Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman says the private sector needs to step out of the shadows and do what it can to halt the damage politicians have been inflicting on the economy.

Ackerman, whose father Raymond founded Pick n Pay more than 50 years ago, said on Tuesday that politics had "wreaked havoc on the economy and we must endeavour to not let the run-up to the [2019] election do any more damage".

"Business’s voice has been mute for too long, the truth of it is that the economy has run out of road," he said.

SA slid into recession in the first half of 2018 for the first time in nearly a decade despite strong global growth, while unemployment rose to 27.2%, from 21.5% in 2008.

A report by the Bureau for Economic Research found that SA’s economy could have been up to 30%, or R1-trillion, larger and created 2.5-million more jobs, had the country
kept pace with its peers over the past decade.

Had former president Jacob Zuma’s regime not robbed the economy of its potential, the government could also have collected R1-trillion more in taxes, the report says.

"The role of business has never been more important as we face recession and flat economic growth," Ackerman said, alluding to the country’s "serious" unemployment crisis.

"The stakes are very high, and it is the duty of business to stand up and say things as they are…. Collectively or individually, business needs to speak authoritatively and convincingly about public policy that provably drives economic growth."

Last week, Nedbank CEO Mike Brown said state capture and other governance failings "have broken the trust between social partners in SA and undermined our confidence in each other".

"Now we must find a way to work together, because the challenges before us are too great for business, government, or labour to deal with on their own," he said in his capacity as chairman of the Banking Association of SA.

Ackerman said SA needed prudent management; lower debt levels; an attractive environment for business; "fair taxation" rules; a strong focus on reducing crime; and effective youth employment initiatives.

"No further think tanks or summits are going to achieve this," Ackerman said.

Earlier in October, Zuma’s successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, convened a jobs summit. Later in October, Ramaphosa will hold an investment summit.

Meanwhile, Ackerman also decried the wave of armed robberies linked to social grants payments. Retailers play a large role in disbursing grants on behalf of the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa).

"This service to the community has come at an enormous cost to retailers…. Crime directed at our stores at payout time has become a very serious problem," Ackerman said.

Pick n Pay CEO Richard Brasher said that because Sassa distributed payments within tight periods each month, "the presence of that cash attracts people who don’t wish everybody well. Our call to government and law enforcement is to say ‘what can we do together to make this a safe experience for everyone involved."

"I do think people need to recognise that we do this more as a social service rather than as a commercial enterprise, so if it becomes too awkward to deliver that social service, then people shouldn’t take too lightly that retailers are always prepared to do it."

Via the Consumer Goods Council of SA, Pick n Pay and its peers were in talks with the government to find ways to keep both customers and retailers safe.