Pityana on Ramaphosa: Rubber is beginning to hit the road

As the euphoria that followed Cyril Ramaphosa’s becoming president fades, the new phase in his tenure is going to be about the tangible results he can produce.

“The rubber is beginning to hit the road,” Sipho Pityana, the incoming Business Unity SA (Busa) president, said at the Johannesburg offices of Izingwe Capital, of which he is founder and chairperson.

Pityana takes over from Jabu Mabuza as Busa president at the organisation’s annual general meeting later this month.

He has been a vociferous critic of former president Jacob Zuma and is supportive of Ramaphosa’s direction.

“A lot of positive things have happened. Sentiment is changing. I suspect the next phase is going to be more about tangibles.”

He said the euphoria had been about the messages Ramaphosa had been sending and his changes in Cabinet.

His reshuffle focused on those departments responsible for economic growth.

“Thank goodness Zuma is out,” he said, and added that Ramaphosa had already done some critically important things.

“The commission of inquiry into state capture has been set up. He has begun to focus on restoring the integrity of institutions, for instance, at Treasury there has been change of leadership.

Pityana said Ramaphosa had taken steps that many people hadn’t thought he would.

It was important for him to be transparent and clear – and explain his decisions, especially when it came to key appointments.

“It would make a huge difference – in building public confidence – if he took the public along,” Pityana said.

It was important for key government appointments to be credible, have the right qualifications and be ethical.

“If you don’t do that, it looks like it’s out with the old and in with the new,” Pityana said.

Turning to issues that arise within business, Pityana said: “I talk straight. The question is whether you talk straight publicly or talk straight on the forum that is afforded.”

Business Leadership SA, which is a member of Busa, had kicked out companies under a cloud, including KPMG, Transnet and Eskom.

“We have taken very strong positions. Even issues around treating people with dignity – it says something about [former Imperial CEO] Mark Lamberti and the new ethos in business that he saw fit to resign from the [business] organisations and also from all of his directorships.

“He wasn’t kicked out, but there was a tough conversation on some of those issues. In my view, that represents a huge shift because of the straight talking that happens. We can’t hold government accountable without addressing similar challenges in our own environment. We can’t. Our credibility starts there.”

During his tenure, Pityana said, he hoped to focus on four areas: driving the agenda for transformative inclusive economic growth; addressing the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution; championing a social partnership for ethical leadership with integrity; and promoting social compacts that enable socioeconomic advances for our highly fractious society.

On why he accepted the nomination to be Busa president, Pityana said: “Busa is a very important structure ... It is a melting pot of diverse business interests.”

He said he was taking up the Busa role at a time when South Africa was at a very critical stage in its development and he wanted to be part of that.

“Like government and labour, we believe the agenda shouldn’t just be about growth, but about growth that is inclusive and has a redress effect on those who were previously marginalised and those who are currently marginalised.”

Pityana said he would like to address the fourth industrial revolution, including innovation, artificial intelligence and other new technologies such as cryptocurrencies.

“We can’t be naive about it – it is going to change the world of work. It may have displacement effects on jobs as new jobs are created, so we need to think about the social dynamics as well,” he said.

The fourth industrial revolution was increasing the emphasis on investment in skills and education, he said.

“It is an absolutely critical focus. If we don’t do that, we will be left behind. The first journey to solving inequality starts with education. Education affords occupational mobility."

Turning to corruption, Pityana said that corruption was “so pervasive”.

“It is in government, business, the labour movement and civil society. Corruption has been so wide and pervasive in our society. We need to create a platform that brings all social partners together to drive the agenda for an ethical society characterised by leadership that has integrity.

“In the past, there was the National Anti-Corruption Forum. We need something similar ... We need to make unethical behaviour taboo.”

Pityana said the South African economy faced “very difficult headwinds”, and “tough decisions” needed to be made.

One of these decisions was to reduce public spending amid escalating state debt and credit rating downgrades.

A key consequence of reducing state spending would be to cut public sector jobs.

Tough decisions were required at state-owned enterprises, which were repeatedly seeking bailouts, Pityana said.

“We are now sitting with an Eskom that is in the middle of a crisis ... More and more of these public entities are demanding more and more injections. Where is that money going to come from?

“The government purse is under tremendous pressure. To pull that spending back is causing huge amounts of tension.”

Turning to expropriation without compensation, Pityana said: “The debate around land caused anxiety unnecessarily. Policy pronouncements need to be managed carefully as they freak out investors.”

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