Picture: 123RF/POP NUKOONRAT
Picture: 123RF/POP NUKOONRAT

Has the Covid-19 pandemic given our country an opportunity to reimagine, innovate and do things differently? At a time of great necessity, the resilience and ingenuity of South Africans has been tested. While the challenges of slow government reform, corruption, inequality, mass unemployment, a failing education system, an energy crisis, and climate challenges remain a priority, it is important to reflect on the lessons we have learnt since the Covid-19 virus arrived and demanded rapid change.

This live-streamed web conference, the seventh Directors Event, billed as the largest boardroom meeting in SA, was held on June 11 2021 in partnership with BCX and in association with the Institute of Directors in SA. It provided an opportunity for leaders in the private and public sectors to come together to debate, brainstorm and recommend solutions to steer the country in a post-Covid-19 world.

During the meeting and panel discussions recurring themes included the need for accountable, transparent and bold leadership; a call for better collaboration and co-operation between the public and private sectors, and the need for reform in reimagining the future for SA.

Change has become our new normal. To survive requires adapting while thriving, which requires us to start thinking differently, said Sunday Times editor S’thembiso Msomi. The public and private sectors need to actively — and creatively — engage to plot a new course, one that leaves no-one behind. 

Jonas Bogoshi, CEO of BCX, the headline sponsor of the event, pointed out that business is one of the few areas that people still trust to have competence and credibility. However, this increased trust in business leaders comes with certain expectations. 

He called on business leaders to step in where government has struggled to solve societal problems. For the sake of SA’s future their response needs to be swift and determined, he said. 

During the keynote address, Herman Warren, the Economist Corporate Network's director for Africa, pointed out that Sub-Saharan Africa will have the weakest recovery among the subregions of the global economy unless the Covid-19 virus is tackled. 

He noted for leaders, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of getting the basic rights and addressing the hard things, consistently. He called on them to be proactive and make changes within their sphere of influence and responsibility, while holding themselves to a higher standard and in a constructive fashion to expect no less from others, including suppliers, staff, other stakeholders and politicians.

During her delivery of the Chairman’s Report, SA's auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke said there is an urgent need to strengthen SA’s democracy and build confidence. To achieve this requires that leaders are both conscious and conscientious in reimagining their role to ensure that they are accountable and transparent.

The pandemic has highlighted inequality and growing unemployment against a backdrop of weak government capabilities. She called on South Africans to work collectively to urgently design and implement solutions both effective and sustainable. At a minimum, those trusted with leadership positions must meet their responsibilities, given the only way to inspire confidence, strengthen democracy and deliver lasting value and benefits to citizens is for leaders to be accountable, responsible and practice effective oversight.  

The first panel discussion, moderated by Bruce Whitfield, focused on how to reinvigorate the economy in a pandemic. Panel members included Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, Tourism Business Council CEO; Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA; Zwelakhe Gila, an energy specialist and co-founder of Chommie Co; and Mills Soko, professor in international business & strategy at Wits Business School. 

Tourism is struggling to make a comeback after being one of the worst-hit sectors. Before the pandemic it made a valuable contribution to the economy with every 12 tourists to SA creating one job opportunity. Issues such as the provision of e-visas need to be addressed to position the sector to recover post the pandemic. 

The agricultural sector, on the other hand, weathered the pandemic significantly more successfully. However, it too, like the tourism sector, requires a holistic response from government, to continue to make a positive contribution to the country’s economic recovery, they said. 

Given the high economic cost of load-shedding, the announcement that businesses are now permitted to self-generate up to 100MW without a license is encouraging and a good start. However, a fundamental shift in policy thinking and bold and visionary leadership is needed to make big decisions and help define the new normal. For SA to recover economically requires, among others, employment at scale, more public-private partnerships and the growth of a local manufacturing capability. 

The second panel discussion, moderated by Nozipho Tshabalala, focused on SA’s skills and unemployment crisis and the extent to which technology can potentially turn our fortunes around. Panel members included Jonathan Jansen, professor of education at Stellenbosch University; Ann Bernstein, CEO of the Centre for Development and Enterprise SA; Seliki Tlhabane, chief director for mathematics, science & technology and curriculum enhancement at the basic education department; Riaz Moola, CEO of HyperionDev; Vikela Rankin, the founder of Value Ed and Elevate; and BCX human resources chief Hope Lukoto. 

SA urgently needs to fix a flawed education system and create affordable access to quality education, panel members said. Where necessary, import teaching skills and provide basic school infrastructure through public-private partnerships. Technology can’t be ignored and needs to be integrated into the curriculum as pupils are prepared for working in a 4IR world. 

The final panel discussion, moderated by Andile Khumalo, put the focus on how to better manage healthcare resources in SA. Panel members included Dr Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general: national health insurance at the health department; Dr Memela Makiwane, Council for Medical Schemes chair; Dr Angelique Coetzee, SA Medical Association chair; and Simon Hlungwani, president of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA. 

SA’s healthcare system is characterised by insufficient capacity, a shortage of healthcare skills, poor planning and crumbling infrastructure. The fact that its foundations are flawed requires a massive revolution so that resources are more equitably split. This, ultimately, is what the National Health Insurance scheme hopes to achieve. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for better management of limited resources, the restoration of trust between the public and private sectors (and a need for partnership and collaboration between them to create a more resilient system) and the importance of having fit-for-purpose people employed by the sector. 

All citizens need to be vaccinated given that a healthy population is critical for our economic recovery. 

Watch the recorded web conference below:

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