Mohale Ralebitso. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS
Mohale Ralebitso. Picture: RUSSELL ROBERTS

Much was made of the fact that we, as the Black Business Council (BBC), made the call last week that President Jacob Zuma should finish his term in office. Some of the news reports in recent days implied that we had met business leader Sipho Pityana and were simply "defending Zuma" in reaction to Pityana’s initiative to lobby business to take a position on the removal of the president.

This isn’t the case. We did meet with Pityana. But we also met with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe well before meeting the president, and he’d told us that the ANC had agreed that Zuma should finish his term. We simply agreed that the party’s internal process should be followed.

Since our formation, we’ve believed there should be a strong, specific voice for black business to empower South Africans and create a better life for all. It is this imperative that drives us — not an unhealthy contestation about whether an elected president should stay in office or not.

So that is why I argue that we’re not defending anyone — including Zuma.

But what we are saying is that there are clear rules governing who walks into the presidency, and how he or she walks out of that office. Our local elections reminded us how that process works.

Here’s what happened: we first met Zuma on September 9 to discuss various issues.

It was only afterwards that we, as the BBC, took the stand we did — urging business organisations, civil society, political parties and labour federations to proceed sensibly when discussing the presidency.

Of course, no-one is denying that in SA our politics and economic issues are inextricably linked, and we certainly have to ventilate all the issues.

However, when doing so, care must be taken not to needlessly unsettle our investment base — both locally and internationally — by creating an impression of a country at war with itself, to borrow deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s words.

Indeed, the democratic contestation for ideas, economic and otherwise, should most definitely be taking place — but it should do so in a manner that doesn’t see SA Inc continuing to score own goals.

This political noise doesn’t help SA’s economic trajectory and has a potentially adverse effect on the country’s credit rating — something we can ill afford right now.

It was in the same vein that the BBC also called for finance minister Pravin Gordhan to be allowed to do his work without undue interference from other arms of government, accepting that the principle of the rule of law applies to everybody.

But whoever the leaders of our government are, it is the policies and issues that are our central concern.

So, to this end, our discussions with the president revolved around a few key issues, including the urgent recapitalisation of the National Empowerment Fund, the inclusion of black business in the roadshows to stave off a ratings downgrade, the governance of the SMME fund and slow transformation of the financial sector, which has sidelined many black asset managers.

There were other issues too, such as the fact that we believe the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act must be overhauled to allow government to use its buying power to catalyse economic transformation, and concerns over certain aspects of the Financial Intelligence Centre Bill.

It is these issues that we believe should be occupying our attention, not a debate about whether the president should remain in office.

Of course we, as South Africans, want to see a stable government, one that is able to provide decisive leadership and that is geared towards service delivery. Like all South Africans, we want to see a stable state machinery that is not at war with itself.

• Ralebitso is CEO of the Black Business Council

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