SA 2015

The business of our democracy


More than a year after the passing of Nelson Mandela, the question remains: Is South Africa today, in business and politics, even close to living Madiba’s dream?

On the 27th of April 1994 South Africa participated in its first democratic elections, a watershed moment heralding a new day in the country’s history. Twenty years have passed since this glorious occasion, but we cannot ignore the fact that both nationally and internationally, concerns have been raised as to how closely we have kept to Madiba’s vision for our democracy – and whether our democracy is supporting the business environment.

City Press Editor, Ferial Haffajee, is realistic about where we are as a country. “I don’t believe our democracy to be tenuous or trembling in any way. The robust quality of how South Africans engage political, cultural and media power is a symbol of a working democracy and a working country. The writer John Carlin says South Africans always think things are worse than they are.”

Commenting further on the state of the democracy, she says we do however have challenges. “The judiciary is solid; parliament is more a house of accountability than ever before and our institutions (the media, the Chapter 9 institutions of accountability, the judiciary, the auditor-general and the like) are well-grounded.

“But look at the trial of Shrien Dewani, on the one hand, and Andries Tatane, on the other, to see that our criminal justice system is weakening. Dewani’s trial for the murder of his wife, Anni Dewani was thrown out of court because of a poor prosecution; the trial for the death of activist Andries Tatane at the hands of police was thrown out for the same reason,” she says.

Haffajee also points out that the private sector often appears to be cowed to her, “unable to stand up for what it needs from the state. It is much less invested in its society than progressive business was in the nineties and early years of our democracy.”

Twenty years into democracy

Political Analysis SA’s Nteboheleng Tsehla says fast-forwarding 20 years into democracy, 2014 has seen its fair share of problems ranging from service delivery protests and labour strikes, to issues in parliament which resulted in the recent police chaos. She says the question however is, how has all these issues affected the attraction of foreign investment, and with the recent issues in parliament, are we descending into political instability?

“The economy has been very unpredictable and volatile since the 2008 economic meltdown. Many economies plunged into a recession and South Africa was one of those countries. However we managed to turn the situation around and not stay in a desperate state of affairs.

“Due to the economic meltdown, investments have been scarce and some countries have opted to withdraw from other countries all together. This means that one cannot base the lack of foreign investments squarely on the shoulders of these issues, even though they do contribute to the discomfort and reluctance of investors. Even with all these issues, countries such as China continue to invest heavily into our country’s economy, thus giving the government a chance to improve in the mentioned areas.”

She further explains that the issues do not indicate a demise of the democracy, but rather highlights the “lack of vision” the leaders have for the country. “The recent antics between opposition parties and the ruling parties give the impression that the leaders are power hungry and think nothing of their wild and unacceptable behaviour. If an institution such as Parliament cannot be respected by its own leaders, how do the leaders then expect citizens to respect that same institution? It is unbecoming of leaders both from the opposition and ruling party to behave in such a distasteful manner. Such behaviour can make investors uncomfortable which can then result in withdrawal of investments or reluctance of investing,” Tsehla says.

Haffajee also raises concern regarding the current state of affairs and in her opinion on whether or not Madiba would be proud of the state of the country today, says that, “I think he would be proud, but worried about the loss of our moral stature. Nkandla is a visible symbol of our destructive flirtation with corruption in both the private and public sectors.”

Tsehla says when looking at the pure definition of a democracy, South Africa has not stayed to true to it. She does however say that the concept has to be adopted and adapted to suit the country in which it will practiced.

“South Africa’s history includes black people being forced to learn labour skills only and not being allowed to equally and fairly participate in the economy of the country. With the introduction of policies such as the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) and Affirmative Action (AA), which included the Chinese as a disadvantaged race, black people are given the opportunity to get first preference at a job because they are from a previous disadvantaged race group.

“This has been met with disgruntlement from white people and businesses. This being due to the fact that white people are overlooked for their black counterpart and companies that are not BBBEE compliant do not get awarded jobs by multinational co-operations or government. When one looks at these policies, discrimination against white people is evident and this goes against the constitution. However, these policies are simply trying to get black people an equal footing in the economy of the country,” she says.

Current policies

Mandela did however famously say that he opposes both white, and black domination; Haffajee explains how this ties in with our current policies. “From my reading, Madiba’s statement that he would fight black domination as he fought white domination was a statement to support non-racialism. Non-racialism is the dream that we implement policies to get us to a future where race is less definitive an identity than it is now and then it was in the past. And, as the old man said, it’s a long walk to freedom.

“Affirmative action as a management policy has empowered people like me – it has been more successful than black economic empowerment which has had a much smaller remit. Hopefully that will change this decade. We run the risk, though, of making public sector management for blacks and private sector management for whites. ” she says.

Tsehla further points out that despite detractors to the BBBEE and AA policies, many companies have complied with these policies and thus resulted in producing great black CEOs and top level management. She says that some of the multinational and national co-operations subcontract black owned businesses and mentor the owner so they can become a healthy competitor in the industry.

“SETA programmes set up by government and the private sector has also been one of the good things that both economic role players have succeeded in. These SETA’s help with the enhancing and nurturing of skills of the youth in the country. SETA’s are industry based and have since help in the shortage of skills in the various industries. Government has also made it a point to appoint black CEO’s and Chairpersons’ for government owned or parastatal institutions.

“This is expose “black” leadership to private sectors and also to comply with the BBBEE and AA policies as government. The government has proven that if they work together, they are more likely to achieve more as opposed to working as individual entities. With this being said, the communication between most important role players has to improve. The two needs to engage each other more and each should play their role,” she says.

Tsehla says it is unfair for government to shoulder the burden of building the country with limited resources when the private sectors can assist in easing the burden. In the same breath, she also says that it is unfair the private sector to squarely shoulder the burden of creating job opportunities. “Both entities can engage each other more and offer solutions that will improve the economical and political cohesion in the country.”

The steady decline in recent years of trade union/employer relations has been a political and economical sore point, according to Tsehla. She says with the tripartite alliance being strong and having a majority of trade unions affiliated with the ruling party, it is hard for the ANC to remain neutral when trade unions and businesses go head-to-head with each other in the negotiation ring.

“It [the ANC] has to keep its alliance happy and at the same time keep foreign and all domestic investors happy which has proved to be a tough job. An example of this the recent post office strikes. For the past few months the Communication Works Union (CWU) downed tools and refused to go to work prior to their demands being met. The delayed process of the negotiations and neither party willing to back down from their position, millions in revenue not only for thepPost office, but also for the businesses and charities that never received their mail.

“It understandable that employers would not want to be strong armed into unfair demands, but in the same breath, their response time to the demands of the workers is not impressive. Employers and trade unions need to engage each other more before moving towards a strike. A strike should be last resort and it should be peaceful,” she says.

A lot can be fixed

The World Economic Forum’s recent statement that our trade union/employer relations are the worst in the world, but according to Haffajee there is a lot that can be fixed in our labour market. She does however say that the new laws have created fairness for the workers and, until recently, “fairly easy dispute resolution”.

Looking at some of our other goals and initiatives that are driven by the state, in particular the National Development Plan (NDP) and state parastatals, Haffajee once again cuts right to the chase. “The NDP is only three years old. It is still a concept and, unfortunately, the departure of Trevor Manuel means the plan right now feels still-born to me.”

In terms of state parastatals she says, “It might work to put simple service ahead of politics in how the institutions are run. So, the key work of Eskom is to provide cheap (or relatively cheap) energy to run the economy. It is not there to train artisans, to make energy policy or as a home for deployed cadres. So, the work of the SABC is to provide reliable news and entertaining programmes to the large mass of South Africans. It is not there to protect politicians or be a mouth-piece for the state.”

Tesla concludes by adding that in the last 20 years, South Africa has been through its fair share of trials and tribulation. According to her it will take more than 20 years to erase the damaged that was created by colonial apartheid, however South Africa has achieved more its mere 20 years of freedom than some countries who have freedom for a much longer period. “There are still many mountains to climb economically and politically, but with the appropriate leadership at the helm of the country, it is not an impossible or elusive dream,” she says.

Haffajee however concludes; “Leadership, the best leadership, no longer resides solely in political and business leadership. It is to be found in the arts, the academies and among innovators.”

Michael Meiring

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