Business, it’s time to uplift the poor
South Africans must tackle the triple challenge of socio-economic inclusiveness, economic growth and sustainability for the country to have any hope for a peaceful and prosperous future. This is according to Prof. Thuli Madonsela – chief patron of the Thuli Madonsela Foundation and the nation’s favourite ex Public Protector (PP) – who also appealed to business, government and society to form a strong compact to build a functioning South Africa.
She was addressing a packed audience of independent financial advisers and other investment industry stakeholders at the sixth annual i3 Summit, hosted jointly by Sanlam Investments and Glacier by Sanlam at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, 13 June 2019. Madonsela, who was asked to assess the impact of SA’s new dawn on the investment landscape, started the debate by referring to recent socio-economic and socio-political developments that supported the new dawn narrative.
The first of these developments was the ascendancy of Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency, first of the ANC and subsequently the country. SA’s sitting president is business literate, conscious of social justice, a former trade unionist and among those who drafted the Constitution – and Madonsela believes he represents hope for a better future. She recalls him encouraging citizens to ‘work together, in honour of Nelson Mandela, to build a new and better South Africa for all’.
On the law and order front, the appointment of a new NPA head and ongoing improvements in both the pace of law enforcement and the general ‘rule of law’ environment have been welcomed by Madonsela, “We see an environment where impunity is dissolving while the sense that there are certain people who are above the law, who are untouchable, is disappearing”. Various civil society organisations are holding a watching brief to see what transpires when the Zondo Commission finally completes its work; but it may be some time before any big names face the music.
Those big businesses that supported the new dawn by pledging to reinvest in the country are waiting patiently for a business and investment landscape that is conducive to growth. “We are seeing the emergence of policy consistency and responsiveness,” said Madonsela. “The president has announced that we are going to go ahead with land reform – that it will be a package deal – and that the possibility of expropriation without compensation is part of that deal, provided it is properly done within the Constitution”. Although business is not always happy with policy, policy consistency enables them to formulate appropriate responses to government’s position.
Business will be integral in achieving positive outcomes for South Africa Inc. “GDP growth is an important part of a healthy investment climate and the decline in the first quarter of this year has certainly dampened peoples’ spirits,” said Madonsela. “But my message to you and to your colleagues is that moving forward often starts with a step back, especially after a turbulent situation”. She challenged business leaders to join the UN Global Compact “because it is about business doing business in a clean way, in a manner that propels the rest of society and the rest of the world towards a shared prosperity, towards common good – as business we can seek opportunities in sustainable development goals”. She added that big business typically played by the rules of society; but that to prosper they would have to act ethically, always do the right thing regardless of what their competitors were doing and focus on building the type society they wanted to be part of.
There is a strong correlation between economic growth and a country’s ability to deal decisively with poverty which is why the decision by many big businesses to come on board by investing in new opportunities is so welcome. Madonsela urged those in attendance to find ways of investing that both uplifted poorer communities and advanced business interests. “We must seek out the investment opportunities arising from the challenges we encounter in society, from the poverty we so often talk about and within the communities that do not currently have businesses and services,” she said.
South Africans have faced much adversity in recent years; but adversity builds resilience and forces us to explore areas of opportunity that we otherwise may not have. “The investment environment that prevails in SA today supports that there is a new dawn; but whether this new dawn translates into a great day depends on us building confidence and focusing on the opportunities that present,” concluded Madonsela, who also offered some encouragement to those who felt powerless to influence the big picture: “Something I learned during my time at the Public Protector was that my life, my destiny, depends on what I do, regardless of the circumstances. If you want a particular outcome the next move is always yours”.