Thought Leadership

BLSA CEO Letter – 20 March 2023

20/03/2023 | By Busiswe Mavuso

I hope today we see peaceful protest as South Africans exercise their democratic rights. I also hope we do not see any violence or intimidation, or damage to property.

We all share the desire to end loadshedding and put our economy firmly back on a growth path. We work hard every day with willing partners to try and achieve that aim. I welcome all constructive support. But I can tell you that calls for a national shutdown are massively counterproductive to that effort. That is especially so given the inflammatory language that has surrounded it. Threats to businesses, many of which are struggling to overcome the challenges they already face from a weak economy and energy insecurity, add to the already negative business sentiment. It turns investors, both locally and internationally, against putting their capital at risk to help build this economy. It makes employees, customers and suppliers stay away, costing them revenue. None of that solves any of our problems. While those calling for a shutdown claim to care about developing our country, their actions are having the opposite effect.

The calls for the national shutdown are a political tactic that clashes with our democratic dispensation. We all have the vote. If we do not like the government of the day, we can exercise that vote. This is nothing like the days of apartheid when we had no such mechanism, when the tactics of shutdowns and stayaways were the only means to force change. We now have the right to protest and express our views and, ultimately, to elect political leaders we believe can deliver the change we desire. All means are available to us to exercise our rights – we do not need violence and lawbreaking. What started as a movement by organised labour has been captured for political purposes, undermining the legitimate motives that labour may have had in calling for legal protest in the first place.

Given the risks that have been created through the inflammatory language, I welcome the moves by the authorities to ensure that there is appropriate policing across this country. As the National Joint Operational Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) announced on Friday, the police will be working to ensure that protests are appropriately policed to protect protestors, but that illegal activities are dealt with decisively. The NATJOINTS made clear that they will not allow the barricading of roads or public violence. BLSA, through our subsidiary Business Against Crime and its Eyes and Ears initiative, supports the police by relaying crime-fighting information which we will continue to do today.

Businesses also have had to think about how to operate today. The threats of intimidation and the risks that have been created for staff and customers have already made it difficult to do business as normal. But it is important that we do our best to do so. We have over the last few years had to find ways of working to overcome all kinds of external shocks and today presents another. I take some minor solace in the fact that we are better prepared to manage remote work, and therefore the economic impact will be lessened.

It is disappointing that so much attention and effort is absorbed by this issue. Our focus should instead be on building businesses rather than shutting them down. We should be working to reform the way our economy works, not trying to stop it working. Of course, building is always harder than tearing things down. The details of policy and institutional structures needed to turn our economic trajectory, do not get short term popular attention. Taking responsibility to try and make things work involves being accountable, the kind of accountability that clashes with the populist instincts of some.

We at BLSA will continue to strive to help deliver the changes needed to enable all South Africans to thrive. We are enthusiastic to work with all stakeholders who share those ambitions. But we reject those whose actions fundamentally undermine the goals we share.

state

The launch of the RMF last week signifies the beginning of a partnership between business and government to tackle the electricity crisis. BLSA believes this is a critical next step in the role business can play, I write in Business Day. NECOM is ready to spearhead the actioning of the most pressing initiatives, providing us with the best chance of addressing the electricity challenge and BLSA is committed to doing all it can to contribute. Increasing SA’s electricity supply availability and reliability is one of BLSA’s top objectives.

government

S&P Global Ratings’ decision to downgrade SA’s outlook was another reminder of how much our economy is being held back by the failure to timeously implement the structural reforms needed, I write in News24 Business. S&P wants to see decisive improvement in our infrastructure, in the governance of SOEs and a reduction in our public debt. We can expect S&P to demote our outlook to negative later this year if no improvements are made. It will take all economic role players to turn around SA’s fortunes and business has the agency to help government make the profound structural changes needed to regain our positive rating outlook.

 

BLSA is a business organisation that believes in South Africa’s future and shares the values set out in the Constitution. In 2017, BLSA signed a contract with South Africa, committing business to playing its part in creating a South Africa of increasing prosperity for all by harnessing the resources and capabilities of business in partnership with government and civil society to deliver economic growth, transformation and inclusion.