BUSA talks business on transformation

Johannesburg – The time has come for business to take its place in shaping transformation of the South African economy, according to Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) president Jabu Mabuza.

Mabuza was speaking at a round table discussion on a paper about transformation released by BUSA on Tuesday at the National Economic Development and Labour Council offices in Johannesburg.

BUSA developed this paper as a business approach to achieving economic transformation. It assessed the current status of the economy, determined an end-state “deracialised” economy and then highlighted steps to achieve black economic transformation.

“We as business are finally recognising to continue having majority of people excluded from mainstream economy is politically dangerous, commercially naïve and socially unsustainable,” said Mabuza.

He said that business would no longer be on the sidelines, being critical of state capture and wrongdoings in state procurement processes, but is taking a look at its own house and its role in enabling transformation. 

“For too long, business has been sitting on the sidelines to find the error and mistakes.” He said that this is not the time to point fingers and accuse different role players for the poor state of transformation.

Mabuza said business acknowledges the need for growth and broader participation in the economy. “We must acknowledge and accept, when the economy was growing 10 years ago, we did not transform.”

Business has been reacting to government's proposals for black economic transformation, and there is a view that businesses find it cheaper to pay penalties for non-compliance than to transform.

Mabuza said the approach developed by BUSA is not a silver bullet but a “genuine endeavour” and “sincere acknowledgement” by business that something must be done.

WATCH: Jabu Mabuza on what business is doing to achieve transformation

Chief executive Tanya Cohen said there is buy-in from all the organisation’s members in developing the approach. The process started in December 2016, where different member organisations listed transformation as a priority for business to address. “We have not had these conversations in a crosscutting way in collaborative business,” she said.

“There is a strong willingness to move in the same direction.”

In February a Transformation Think Tank was created, consisting of leaders from the different member organisations. They developed a framework of approach which was endorsed by the broader membership base.

Vice-president Martin Kingston explained the approach is not a one-size-fits-all. BUSA is wary of developing an attitude that perpetuates existing, flawed transformation structures.

This approach is different in that unlike existing charters and codes that were unilaterally developed, it recommends collaboration between all social partners, including government, business, labour and community.

Among the proposals include ensuring that business adopt a transformative culture, in the national interest and the interest of business, rather than following rules developed elsewhere and then developing a compliance-based mentality, said Kingston.

The second is to have a demand-led approach to skills development. “Business can work collectively with the public sector for a skills system properly used in the economy at large.”

And rather than placing focus on ownership of large corporates, it should be on developing enterprises and supporting initiatives like the Black Industrialists Programmes. There should also be employment, and promotion and protection of that employment particularly for the youth. “We must bring the youth into the mainstream of the economy,” he said.

The country must also recognise where it is in achieving transformation goals and then develop a common view of what to aspire to, and a timeframe to achieve that. “We need a practical way of getting there. We need to put forward the necessary resources to achieve the goal.”

Obstacles to the system, like burdensome regulatory frameworks and maladministration, must be addressed to create an enabling environment for investment and growth. 

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