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Picture: 123RF/DMITRIY SHIRONOSOV
Picture: 123RF/DMITRIY SHIRONOSOV

Business is one of the few elements of SA society with an outlook rooted in modernity and pragmatism, so one can only welcome the pledge by 115 CEOs to assist in turning around the country’s current trajectory.

The welcome must be a cautious, though. The idea of co-operative undertakings for the national good is a long-standing one, regularly invoked and even built into SA’s institutions. The outcomes have been doubtful.

Business will need to recognise that as an interlocutor, the incumbent government comes from a very different place. It is often more attached to ideology than practicality, and willing to do what is politically appealing to itself with reckless disregard for the economic consequences. The consequences of this are seen in the workaday dysfunctionality that afflicts so much of SA life.

It is also apparent in a singular refusal significantly to alter policy: the hostility to the idea of privatisation (private sector participation is invariably hedged in qualifications, while the proposed National Health Insurance scheme seeks to eliminate the private sector from medical insurance entirely); a dogged commitment to the politicisation of the state through cadre deployment; and an ongoing — if a little less visible — threat to property rights through expropriation without compensation. New employment equity regulations signal a willingness to destroy companies that fail to meet demographic demands.

As much as business may wish to contribute to reviving the SA’s flagging fortunes, it is hoping to work with a government that is arguably the country’s single most formidable obstacle to doing so. Success will depend not on helping the government to execute its agenda “better” — that isn’t really possible — but on ensuring a better set of policies and an appreciation of what it will take to carry them out.

That means business will need to steel itself for confrontation, and not only co-operation. Time will tell if it has the stomach for it.

Terence Corrigan
Institute of Race Relations

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