NEWS & ANALYSIS

The still, small voice of big business

David Bullard says taking on a dishonest and discredited government isn't for sissies

I haven't really been paying much attention to the news over the past week. I went down to the Western Cape to celebrate my 60th  birthday and had patchy internet connectivity where I was staying, no radio and no access to newspapers. It's astonishing how therapeutic it is to occasionally not have access to news which is why we gave up Sunday papers a few years ago.

Anyway, all good things have to come to an end and I re-emerged from semi hibernation last Tuesday and picked up the threads. It was as if I had hardly been away. It was just more of the same but one story did catch my eye on the BDLive website. "Top CEO's call for joint effort to halt SA ‘decline'" it said. This is surely not the decline of which I and others have been writing about for so long? The one that Paul Harris reassured his chum Jeff in his viral e.mail (with a bit of help from an advertising agency I'm told) wasn't worth worrying too much about? Well it appears it is the very same and that some members of our business community appear to be getting pre Mangaung jitters. About time too.

I would respectfully suggest (as they are wont to say in courtrooms when they mean precisely the opposite) that some input from the corporate sector over the past five years could have prevented us from being in the mess in which we find ourselves now. I'm not talking about an uprising; just a few influential voices to add some much needed wisdom and experience. When Nedbank's Reuel Khoza spoke out last March he was a lone voice. It would have been nice if a few others had had the guts to add their voices.

But that's not really the corporate style and one can understand why. As I pointed out in a recent column, the ANC are well aware that there is a goose that lays golden eggs and that goose is known as private enterprise. For a variety of reasons it's important to keep that goose alive and laying but the ANC also understand all too well that the goose may, from time to time, want to wander off on its own. Which is why the goose has to be controlled. So a mining house just can't dig holes in the ground and look for minerals. It has to satisfy various conditions that will benefit the ruling party financially, even before it shows a profit.

All corporates feel threatened by our politicians which is why there is no convincing partnership between business and government. For some reason (and it happens all over the world) politicians think they can run businesses better than businessmen which is why they love to introduce rules telling business owners who to employ, how many of each colour to employ, how much they should be paid etc etc. The reason for this is that politicians desperately need to be re-elected if they are to remain close to the swill trough. So by bullying the corporate sector into creating superfluous jobs and making generous donations to upliftment programmes the politicians can claim some or all of the credit.

All of this has the effect of creating a meek and mild corporate sector, terrified to take on the power of the ruling party and even more terrified of being labelled racist or an apartheid apologist. Things that should have been said years ago have remained unsaid because the consequences of speaking out were too horrible to contemplate. But, as we saw with Russell Loubser recently, all that bottled up frustration with having to deal with a Moronocracy comes spilling out eventually.

The latest plea to government to stop behaving like Russian Mafiosi and to do something for the wider community (my interpretation) comes in the form of an open letter signed by 33 CEO's of varying shades of colour. That's vitally important because otherwise the letter could be dismissed as sour grapes if it just came from whiteys. The fact that 33 people signed it indicates either that they feel there is safety in numbers or that 33 top names adds some gravitas. The question is....will the ANC take a blind bit of notice?

Readers of this column know my views on the subject. I strongly believe that we are hurtling towards disaster in this country and not even a beautiful sunset in the Cape should distract us from reality. Apart from the venality, inefficiency of many government departments and ever growing problem of corruption among the cadres we have a far greater problem and one that the business community really needs to tackle head on if we aren't to become a failed state within the next five years. That problem is a complete abhorrence of the capitalist system (other than as a provider of free money) among our most influential cabinet ministers.

You wouldn't expect a Chelsea FC supporter to wear a red Man United shirt and sit among Chelsea supporters would you? Neither must you expect dyed in the wool and paid up members of the communist party to come up with any policies that might benefit the capitalist system and the country as a whole. We like to think we are playing the big boy's game in the real world now we are a democracy but that's simply not the case. Our key decision makers subscribe to an ideology diametrically opposed to that of any supporter of the free market.

So big business either has to persuade the commies that they are wrong or they have to resort to something more drastic, such as withholding taxes and indulging in some civil disobedience against laws they know to be nonsensical. Taking on a dishonest and discredited government isn't for sissies....ask the ANC.

This column will be taking a holiday break and will be back on January 17th 2013 (assuming the Mayans are wrong). Thanks to all those who read and commented throughout the year and may you and your families have a safe holiday season and an upbeat new year.

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