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From left to right: Azar Jammine (Chief economist, Econometrix), John Dludlu (CEO, Small Business Institute), Hendrik Malan (CEO, Frost & Sullivan Africa), Nontobeko Hlela (Researcher, SA Office, Tricontinental Institute for Social Research), Jan Bouwer (Chief of Digital Platform Solutions, BCX) and moderator Gugulethu Mfuphi. Picture: SUPPLIED
From left to right: Azar Jammine (Chief economist, Econometrix), John Dludlu (CEO, Small Business Institute), Hendrik Malan (CEO, Frost & Sullivan Africa), Nontobeko Hlela (Researcher, SA Office, Tricontinental Institute for Social Research), Jan Bouwer (Chief of Digital Platform Solutions, BCX) and moderator Gugulethu Mfuphi. Picture: SUPPLIED

The post-pandemic period has been challenging for SA, characterised by constrained supply chains, rising interest rates, growing inflation and rising inequality. 

This year, the annual Sunday Times Directors Event, in partnership with BCX, discussed this important issue and  focused on reigniting the spirit of Ubuntu. Now in its eighth year, The Directors Event, dubbed SA’s largest board meeting, has become an important platform for dialogue and debate between the public and private sectors. It shines the spotlight on major issues of the day, said Sunday Times editor, S’thembiso Msomi.

Jonas Bogoshi, CEO of BCX, said the event was an important platform for leaders to listen and reflect. “Critically, it’s also an opportunity to ask a fundamental question: What can we do to make things better?,” he said. 

Imtiaz Sooliman, founder and chair of Gift of the Givers, delivered this year’s keynote address. 

Established 30 years ago, Gift of the Givers is the largest and most comprehensive disaster response organisation in the world. It provides unconditional assistance to the needy, irrespective of race, religion, colour, class, political affiliation or geographic location. 

Since its establishment it has delivered life-saving goods and on-the-ground support in more than 43 countries around the world, including in SA. Most corporate social responsibility initiatives “don’t have a clue” and “don’t address the real issues”, said Sooliman. 

Food insecurity has become a real problem. In provinces such as the Eastern Cape, children are dying of hunger. When people have no dignity and are hungry, they lose hope. If leaders want to make a real difference, then they need to give people hope. This requires that we grow the economy and create more jobs, he said. 

Sooliman reminded the audience that SA doesn’t belong to the government but rather to its citizens. “It's our responsibility to fix SA,” he said. 

Political analyst Daniel Silke delivered the keynote analysis. He predicts ongoing supply chain disruptions and the frozen conflict in Ukraine will have global ramifications such as slow economic growth, inflation spikes, rising food prices and a changed global order. 

While SA is likely to fare better than many economically, given the commodities it exports, the country’s ruling party is caught between its economic ties to the West and an emotional and ideological connection to Russia.  

As the commodity boom tapers, it will need to bear in mind that it still requires foreign direct investment. SA only just made it to the top 10 of Deloitte’s 2022 Africa Investment Attractiveness Index, released this month. This indicates that more work needs to be done before the country successfully attracts investment. 

The first panel discussion, moderated by Gugulethu Mfuphi, focused on fixing the economy to improve livelihoods.

Panellists included:

  • Nontobeko Hlela, a researcher for the SA Office of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research; 
  • Dr Azar Jammine, the chief economist at Econometrix; 
  • Eustace Mashimbye, CEO of Proudly SA; 
  • Hendrik Malan, CEO of Frost & Sullivan Africa; 
  • John Dludlu, CEO of the Small Business Institute and; 
  • Jan Bouwer, chief of digital platform solutions at BCX. 

The global environment has an impact on SA, resulting in higher food prices, and inflation and interest rates on an upward trajectory. Unemployment is at an all-time high, educational outcomes are poor, and the small business sector is struggling to survive. 

The panel agreed that we need to grow the entrepreneurial sector and capitalise on the agricultural opportunities realised by the war in Ukraine. At the same time we need to move away from a purely extractive economy and put more focus on beneficiating  commodities. 

SA also needs to expand its technological skills base so that South Africans can take advantage of global opportunities. SA needs to ensure it remains competitive, despite a focus on localisation. 

SA's recovery recovery will be dependent on leaders in the public and private sectors

The second panel discussion, moderated by Uveka Rangappa, focused on feeding the nation. 

Panellists included: 

  • Dr Jaisheila Rajput, founder and CEO of Tomorrow Matters Now; 
  • Professor Mark Swilling, co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at the University of Stellenbosch; 
  • Professor Imraan Valodia, pro-vice chancellor: climate, sustainability and inequality at the University of Witwatersrand; 
  • Andy du Plessis, MD of FoodForward SA and;
  • Prof Francois Engelbrecht, director and professor of the Climatology, Global Change Institute at the University of Witwatersrand. 

More than 40% of South Africans are affected by hunger and suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Hunger has worsened since the onset of the pandemic, making it more urgent that SA doubles down on securing resilient food supply chains.

Climate change is likely to worsen this situation. Unpredictable and extreme weather patterns – floods, droughts and wildfires – are playing havoc with agricultural supply chains which are impacting food security. 

The problem isn’t that SA doesn’t have enough food, the problem is that it's not being equitably distributed. As affordability and accessibility become growing issues, we need to transition away from an industrialised food system towards more ecologically friendly agricultural methods and a more sustainable system, the panellists discussed. 

Civil society organisations have stepped up to address hunger but need regulation on donations of excess food.  

The biggest risk to food security in sub-Saharan Africa is climate change, including the risk of longer lasting droughts. This makes it imperative for the continent to curb its carbon emissions as quickly as possible.

The third – and final – panel discussion, moderated by Nompumelelo Runji, put the spotlight on new ways of tackling inequality. 

Panellists included: 

  • Precious Zikhali, senior economist in the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank; 
  • Phelisa Nkomo, development economist and chair of Oxfam SA; 
  • Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla; 
  • Prof Murray Leibbrandt, MRF chair in poverty and inequality research and director of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and; 
  • Busisiwe Memela-Khambula, CEO of the SA Social Security Agency.  

The World Bank ranks SA as the most unequal country in the world. High levels of inequality are underpinned by inherited lack of economic opportunity for a large proportion of the population. While the government does offer a safety net in the form of social security grants, they are not big enough for survival. 

What is concerning is that a growing number of people – many of whom are of a productive age - are falling into this social security net. Restoring hope to this sector of the population will require a co-ordinated approach between government and business to create opportunities for employment. 

One of the overarching take-aways from this year’s Sunday Times Directors Event is that while SA faces a number of significant challenges, its recovery will be dependent on leaders in the public and private sectors, charting a bold and brave new path for the country.

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