New deal: JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King and Business Leadership SA CEO Bonang Mohale at the #BusinessBelieves in SA launch in Alexandra on Wednesday. Business Leadership SA members signed a contract with SA, marking a renewed commitment to job creation, economic growth and transformation. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBED
New deal: JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King and Business Leadership SA CEO Bonang Mohale at the #BusinessBelieves in SA launch in Alexandra on Wednesday. Business Leadership SA members signed a contract with SA, marking a renewed commitment to job creation, economic growth and transformation. Picture: SYDNEY SESHIBED

At last, a positive development has sprung from the negativism that has engulfed the country since white monopoly capital became a whipping boy for the mess SA is in, fuelled by a dangerous alliance of populists bent on stirring up racial animosity and chaos.

Business Leadership SA (BLSA), which represents 80 of the largest companies on the JSE and is arguably the closest thing we have today to what remains of "white monopoly capitalism", has decided that it is time to stand up for capitalism and show how it can change SA positively.

On Wednesday, it launched its "Contract with SA" in which it promised to create jobs and grow the economy; promote black leadership; invest in South Africans; invest in communities; support small business; and root out corruption, particularly in its own ranks.

It is a very good development. In the past, this sort of initiative has been a joint one by the three social partners — the government, business and labour — in which each partner offered something, but in turn tried to extract something from the others. This time, it is business alone that is pledging to build SA.

The six elements of the pledge listed above are not new priorities or commitments. They have been on the agenda since 1994.

It is correct that they remain there because they are the essential and basic things to do. While both the government and business have, over the past 20 years, tried to persuade South Africans how much each has done in service of these objectives, we all know, looking at where we stand in 2017, that what has been done is not even remotely enough.

This has been the value of the bogeyman of white monopoly capital unleashed by Bell Pottinger and its strange bunch of associates: while a crude and racially divisive characterisation of our society, it is a description that will nonetheless resonate in many communities, who have been left behind by the miracle of the rise of the black middle class in the poverty trap they were always caught in.

But to do all of these things, BLSA needs first to convince its members. Bringing them to a dusty township on a cold Wednesday morning is one thing; persuading them to invest, to create jobs and to grow a new generation of black business leaders and entrepreneurs is another.

Benefits have been too thinly spread and too narrowly enjoyed

Corporate SA is sitting on a cash pile of R1.3-trillion, new research has shown, and joblessness has increased to a 13-year high, hitting 27.7%. Increasingly, South African companies are looking abroad for new opportunities instead of making investments at home.

For this, the campaign is appropriately named "Business Believes" as none of this can or will be done without a belief in SA’s future. That will be the task of the BLSA’s new leader, Bonang Mohale, who — to his credit — has at least set out the plan of what is to be done.

It is a difficult moment to do that persuading. Not for many years has confidence been so low and business so demoralised. But it is more important than ever. If the reputation of capitalism is to be salvaged in the informal settlements and RDP houses of the country, then business needs to show that capitalism works.

Since 1994, the private sector has created 2.65-million jobs, three times more than the public sector. Without the 80 companies that make up BLSA, SA would be a poorer country with poor infrastructure and a weak revenue base.

But these benefits have been too thinly spread and too narrowly enjoyed. Wednesday’s initiative was an important event as it signified that not only has big business recognised this, but it has committed that it too is responsible to act to do something about it.


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