Rothschild's Kingston eyes role in state-owned enterprises

Kingston sits on the board of already sits on the board of South African Airways.
Kingston sits on the board of already sits on the board of South African Airways.

Martin Kingston, who on April 1 steps down as chief executive officer of Rothschild & Co.’s South African unit after 13 years, wants to take on the country’s beleaguered state-owned companies.

Kingston, 61, will shift to executive chairman of the investment bank’s unit, and plans to wind down his executive responsibilities over the next two years before getting more involved with advising and mobilising resources and skills for South Africa’s public sector.

He already sits on the board of struggling South African Airways and is vice president of Business Unity South Africa, a lobby group.

"I don’t think we mobilise adequate resources to support some of the public companies that are facing very challenging circumstances," Kingston said in an interview on Monday. "If there is a role for me to play I would frankly welcome it."

South Africa’s state-owned companies became beset by skills shortages, unsustainable debt and bloated work forces during the nine-year tenure of former president Jacob Zuma, which ended in February last year.

Silenced voices

"We’ve got to take a clinical and hard look at the majority of state-owned enterprises," Kingston said. "If they don’t play a critical role we must move them to the private sector or have them taken out of the equation as a tax on the public purse."

President Cyril Ramaphosa will need to take on his critics within the ruling African National Congress and labour unions that support the party in moving to streamline the government and its companies if he is to revive the economy, said Kingston. That will likely come after elections on May 8, where polls indicate that Ramaphosa is likely to win a strong mandate.

"Those who are ill disposed to restructuring, their voices will have to be heard, but silenced," Kingston said. "We don’t have time for a multi-stakeholder negotiation."

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