Instead of pointing fingers and focussing on narrow self-interests, government, business and society needs to draw a line in the sand and work together to save the South African economy. This was the resounding message that emerged at a panel discussion between industry heavyweights at the Nedgroup Investments Engage event held in partnership with Business Day in Johannesburg last week.
Quaniet Richards, Head of Nedgroup Investments Institutional business and host of the event said the event was an important platform to bring leaders in government and business together where they can openly engage and discuss current issues.
“Business and government are two of the most important social forces in our country and without open dialogue between us, we cannot move forward. South Africans are known for their resilience and tenacity in the face of hard conversations. We are privileged to be able to open the floor here to having the discussions that need to be had to find ways to work together,” he said.
A panel entitled ‘Government & Business leadership – forging ahead together’ brought together the likes of, Edward Kieswetter, Commissioner of SA Revenue Service (SARS), Karima Brown, TV Anchor and Veteran Journalist, Mark Barnes, Former CEO, SA Post Office, the ANC’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana and Malungelo Zilimbola, Chief Investment Officer, Mazi Capital.
“A common purpose is missing in the country. The last time we had this we were building stadiums and look what we achieved as a country then. We may not get complete unity among policy makers and business, but perhaps we should rather celebrate the differences and find ways in which we can work together. We have to look for points of intersection and common cause for the good of the future of our country,” said Barnes.
Kieswetter echoed the sentiment and implored top leadership in business and government to stop being in denial. “We have lost sight of what it means to be South African as a unifying force. We are so busy defending our narrow interest we don’t see how we are destroying our common purpose. We have to stop being in denial about it – I implore the top government. Expose it truthfully and find a way to move forward,” he said.
Weighing in with a view from the ANC, Godongwana said the primary issue that is stalling effort to address the economy, is a problem of leadership. “The economy must be addressed first and foremost – but to do that we need a common vision. And to create a common vision requires a very specific kind of leadership – one that creates trust between all parties. It’s clear that right now we are dealing with a leadership crisis,” he said in discussion.
Karima Brown also stressed the urgent need to address the leadership issue. “We are all quick to blame the government -and there is certainly a leadership issue there. But business and labour in no way get off scot free either. This issue is endemic, and everyone has played a role,” she said.
“Addressing the economy is now absolutely paramount – it’s the number one problem and the private sector wants to be involved – but we have to have trust between the parties for this to work. We have the capital and the skills ready – but they are not being deployed,” said Zilimbola.
While issues of prescribed assets and land expropriation without compensation drew contrasting views from the panel, the resounding message was that the time has come to work together.
“We have to at some point move away from criticism and talk about cure –move away from rules and talk about empowerment. I’d rather have a system that finds the right people and sets them free than a group of rules to contain the wrong people. Rules don’t drive behaviour. It’s time to put a line in the sand and let’s start thinking of ourselves as good people who are empowered to move forward,” said Barnes.