SA could have achieved a lot were it not for its continual bail-outs of state entities and state capture‚ Business Leadership SA CEO Bonang Mohale says.

"We have spent R50bn on SAA since 1999. If we had not done that‚ we would have bought Emirates Airlines. We could have in 23 years had four CEOs who are being headhunted for being effective and efficient knowing how to run an award-winning airline‚" said Mohale.

He was speaking at a panel discussion on Tuesday titled "SA — Hero to Zero"‚ about the role of business in the country’s current political climate.

Mohale said South Africans had a lot to think about ahead of the ANC’s elective conference.

"Post December 20‚ I think we will be confronted with two challenges. The first will be a fiscal cliff where this government will run out of money at the rate that we are bailing out state-owned enterprises.

"Secondly‚ I think that most of us are beginning to think about an emergency economy recovery plan‚" he said.

"There is [agreement] about what we need to stop doing‚ what we need to start and continue to do to ensure that by the end of 2018 we would have added another 2.3 percentage points to our GDP growth — because it’s about economic growth and if the economy is not growing‚ very soon we will be talking about the redistribution of poverty and not the redistribution of wealth."

Another panel member, former British Labour MP and anti-apartheid activist Lord Peter Hain, said much of the money SA spent was not working in the country’s favour.

At one point‚ the government was spending more on education than any other developing nation but was not reaping the rewards: "School attendance doubled since the dark days of apartheid‚ yet out of 140 countries in the 2015-16 World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index‚ SA was ranked at 138 for the quality of its education‚ below desperately poor‚ undeveloped states like Burundi‚ Benin and Mauritania.

"This is not just appalling‚ it is criminal‚" he said‚ adding that this showed problems in SA’s systems.

On a more positive note‚ he said the country’s problems were not unique and a bumpy road following the transition from apartheid to democracy had been expected.

"Just look at Britain today‚ the so-called mother of democracy. We are a mess with a dysfunctional prime minister‚ a divided government‚ a weak economy‚" Hain said‚ adding that Brexit was one of the biggest historical challenges the country has faced since the Second World War.

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