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August 30, 2014 | Last Updated 9:56 PM
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Opinion: Is it business or editors who take offence?

Gwede Mantashe

A short answer to a short question opened a flood of attacks from the media houses. This is despite the agreement between myself and Reuel Khoza to meet, not to seek an apology from either of us, but to explain ourselves.

Typical of South African sensation-driven journalism, these honourable ladies and gentlemen never took time to seek clarity because it is in their nature to know it all. The purpose is not to make the public appreciate the disagreement but to use any opportunity to attack the present leadership of the ANC and confirm their predictions immediately after the 52nd national conference of the ANC, that the country is heading for disaster.

We have not seen the disaster in the fifth year of the present term. Every opportunity must now be used to prove that there is a disaster waiting to happen. This response earned me a prestigious award from the Sunday Times. I appreciate the award.

One of these gentlemen gave a distorted account of transformation in Eskom. He did not bother to find out how transformation was driven. He has no clue about the “save Eskom campaign”.

He has no idea who was on the transition board of Eskom that changed the management demographics of Eskom from 4.3% black managers in 1993 to more than 54% in a decade.

Basic research would save the nation from disinformation. This honourable gentleman will not remember the first black executives in Eskom, and names like Mokhobo, Mosikili, Ngubeni, Khumalo and Dabengwa will not ring any bell. It is this lack of basic research that makes it easy to credit one individual for progress.

Even in talking about Nedbank, the story will take the same line. No credit will go to a leader of the rescue team, whose background is in the Natal Building Society, for convenience of the attack. This ANC leadership has never met any team from Nedbank.

The leadership of Old Mutual has engaged continuously with the ruling party. At least they appreciated the importance of explaining that Nedbank did not fit with their long-term strategic focus. They explained their desire to consolidate Nedbank into a strong international bank. When two deals fell through, the details were given by Old Mutual, not Nedbank.

Any business leader who behaves like an analyst is in the wrong profession. Any view expressed in the Nedbank annual report is based, at best, on the sympathy one has with those who throw stones at the ANC.

At worst it is based on proximity to the ANC and factional preference one has. You cannot have the best judgement when you have never spent five minutes with the political leadership as a business leader.

All companies that are serious about the future of this country and the need to take its governance and economy to a higher level, have met the ANC, irrespective of what they think of the leadership, even when they are having good memories about the past.

Many of the mining companies and banks have engaged the ANC. Many companies with serious intentions have grabbed the opportunities created by government business trips and concluded serious business deals.

Business people who stand aloof will never have the sense of what is happening around them. Political leaders who take no interest in what is happening in the business sector will sulk and disengage.

That is not an attractive option for some of us. As a developing country, South Africa cannot afford schisms between the governing party and the economic players.

It is important to note that when business develops unpatriotic tendencies through their reckless pronouncements, their sentiments are used by potential investors to measure the wisdom of investing in their country.

Bad mouthing the country affects its competitiveness globally and this can best be defined as economic suicide of the worst sort.

As the ANC, we may have views about business leadership, some of these views may be positive or negative, we will never use any platform to castigate them publicly. If we thought their conduct is undermining business confidence in the country, we will have a constructive discussion and present to them our views on what is, as well as what our alternatives are, without imposing them.

South Africa, like any other country in the world, is competing to attract investment to stimulate economic growth. This requires a national effort by all economic players for this country to remain a preferred investment market owing to its stability, among many other factors.

We take exception to business leaders who wittingly and unwittingly hurt the country. The credit rating will come down like a ton of bricks if South Africans tell the world that we are led by a bunch of clowns. It may be fashionable in our country to deride government and its officials, but insulting the political leadership in annual reports is taking things too far.

Even in developed countries where there is a deep crisis, business is part of trying to find solutions instead of grandstanding, including seconding the best brains to the rescue teams. We have never received such an offer, instead we receive a barrage of insults.

The business community has all the space to engage the political leadership of this country and the ANC in particular. That space remains open, including engaging the ANC directly, as many major companies have done.

We all have the responsibility of building our country and our economy. Misleading society is as dangerous as suppressing the freedom of speech and expression.

To limit these rights to those who are critical of the ANC and then to assume that the party has no right to react, is undemocratic.

Those who think that the ANC must have no views on any matter want the party to govern in silence. We must then apologise up front, because that would be tantamount to being elected and outsource the right to govern to everyone else, except the party with the mandate to be a governing party.

The business community must engage and not howl. If a business wants to raise any further issues the invitation remains open so that we do not only talk to Business Unity SA when there is a threat of a split by black business.

We will continue to seek an audience with Old Mutual as a company that talks to us. We will also not turn our back on Nedbank, should they want to discover the value of engagement. One of the issues that must be discussed in earnest is whether banking with an institution that sees government as foolish and insane makes any sense.

As we intensify our collective effort to ensure the second transition, economic patriotism will reign supreme.

Gwede Mantashe is secretary-general of the ANC and national chairperson of the SACP



 

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