IT’s that time of the year again when impressive, colourful PowerPoint presentations replete with embedded country video clips, photographs, plans to stabilise and grow the economy, figures projecting expected GDP growth, etc are all prepared ahead of the annual World Economic Forum gathering in the canton of Graubünden, just outside Davos, Switzerland, to impress the world of global investors.
Team SA must do their all
Once again South Africa will be represented by a combined delegation comprising politicians, executives of state-owned enterprises and business leaders. Dubbed Team South Africa, most of them will walk around with the now familiar multi-coloured brand SA issue scarfs hanging over their shoulders to give a semblance of unity in purpose.
There will be unity in aim, no doubt, but less so in sincerity.
Corporate South Africa, under the leadership of Business Leadership South Africa, has largely been clear and consistent in its action and pronouncements on state capture involvement, and corruption in its ranks. It has made it known that it remains prepared to play a positive role to rebuild the economy and act transparently against those of its members whose actions are not in the interest of building an inclusive economy.
It has also not been shy to remind government that it too has a role to play; that without clear political and economic policies in place, domestic and foreign business investors would remain unsure about the wisdom of looking at South Africa as a haven for long-term investments.
While most big company CEOs have remained characteristically quiet, shying away from appearing to venture into politics for fear of possible reprisal, a handful of them have come out to condemn state capture and other forms of corruption in the public sector.
They have even taken action against private sector companies exposed for apparently allowing themselves to be used as conduits in the alleged theft of billions of rand from public coffers into the local and foreign bank accounts of what is seen as a politically connected and shielded criminal syndicate led, ostensibly, by the current president.
Impressively visible in the forefront of such no-nonsense business leaders has been the clearly indefatigable Magda Wierzycka, CEO of Sygnia Group, who was the first to boot KPMG from its value chain after the latter was found to be ethically wanting.
South Africa needs more business leaders like Wierzycka to push against the political sloganeering that seems to suggest all business players are bad and will never act in the interests of the country. Hers is also the kind of message that should be sent to investors gathered in Graubünden, that despite appearances, South Africa is not a banana republic governed by unpredictable rules of the game.
Government needs credible partnership with business
Under the leadership of Jacob Zuma, government has been ethically wanting in almost every way imaginable. Many of us are still reeling at the extent to which this man and his henchmen have allegedly been able to derail the reputational fortunes of a country so many at home and abroad had such high expectations of.
His leadership, for lack of a better word, has meant that at least ten years have been stolen from a careful developmental and transformational trajectory that had begun under the stewardship of Nelson Mandela and continued under Thabo Mbeki, albeit imperfectly.
Going by his recent pronouncements, Cyril Ramaphosa understands the enormity of the task awaiting him, if he is to become the next president of South Africa. But that is a matter to be settled by the next general elections, in 2019.
Until then, and if he wants his party to be given a boost of trust and another political mandate under his stewardship, he has to follow his encouraging pronouncements with credible action. He must act, where it is he who must act, or ensure a space free of political interference for relevant state institutions to do what they must to clean up the mess left by Zuma.
Ramaphosa doesn’t have to act against people implicated in state capture, including the ones breathing heavily over his shoulders in his top six ANC team. He should do all he can to avoid the mistakes made by Mbeki and Zuma when they stood in the way of the NPA to protect their friends.
The WEF is a serious platform
With its mission of “commitment to improve the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society in shaping global, regional, and industry agendas”, the World Economic Forum will offer Team South Africa under the de facto leadership of Ramaphosa a chance to make fresh promises to the world that real change is about to happen.
If they falter and send confused messages, or if the credibility fissures between business and political leaders prove to be too big to bridge, the slogan “South Africa is open for business” will lose its attractiveness and the whole effort will end up being another wasteful junket.
Post-apartheid SA has never been hungrier for a fresh start.