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Jacob Zuma

THE government was running out of patience with outspoken critics of President Jacob Zuma in the business and mining sectors, and would soon hit back unless they started to behave themselves, Deputy Mineral Resources Minister Godfrey Oliphant said on Wednesday.

Oliphant spoke to Business Day shortly after Anglogold Ashanti chairman Sipho Pityana unleashed his harshest attack yet on Zuma, calling him "the sponsor-in-chief of corruption" before a large audience of CEOs, fund managers and politicians at the annual Johannesburg Mining Indaba. Before Pityana took the platform, Oliphant, who spoke before him, issued a warning that he did not want to hear continued criticism of the government without any solutions offered and that a change in presidency could not be forced.

Asked afterwards to explain Oliphant said: "We are just saying up to so far we’ve been patient but our patience is running out.

"They are not angels. They can’t just keep rampaging and belittling the president in public … start behaving yourselves.

"If the industry wants to take a political posture we are ready for that and we can respond, but we are trying to be restrained. We’ve given them the warning. If they think they’ve got carte blanche … then they’re making a big blundering mistake."

But Pityana stared down the warning, and in an address, which ended in a standing ovation, called for Zuma to vacate his post.

He called on business and broader society to unite in an unambiguous message to the ANC-led government that corruption and decisions made for narrow interests would no longer be tolerated.

"Leaders found guilty of corruption or misrepresentation no longer fall on their swords for the greater good.

"These days they remain in office, inured to the shame of public opprobrium and cheered on by their superiors. And why not, when we have a president who literally laughs off any suggestion that government be held to a higher standard — and is, in fact, the sponsor-in-chief of corruption?" said Pityana, a member of the ruling ANC and former senior government figure.

"And whilst business has made some tentative steps toward confronting the threat, these are nowhere near clear or insistent enough.

"The fact is, that if we each continue to keep our heads down, protecting our own, narrow self-interest, the business environment that we are so desperately trying to protect with our silence will simply become unmanageable," he said.

Pityana’s outspoken stance in castigating Zuma and rising levels of corruption and maladministration won praise from delegates attending the annual event. "It takes the courage of one man to highlight the cowardice of so many others," said Claude Baissac, group CE of Eunomix.

Pityana’s comments, which echo those he made in August, fed into the rising chorus of discontent with growing problems in SA’s economy and the way they are handled by Zuma, who appears disconnected or indifferent to the consequences of his actions. "The reality is that a growing number of people and groups in civil society agree that the spigots of corruption have been opened wide, and they’re draining the very lifeblood from our economy," he said.

"We can find common cause in the belief that we deserve better leadership than we have at the moment, and that we demand clean, transparent and accountable government that has the best interests of its citizens at heart.

"We can agree, and must agree, that under Zuma, the government is incapable of genuine reform. And, therefore, he must go."

The call comes after Sibanye Gold CEO Neal Froneman said at a mining conference in the US that Zuma should step down, and amid growing unhappiness in broader society, including stalwarts in the ANC,

about the mismanagement of the government and economy to the detriment of the country.

Business Unity SA and Business Leadership SA have also expressed grave concern with the political management of the economy in recent weeks but have stopped short of calling for Zuma’s head.

On Wednesday, the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry said business confidence had fallen to its lowest level in 30 years.

"The most pressing of the present situation is the lack of confidence by notably investors."

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