South Africa is experiencing tumultuous times. Rash decisions by government send markets tumbling, while counter balances through the judiciary and parliamentary committees act as stabilisers. The collective voice of business is now more important than ever before in order to establish the environment which business requires to stimulate growth and investment, as well as the continued transformation of South Africa. Civil society has become increasingly united, however, organised business needs to develop a common agenda and narrative.
At our 2017 AGM, we heard from Bonang Mohale, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) who spoke about what is required to build trust between business and government, and the role of the private sector in growing the South African economy. Bonang started by saying that business unity is critical and necessary, and without it, we render ourselves ineffective and irrelevant. He said that when we were gifted the new South Africa, it came with one of the best constitutions in the world because our forbearers were prepared to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. He encouraged business leaders to consider what they are prepared to give up in order to save South Africa, eradicate corruption, and end state capture.
Bonang then shared with us a brief history of BLSA, highlighting the organisation’s vision and mission – the facilitation of a better and inclusive South Africa for all – and its focus areas namely, inclusive economic growth and transformation, protecting and strengthening core institutions and finally, positioning business as a national asset.
With regards to inclusive economic growth, it was interesting to hear Bonang’s thoughts on the narrative created by the Gupta PR firm, Bell Pottinger, which he described as a campaign to draw attention from corruption and state capture. He said that because poverty still has a black face and many South African’s lives have not improved, terms such as “White Monopoly Capital” and “Radical Economic Transformation” will resonate with many, detracting from the real issues faced by our country – large-scale looting and pillaging by those in political leadership.
Bonang said that right now, the only thing standing between us and anarchy is our Constitution, and he emphasised how important it is for business to be vigilant and protect key state institutions, particularly the office of the Public Protector. He continued to say that if we consider the status quo, as well as President Zuma’s track record, business is forced to insist that all ministerial appointments become a public process, even though it is the President’s constitutional right to appoint ministers.
Bonang also spoke about servant leadership, emphasising that this does not mean a leader with many servants but rather, a leader who serves. He added that the standard amongst leaders cannot simply be ‘innocent until proven guilty’ since great leadership requires a high standard of principles, ethics and morality.
Bonang said that had business not squandered 23 years of democracy by failing to effect positive transformation, enlisting the support of civil society to combat and defeat state capture would not have been as challenging as it is proving to be. In closing, he said that it is the role of business to interpret local conditions and in doing so, achieve the shared value South Africa so desperately needs, thereby ensuring that everyone in our society has the opportunity to grow and prosper.