Mbeki talks big business

2014-03-30 14:01

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Former president Thabo Mbeki recently discovered a speech by Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani that got him thinking about the role of the private sector and its relationship with the government. Carien du Plessis sits down with the elder statesman to find out more.

In a speech you gave at Wiphold’s 20th ­anniversary on March 22, you quoted Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani extensively around what he said last year about the responsibility of those with capital towards society. Why is that?

It was a speech given by a CEO of one of our major ­corporations, therefore obviously what he says I think ­everybody should really look at seriously.

He was actually raising issues in a much more fundamental sense, not just relating to what we do about specific and immediate issues, but the question about the whole attitude of the private ­sector ­towards national challenges.

The normal statement in the corporate sector would be that those who have stewardship of capital have a ­responsibility to their shareholders.

But he was saying beyond [taking care of the bottom line, paying taxes, having successful negotiations with trade ­unions] those who have stewardship of capital, they have a job to do to support society.

One of the problems South Africa is facing is that the ­government and the private sector are talking past each ­other, where they should be engaging each other properly to ­address national challenges.

So I think this was our weakness in our own approach to this [when we were in government], that we didn’t go to the fundamentals in the way that Cutifani has expressed them.

There seems to be suspicion and mistrust between ­government and business. Who must make the first mind-set shift?

Both government and business really need to say: ‘Look, we’ve got important national challenges.’

One of those ­challenges is that for many years now the economy has not been growing at the rate that we need.

What do we do about that, both government and corporations?

There’s been a challenge in this country for a long time of a skills shortage and all sorts of measures have been taken to address it.

But I’m sure the problem still persists.

What do we do about that?

I was hoping that after the Cutifani speech, which I only came across now – and I hope other people saw it when it was made – that there would at least have been an effort among both business and the government to say: ‘Here are important challenges being put before us. What’s our ­response to that?’

Do you think we need an economic Codesa?

That is a legitimate view.

You could go that route, provided that we are going to have some practical outcome, not just processes where you can say: ‘Well, we have talked.’

The levels of poverty in the country are still too high after these 20 years of democracy.

In the end, if you don’t [do something about it] and some fire starts burning because of that, it’s going to affect everybody.

In your speech, you said women should not simply be lumped with the disadvantaged. What do you think of the department of women, children and people with disabilities?

We resisted the idea of setting up a department of women’s affairs because we are saying that the matter of women’s emancipation must cut across through all sections and ­departments.

That issue has got to be placed in the office of the president because the president is then able to intervene in all departments of government.

Once you set up a department of women’s affairs, it ­becomes a department equal to other ministers and can’t intervene with the minister of trade and industry.

But the head of government can say: ‘Trade and industry, health, education, this is our programme on this women’s matter and that is what we need to do.’

I would not be surprised that however competent the minister might be now, that he or she would run into that problem.

There are people with equally strong arguments that you need this ministry as a point of focus and so on, but I’m explaining what our own reasoning was.

You spoke about people who use liberation for personal gain. Do you think President Jacob Zuma handled the Public Protector’s Nkandla report correctly?

I think it was an important statement made by President Zuma’s office, which said that he would study the report and obviously reflect on what he sees and then would take the necessary action out of that.

You’ve got a very big report, indeed. It has to be studied carefully, certainly by the person who sits in the office of the president.

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