economic institutions reported to Patel in his Economic Development Ministry. These were the Competition Authority and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Minister Patel appointed me to the board of the IDC in 2011.

Patel has been an engaged shareholder representative of the IDC throughout my directorship. A development finance institution, particularly one that is self-financing, has to find the difficult balance between risk and reward: development outcomes and industrial sustainability. We have not got every judgment right. The need to achieve both economic growth and economic transformation was always what Minister Patel expected of us. It was also always the ambition of the board to meet his expectations in this regard.

Three particular interventions well illustrate how the goals of financial success and social development can be combined. The first was the response to Covid-19 and the need to develop local producers of critical medical supplies.

The second was the response to the looting in KwaZulu-Natal. The third was the IDC’s response to the extensive flooding of that province the very next year.

On competition, Patel has emphasised public interest issues in regard to changes in corporate ownership. Significant commitments have been made by new foreign entrants to South African markets.

Industry policy gripes

An inevitably controversial dimension of his time as minister has been issues around industrial policy. This concept raises many issues and concerns. The development of industry master plans has never been without its critics.

And as with the dilemmas faced by the IDC, it is unrealistic to expect every element of such a plan to get things right. A strong characteristic of the development (and adjustment) of these master plans has been the very extensive involvement of the private sector.

Read more in Daily Maverick: A contrast of good and ‘sorry’ — how labour and business see Ebrahim Patel’s legacy in government

In most industries, private sector interests are diverse: big versus small; importers versus exporters. Very extensive opportunities have been created by Minister Patel for these diverse and often conflicting interests to be heard and, where possible, accommodated. Perhaps this creates a process of inclusive industrial decision-making, rather than a static plan.

Throughout his unusually long ministerial career, EP has been focused on not only growing but also deepening the South African economy, and in using every opportunity available to him to ensure that this is indeed an economy that serves all South Africans.

I very much hope that the person sitting behind his desk going forward will be driven by the same energy, commitment and vision. Our economy has been well served by Ebrahim Patel as its Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition. DM

Bobby Godsell is a retired South African businessperson and the former CEO of South African gold mining company Anglo Gold Ashanti, a position he held from 1998 to 2007. He was the Non-Executive Chairperson of Eskom from 2008-2009 and was appointed to the National Planning Commission of South Africa by President Jacob Zuma in 2010.

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  • Rael Chai says:

    Patel is obviously one of the better ministers in respect of ethics, knowledge and work ethic. However his ideology has let the country down and resulted in us lagging other countries in a similar position. His focus on public interest has arguably deterred international investment and his delaying the approval of an EV framework has set our motor sector back significantly and could result in the decimation of the sector in the coming years. Its sad that we have to celebrate a minister for being ethical.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      “Patel is obviously one of the better ministers in respect of ethics, knowledge and work ethic”

      That’s not really saying too much! He seems to have been a bit of a useless minister otherwise, as you imply, but the competition once again wasn’t too wonderful.

  • William Kelly says:

    Bobby has finally lost the plot. Clearly he is seeing something other than the raw stats and anyone with open eyes is not.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    For a non-gushing account of the man, read Peter Bruce’s article of 15 February this year styled “SA’s biggest industrial flaw: the Patel availability factor”
    Bruce says “He [Patel] has managed to sink huge sectors of the economy during his umpteen years as minister. SA under President Cyril Ramaphosa has failed on such a broad spectrum of policy — from electricity and now water, to local government, health, mining, logistics and crime — that it is hard to pick out the most damaging. For me, without question, the most spectacular under-achievements have been in trade, industry and competition.”

    • Mark Fine says:

      Yep 😔

    • Mark Fine says:

      I cannot for the life of me understand why Mr Godsell would put out such utter nonsense which is so easily fact checked. I also cannot understand why he felt the need to say anything, let alone that fawning puff piece. But most of all I really cannot understand why DM actually published it? It is nonsensical and the assertions by Godsell are patently false. Maybe Mr Godsell should talk to the long suffering and hard working remaining staff at DTIC and ITAC to find out why nearly all of them celebrated last Friday when Patel was summarily retired? Patel did NOT consult with the people and businesses that would be most affected by his Stalinesque master plans, he rammed his plans through without listening to any public comments – they were just boxes to be checked to preserve a thin veneer of legality. His ego never left a space for introspection or doubt. He was the king who allowed no measurability and accountability, the GOAT in his own mind that thought he knew more than the market. There is no glittering or even balanced obituary for him. True power is choosing not to exercise it. He clearly thought that he had true power, but ultimately he had none. Breathe a sigh of great relief South Africa.

      • Philip Armstrong says:

        Have to say, your description of EP is closer to the one I recall and I think is very clearly reflected in SA’s industrial decline during his tenure.

  • Arved von Oettingen says:

    South Africa is economically bankrupt. Tell me why it is so when an influential person like Bobby Godsell, and many others with equally impressive CV’s, were not able to do anything about it?

  • Sekhohliwe Lamola says:

    The intrinsic character of economic industries and sectors, any given economy, are laden with competing vested interests. The emotionally-charged critique of his ministering of the economy, at least with respect to the sector-specific master plans, department afforded all vested interests a platform to make own case(s), and actively influences the decisions thereof.

    On the issue of him being overly focused on the public interests’ issues at the expense of investments, this negate the distorted socio-economic realities of SA’s economy of which market efficiencies has been inadequate, if not completely failed, to mitigate and redresses market failures as far as public interests’ matters are concerned (e.g. inequalities and economic exclusion etc.,). These are nothing but prolongation of self-centred profit-motive interests at the expense of inclusivity and social justice. And these are disingenuous and deceitful, to put it mildly.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Patel, along with many of the equally useless and parasitic communist ministers etc. in the anc misgovernment is your typical dim-witted party deployed cadre, totally stuck in the past and following failed and miserable communist/centralist policies that never worked anywhere. All he did was protect unionized workers to the detriment of millions of the unemployed and the country in general. Who can ever forget his machinations, along with that other prime idiot, NDZ, during the Covid crisis.

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