Ramphele chides business

2012-04-13 00:00

The business woman and academic was the guest speaker at the Durban Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala dinner.

Her comments come at a time when Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza has been slated by several ANC leaders for his criticism about the country’s political leadership.

Among Khoza’s dectractors is ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, who advised him to stick to business and to leave politics to the politicians.

Ramphele said: “We have just witnessed Reuel Khoza being crucified. Who stood up? Very few voices.”

She told business leaders that it would be “short-sighted not to be materially interested in the public sector’s performance”.

“Any other view would be misguided,” she said. “The private sector has a responsibility to ensure good governance … This not just the right thing to do, this is good for business,” Ramphele said.

She also referred to South Africa’s hopes of becoming a major player in African and global affairs.

This required a level of maturity that had yet to be demonstrated, she said.

Noting the country’s “ambivalent” relationship to the rest of the continent, Ramphele took business to task for not speaking out against “shameful” xenophobia.

Referring to a virulent form of xenophobia, one that targeted fellow Africans, she said: “We do not seem to be fighting Europeans, Asians or Americans …” However, those that “looked like us” were given special brutal treatment.

Ramphele questioned why Africans who lived in the country were being targeted, when “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”.

She also questioned the extent to which the private sector had exercised its corporate citizenship.

During apartheid, it had been government’s compliant partner. It was only at the very end that it had tried to push for reforms, but these were too little too late.

Ramphele asked whether there were any lessons now for business, especially with regard to transformation.

In particular, she was critical of the private sector’s failure to leverage Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment to promote substantive broader economic participation. She questioned why there was a focus on short-term relationships of convenience at the expense of medium- and long-term engagements to transform the sectors businesses operated in.

Ramphele asked why there had been so little change in the institutional cultures of private sector companies operated by black people, compared those run by their white male counterparts.

However, she also made clear that there was hope.

For the country to succeed, there would have to be a willingness to shed the facade of crass materialism and the pursuit of status symbols.

South Africa had the human, natural and mineral resources to be a great country, but had to assume the stewardship of these and “not act like pirates on the high seas with no regard for the common good”.

Ramphele stressed that the country already had a roadmap — namely the Constitution — to complete its unfinished agenda of democratic transformation.

She warned against the “short-termism” that had damaged so much of Africa.

The journey ahead was to move from being subjects who were gullible and subservient, to becoming citizens who held their leaders accountable.“We owe it to our children, but we owe it much more to their children’s children,” she said.

— Witness Reporter.

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