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'Do not throw stones at us' - Mantashe

By Gwede Mantashe | 2012-04-13 09:28:47.0

Business and political leadership have responsibility to South Africa

AN ANSWER I gave to a journalist's short question about remarks by Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza opened a flood of attacks from newsrooms.

This is despite an agreement between Khoza and I to meet and explain to each other, and not to exchange apologies.

Typical of South African sensation-driven journalists, they did not seek clarity as it is in their nature to know it all. Their purpose is not to make the public appreciate the disagreements between Khoza and I, but to use any opportunity to attack the ANC leadership.

These journalists also seek to confirm their gloomy predictions immediately after the ANC's 52nd national conference that the country is heading for a disaster. We have not yet seen the disaster in the fifth year of the current term.

An opportunity must now be used to prove that there is a disaster waiting to happen. This response earned me the Sunday Times' prestigious award . I appreciate it.

One of the honourable media gentlemen gave a brief, distorted history about transformation at Eskom. He didn't bother to check how the process was driven. He has no clue about the "Save Eskom campaign". He has no idea who was on the transition board that changed the demographics in management from 4.3% of black managers to more than 54% in a decade. This gentleman will not remember the first black executives in Eskom.

It is this lack of basic research that makes it easy to credit one individual for the progress made.

The same line is taken on the Nedbank story. For convenience of the attack, no credit will go to a leader of the rescue team, whose background is in the Natal Building Society. In four years and four months, this ANC leadership has never met any team fromNedbank.

The leadership of Old Mutual - Nedbank's controlling shareholders - has engaged us continuously. This explains Old Mutual's appreciation of our hard feelings about its decision to list on the London Stock Exchange a few years ago.

Old Mutual explained their desire to consolidate Nedbank into a strong international bank. When two deals fell through, details were given, not by Nedbank, but by Old Mutual. 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. A business leader cannot make the best judgment when they have not even spent five minutes with the political leadership.

All companies that are serious about the country's future and the need to take its governance and economy to a higher level have met the ANC irrespective of what they think of its leadership. They do so despite some of them having good memories about the past.

Many 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 standing aloof will never have the sense of what is happening. And political leaders who take no interest in what is happening in the business sector will sulk and disengage.

As a developing country, South Africa cannot afford a schism between the governing party and economic players, of which business is one.

When business develops unpatriotic tendencies through reckless pronouncements, their sentiments are used by potential investors to measure the wisdom of investing in a country where its leadership is openly attacked by their nationals . Bad-mouthing the country affects its competitiveness globally .

The ANC also has views about business leadership. Some of them may be positive or negative, but we will never use any platform to castigate its leadership publicly. If we think their conduct is undermining business confidence, we will engage in constructive discussion and give our views on what we believe are preferred alternatives. We won't impose our views.

South Africa, like any other country, is competing to attract investment to stimulate economic growth. This requires a national effort by all domestic economic players.

We take exception to business leaders who wittingly and unwittingly hurt the country. Credit-rating agencies 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, but insulting the political leadership in annual reports is stretching it too far. Even in developed countries where there is a deep crisis, business is trying to find solutions. Solutions could include seconding the best brains to economic rescue teams put together by governments.

We have never received such an offer from business. Instead, we receive a bouquet of insults.

The business community have all the space to engage the political leadership of this country and the ANC in particular. As some major companies can attest, the space to engage, particularly the ANC, remains open. 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 everybody who attacks the ANC, and assume that it has no right to react, is another threat because those who hold the view that the ANC must have no views on any matter want the ANC to govern in silence. Doing so would be tantamount to being elected and thereafter outsourcing the right to govern.

The business community must engage, not howl. If it wants to raise any further issues, the invitation is open so that we do not only talk to umbrella bodies like Business Unity South Africa when there is a threat of a split by black business. We will seek an audience with Old Mutual as the company that talks to us.

We will not turn our back on Nedbank if they want to engage. An issue that must be discussed in earnest is whether banking with an institution that sees you as foolish and insane makes any sense. As we intensify our collective effort to ensure the second transition becomes a success, economic patriotism will reign supreme.

  • Mantashe is secretary-general of the ANC