Quo Vadis Organised Business SA?

2013-01-06 22:13

Without businesses (retail, mining, manufacturing, agriculture, etc.) that are managed well and that operate sustainably South Africa is doomed. Because not only do businesses produce, export and import goods and services and employ millions of people, they also ensure that government or should I rather say National Treasury receive enough income through taxes paid to finance a range of public services, such as education, health, policing, etc.

Sadly though in South Africa, businesses are not acknowledged for their contribution to make South Africa work. Instead they are bullied and treated hostile especially by demagogues within broader society with little understanding of economics and how businesses operate. They are also subjected to all kinds of threats, are exposed to all kinds of risks such as crime, strikes, violence, inflexible laws and regulations and are burdened by continuously rising administrative costs (electricity, water, rates and taxes, etc.)

2012 in particular was not a good year for business. This can be attributed partly to a range of external problems, such as the European economic crisis, wild cat and often violent strikes, but also to internal problems, which in terms of my observation are the result of organised business’ failure to support its own creation, Business Unity SA (BUSA).

As an apex entity and the official mouthpiece for a range of affiliates such as small business chambers (AHi, SACCI, etc.), the Chamber of Mines, Association of Banks, AgriSA, etc. its primary function was and is still is to promote the interests of business through effective lobbying, research and interaction at all levels of society, especially at government level.

In the past year BUSA’s stature was also severely tarnished, as the majority of black-controlled business organisations such as FABCOS, NAFCOC and others left and launched with great fanfare the Black Business Council (BBC). The occasion was attended by a large number of national ministers who from the outset involved the BBC in international trade missions and various other government-led business initiatives.

What were the motivating factors? Within black-controlled organised business ranks, there was unhappiness about the rate of economic transformation and redress in South Africa over the past fifteen years. Hence the decision to forthwith operate independently under the auspices of the BBC that will focus specifically on black economic empowerment and business development. Only time will tell whether this split business along racial lines was strategically and operationally the right one.

During the past year BUSA’s finances also took a turn for the worst, mainly due to erratic funding by its affiliates in recent years and the reluctance of some affiliates over the past two years to make payments in light of the uncertainty surrounding BUSA’s continued existence. Some experts also resigned from BUSA, and affiliates increasingly started questioning BUSA’s ability to execute its mandate effectively.

Currently an organisational review process of BUSA’s governance and management structures is under way which will hopefully turn the tide and repair the rift between BUSA and the BBC. The first quarter of the new year could see some interesting developments of critical importance to the continued existence of BUSA and unity in the business fraternity.

With regard to the latter, business could learn one or two things from organised labour. Cosatu, Fedusa and Solidariteit are well-organised and sustainably managed. They also actively promote the interests of their members when necessary through intense lobbying and protest.

Organised business, on the contrary, does not seem to get its house in order and is sometimes somewhat reluctant to mobilise its members to actively lobby or protest against unfavourable legislation, poor service delivery, rising electricity costs, crime, etc. the way organised labour does. No wonder ESKOM, ACSA, Portnet, local municipalities, etc. see businesses mainly as “money cows” to be milked, irrespective of whether they are able to produce 'milk' or not.

What is more, businesses are targeted by radical elements making all sorts of demands. Violent strikes are also on the increase. This not only seriously undermines the continued existence of businesses, but also causes uncertainty, discourages foreign investment and sows doubt in the mind of our young people who consider becoming entrepreneurs. More investment and entrepreneurs are precisely what South Africa need if we wish to effectively stem the tide of welfare dependency, poverty, unemployment and the anarchy which occurred in the mining and agricultural sectors last year.

A stable business environment however starts within the ranks of business itself, unity amongst businesses and a purposeful drive to create a well-functioning, self-sustainable and inclusive mouthpiece which prioritises the interests of South African businesses.

For organised business 2013 holds promise, provided it gets its house in order and focuses on unity, cooperation and teamwork. The leadership needs to prioritise the interests of the economy and that of business in South Africa at national level at all times and not allow anyone to bully them left right and centre.

However, the heartbeat of organised business is at local chamber level. They act as the economic think tank in every town and should as a priority unite all business people regardless of ethnicity, language, religion and origin. They should also foster co-operation between businesses, municipalities and other role-players in order to bring about economic transformation, economic empowerment and economic growth. Success in this regard will bring hope to all people, especially the jobless and poverty stricken in towns and cities throughout South Africa and will positively change and open the mind-set of communities about the critical role of businesses.

Important though, the old ways of operating businesses chambers as exclusive clubs are a thing of the past. Business chambers must open up and focus on the bigger picture in order for business to earn the respect and acknowledgement they rightfully deserve!

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