A thriving SA is not a 'government only' job

2018-06-10 09:47
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You have to be made of stone not to be touched by the piercing questions posed by the “lowly newspaperman” in his piece “We need to stop spitting on our legacy.

I share Mondli Makhanya’s outrage about our country, caused by deteriorating race relations; slow transformation; inequalities; the extent to which our country has become what he termed a “cauldron of resentment and wrath”; and the general lack of leadership. The observations might sound overly pessimistic and upsetting to those who are allergic to the truth.

Makhanya went on to ask what could be done to reset our nation to rediscover its dream of nonracialism and shared growth. What is the responsibility of political, religious and business leadership, and civil society?

It is impossible for one to answer for all the different sectors, but, as a businessman with a fast-growing portfolio of investments in the country, I feel compelled to contribute to the debate.

For starters, we have to acknowledge that the dream of nonracialism doesn’t have to be rediscovered, as Makhanya suggests. It is deeply entrenched in our Constitution. What is required of all of us, including the business community, is to make it a reality. The idea that only government is responsible for implementing constitutional provisions belongs in the dustbin. We are all responsible for the progress – or lack thereof – of our constitutional democracy.

There is a lot that the business community can do instead of waiting for government. South Africa’s history of colonialism and apartheid demands that South African businesses should not behave like those in developed democracies.

It might be perfectly fine for businesses in developed democracies to abide by the laws of the host country, observe corporate ethics, pay taxes and thereafter wash their hands. By normal standards, such compliance would earn a company the status of good corporate citizenship.

But in a country with historical legacies of divisions, which are clearly standing in the way of nonracialism, it is not enough for businesspeople to do the bare minimum and simply tick the boxes. Our role as business beyond compliance with the laws of the country must be twofold.

First, we should take the lead where government lags behind to demonstrate how things should be done. This means holding the hand of government in the interest of developing our country together. Businesses could incorporate government social targets into their own corporate plans, such as building houses, schools and clinics, and running them without expectation of profit.

Business could also get involved in areas where government is doing poorly in service delivery, including fixing existing schools, clinics, power supplies and sanitation, and completing failed human settlement projects.

Companies that own land, including farmers, must share 20% or more of their land with emerging farmers or businesspeople on favourable terms that encourage the beneficiaries to pay for the properties using the proceeds of their new businesses over a long period of time.

The private sector must manufacture more in South Africa. The automotive industry and energy sector could play an important role in this regard, working together with Eskom and Transnet, among other parastatals. The industrial procurement power of state-owned industry is such that, with a well-calculated government and local private sector collaboration, a huge manufacturing industry could spring up and provide thousands of jobs.

This requires a government that is prepared to work with a committed private sector instead of importing manufactured goods in a manner that does nothing to incentivise the development of local manufacturing. In this regard, both business and government need a strong dose of patriotism.

Monitoring and evaluation must not be the exclusive preserve of a government that is clearly too overwhelmed by existing challenges. Business should find mechanisms to monitor, evaluate and publicly report to society on its contribution to meeting government’s development goals.

The second part requires government to act in a way that would condition business to invest in the country. We need stricter customs policies to protect local industries from cheap imports. It might sound great to get cheap imports, but, over time, the question of who will buy the imports if the domestic economy, especially its manufacturing base, is decimated, will arise.

Government must enforce stricter immigration policies to regulate the flow of unskilled labour, regularly adjusting them in line with growth levels of the economy and the extent of unemployment in the country. This should be done in as humane a manner as possible, devoid of xenophobia.

Without a balanced immigration policy, government labour market policies, including the minimum wage targets, would be impossible to implement. The reality is that the level of unemployment is driving competition for jobs to take the form of a race to the bottom wage.

These measures are not enough, but they can go a long way to building an inclusive economy characterised by reindustrialisation, growth, rising income and confidence for all citizens. We can destroy the ugly face of resentment and wrath that threaten to be the defining characteristics of our otherwise beautiful nation.

- Bayoglu is the managing director of Canyon Coal

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