subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Ideologies seldom intersect. They are intolerant of each other. Ideologies walk straight, so you’d better get out of the way (we used to play that at junior school).

Our political-economic debate is going nowhere. At best, both sides of the divide (and it’s a deep divide) swap niceties and say things that contain words to each others’ liking.

Both sides want to be reciprocally polite enough (not respectful) to stay in the game, but there’s nobody actually on the field and neither side (yes, neither side) is scoring any goals.

You can find snippets of socialism in every capitalist’s speech, and crumbs of capitalism in every socialist’s agenda. On either side of this chasm neither is right, and neither is brave.

Politicians are ultimately more concerned about power than solutions. Problem descriptions are rife (and repeated ad nauseam) and popular solution promises are part of any political rally. But nothing actually gets done. We’ve all been around long enough for that to be tested: nothing gets done.

The reasons are not just incompetence and corruption (though they remain the leading causes), the real reason is that fixing things is not what they want to do. In my experience, with rare exceptions politicians just want to control things, big things.

They are less concerned about strategic purpose or commercial sustainability than they are about size — turnover or budget, as the case may be. These are seen as proxies for power and influence, and the uses and applications of revenue and capital are sideshows.

Capital isn’t scarce when you can print money, but it becomes more and more expensive, and in so doing eliminates otherwise feasible projects on its way. For the right projects capital is available in abundance, but it has choice and responsibilities.

Which brings me to the other side of the divide: business. Business generates all of the capital and keeps on making more; that’s its job. But it hasn’t tabled it for deployment in projects of intersected interest with the state, of which there are many.

Instead, business remains polite and acquiescent, deferring to political acceptance and not wanting to incur the ire of government in what are sometimes fairly fragile economic equations between them.

It’s time for business to stand up and be counted. Stop waiting for invitations, they’re not coming. Stop feeling rejected, it’s reciprocal.

Business must arrive at the table with a lot of money, like at least $100bn. Conditional capital, together with some concrete plans on how they would be prepared to deploy it in the SA economy, in specified projects, with government as a partner, on spelt-out terms.

If the government agrees (and brings its part of the bargain — an enabling regulatory environment, tax incentives, economic zones and the like) then the capital stays, gets invested and attracts a multiple of further foreign direct investment, encouraged by the sense of us finally getting our act together, and the confidence that spreads.

It cannot be implemented overnight, but it can be agreed, contractually, in a short enough space of time to create goodwill, faith and common purpose.

Our rainbow nation dream is of a miracle of such diverse ideologies finding a way forward in prosperity, tolerance and harmony, that it is almost impossible to imagine. But, however unsteadily, we are still standing and at some level we get on with one another, like on our sports fields, where national pride so often delights and unites us.

If we don’t cross these divides, if we steadfastly stick to thinking we’re right and the others are wrong, the centre won’t hold and SA will collapse. The beginnings of that are already being felt, like a tremor, in our everyday lives and attitudes towards each other.

A failed state is no longer a condition impossible to imagine. Let’s all take a step towards the middle and leave our baggage on the sidelines.

• Barnes is an investment banker with more than 35 years’ experience in various capacities in the financial sector.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.