Why ending violent protests should be Ramaphosa's top priority

2018-05-07 07:01
One of the trucks burnt by protesters in Mooi River

One of the trucks burnt by protesters in Mooi River

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You would be hard pressed to find a single person who disagreed with President Cyril Ramaphosa when he announced that he would be sending envoys around the world to attract R1.2 trillion ($100bn) in new investments in the South African economy.

Even those who might not approve of the composition of Ramaphosa’s team will agree that attracting direct foreign investment into a country is almost always a good thing. Not even the most cynical leftist needs to be convinced about the benefits of a balance of trade in favour of a country.

“South Africa is an investment destination with significant unrealised potential,” Ramaphosa said as he unleashed what has been described as a dream team to sell South Africa to international investors.

That said, the South African government would be foolhardy to ignore the interests of those already invested in this country – local and foreign – even as they pursue the dollar, the euro and the Chinese renminbi. The nature of business is such that foreign buyers into the local market will always seek the opinion, if not the partnership, of those who understand the local market and dynamics better.

South Africa is increasingly proving that violent action by those who have grievances against the state or their private sector employers make the country appear unsafe as an investment destination.

Depending on who you talk to, South African corporates are said to be sitting on cash piles they could be investing in the economy. While some call this an investment strike, the flip side of the debate is that commerce thrives on social stability and predictability.

No amount of emotional and political blackmailing can make those who have cash invest it in an economy where they are not sure if they will get returns or that the state will protect their investments when under unlawful siege.

The recent events on the N3 highway in Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal, in which at least 15 trucks were reportedly set alight and 18 others looted during what is alleged to be a workplace dispute, is an example of how the state continues to fail those who have already invested in our economy.

There have been reports of widespread looting and vandalism during the march by the new kids on the labour block, the Zwelinzima Vavi-led SA Federation of Trade Unions.

Consider, too, that hardly a month ago six mine workers were murdered when a group of men, pretending to be their colleagues, got on to a bus in Burgersfort, Limpopo, and then threw petrol bombs at the passengers before disappearing into the dark of night.

Add to this the almost daily occurrence of unlawful land occupation. Besides the 50-50 possibility that the occupied land could be owned by black people, it is senseless to assume that just because there is no current development at the point of occupation, then there are no plans for such land.

As with land being freely occupied, there is as good a chance that some of the trucks torched on the N3 are owned by black people and black companies.

Let me be categorically clear that I recognise and in no way dispute the constitutionally enshrined right of labour and communities to protest and to go on strike to advance their cause. The struggle for land remains legitimate and a cornerstone of why countless South Africans gave up their lives in the struggle for freedom and democracy.

As with other rights in our Constitution, the right to go on strike is not absolute.

As with all rights, it goes with the duty to be responsible not to ride roughshod over the interests of others in the country, citizens or foreigners.

While recognising that there were arrests in the Burgersfort and the N3 cases, the state does not do enough to communicate that these actions are not just criminal acts but also economic sabotage of the state.

By underplaying the effects of such actions by communities against business, the state plays into the misguided notion that business is the enemy of social progress.

Although it is easy to see why politicians would rather satisfy the short-term benefits of not displeasing the voters, the long-term consequences of their decisions not to protect investments are too dire to contemplate.

No government, however noble its policies and politicians, can survive ever-increasing levels of poverty and shortage of everyday goods. The torching of trucks on the N3 has a direct implication on these two aspects.

The closure of mines because of employee unease over their safety benefits neither the unemployed nor the economy. No investor will plough its money where it is made to feel like it is dealing with scoundrels and it does not feel protected by the state.

Criminal actions (for there can be no other name for torching trucks or throwing petrol bombs at innocent workers on their way to work) by communities and the state’s indifference to deal decisively with these crimes, ultimately hurt the most vulnerable. Capital is highly mobile and deeply unsentimental and local jobs are lost.

Ramaphosa’s drive to find the R1.2 trillion investment could be made a little easier if he were to showcase his government’s appetite to protect the investors we already have and encourage those sitting on cash piles to release the cash into the economy.

There are many ways of doing this, including revisiting the notoriously cumbersome regulatory and policy framework that makes doing business in South Africa unnecessarily difficult.

The other way, proved time and again to be a winner, is to make those who seek to invest in the economy feel wanted and, if necessary, protected from undue and unlawful harm to their investments.

If this does not happen, or be seen to be happening, then the international road shows will be a waste of time, energy and money.

- Maponya is the founder of DayBreak poultry farm, an entrepreneur and a political-economy commentator.

Read more on:    economy

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