Peter Hain. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Peter Hain. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

SA trade and investment are losing their attraction in UK boardrooms because of corruption and cronyism under Jacob Zuma, says former British government minister Peter Hain.

“The perception of this country is very negative,” he says.

“In government circles, too, SA is plunging down the priority ladder.”

The country, he says, has lost the moral authority it enjoyed under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. The state of public finances is also causing concern.

All is not lost, however. “Civil society here is very strong, you have a unique constitution and Thuli Madonsela was a wonderful example of the checks that exist. There is still a sense in London that you can be a success story but the longer bad governance continues, the harder it will be to reverse. And your education in African schools is absolutely criminal.”

Hain, a former Pretoria Boys’ High School pupil who fled to the UK with his family in 1966 and later became a leader of the anti-apartheid campaign to isolate SA sport, is officially Baron Hain of Neath these days, after gaining a life peerage in 2015. Neath is the Welsh constituency he represented as a Labour Party MP between 1991 and 2015.

Hain was in Johannesburg last week to teach at Wits Business School, where he is a visiting professor. This week, he is back in the House of Lords, where he is campaigning against the Conservative government’s plans to withdraw Britain from the EU.

The perception of this country is very negative
Peter Hain

Last year’s Brexit referendum majority will prove disastrous for many Britons, he says, particularly those on lower incomes. “It will be deadly for the economy.”

While he accepts that the majority vote must be respected, he argues the UK must fight to stay in the EU single market. “That’s my bottom line, along with free movement of people with real jobs, and the right of Europeans already living and working in the UK to stay there. Likewise, for Britons
in Europe.

“The other key issue for me is that we must maintain an open border between (British) Northern Ireland and (EU member) Ireland. Anything else would be a disaster for the Northern Ireland peace process.”

Hain held several senior government positions under Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, including secretary of state for Northern Ireland and minister for Africa.

Having made his name quarantining SA sport, how does he view it today? “I am delighted to see how well the national cricket team is doing and the multiracial nature of the team.”

So will he, a cricket follower, be cheering them on when they tour England for a test series later this year? “No. I have a soft spot for SA but I’m a firm England supporter these days.”

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