Johann Rupert: Honesty in government under attack

Cape Town - Freedom of speech, transparency and honesty in government and farmers - who put food on the table -  are under attack in South Africa, billionaire businessman Johann Rupert argued on Tuesday.

Speaking at a conference honouring former President FW de Klerk, Rupert said the private sector and civil society need to work with government in solving its economic problems.

"We seem to be veering towards the rest of the uncivilised world preferring rule by (a) strong man over the rule of law. You either have constitutionalism ... the rule of law ... or a (Russian President Vladimir) Putin-like situation (in South Africa)."

Rupert, in a rapid-fire analysis of the poor state of the country, said: "People are trying to run a private sector (in South Africa) when the public sector is not being run properly."

He said one of the roots of the problem was that the majority of people suffer from poor education. Apartheid has done its damage. "Look at the (poor) talent pool for the (ruling) ANC."

Like the old National Party which had drawn almost exclusively from the small pool of Afrikaans-speaking whites, the ANC has a small pool to run government, from municipal government through to the top national government.

"If they continue to think (they can) run a country as complex as this (one) without the help of the civil society and the private sector... then we are in trouble. We (business) have put out our hands in friendship, but there needs to be a bit more trust in one another."

Farmers in South Africa are "already beleagured". They suffer land insecurity, volatile prices and potential violence on their farms - yet this group competes with the world's subsidised agricultural community.

"I am a farmer. It is not for sissies, trust me. They (the farmers) get murdered. There is no security. They are prone to be violently attacked and murdered, land tenure is under threat. We have to compete against subsidised systems."

Instead of being under threat,  "We need the farming sector to be safe, happy and profitable."

"The farmers are willing to share," he said.

Discussions with government on an agricultural dispensation which would keep farmers and the governing party on board had appeared to have led to a solution, but the government went on another course.

While Rupert did not mention it, government is now seeking a cap on land holdings of 12 000 hectares for farmers. Rupert did say that one of the marks of a successful society is free and unlimited access to the ownership of land and protectionof private property.

READ: Cap land ownership - ANC

Rupert, head of the Rembrandt group, said the minister of agriculture should realise that he was in effect "the minister of food security".

South Africans needs to look at what happened in North Africa. The lack of food and bread on the table in Tunisia had led to "that wonderful revolution".

"You take the food off the table here... and we will have a proper revolution," Rupert warned.

He called for a national conversation to seek solutions to the problem.

Rupert said a number of the hallmarks of successful societies are either absent, or under attack in the country.

He asked rhetorically whether there is free transfer of property: "(The answer is) no. Ownership incentives for capital formation ... is declining. (Do we have a) strong and convertible currency... it is not the case."

Was there, he asked, protection of private property: "Sadly, no longer."

Was there freedom of speech, he asked: "It is totally under attack." Was there honesty and transparency in government actions, he asked: "Please... we don't have to debate that."

He argued that there is a need for a social compact. South Africa needs new leaders like FW de Klerk, the former president, who had decided that he would take an unpopular decision among his electorate - and end apartheid.

"What he did was right. We need more of that spirit ... people who are willing to speak out and be unpopular. You (FW) got the world's respect of the Afrikaner. (We) could look people in the eye again and I thank you FW."

On February 2 1990 FW de Klerk ended apartheid in his famous reform speech, unbanned the ANC, SACP and the PAC and ushered in a new democracy by 1994.

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