Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. Picture: SUPPLIED
Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene. Picture: SUPPLIED

The slogan “Thuma Mina” (#send me), which was adopted earlier this year by president Cyril Ramaphosa, was the overriding theme last week of The Directors Event 2018. Branded as SA’s biggest board meeting, the event was presented by the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies and JSE-listed MMI Holdings, in partnership with the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa, Mancosa and Greymatter & Finch.

The conference was a platform for dialogue and debate about the challenges facing the country, technology solutions to grow a more inclusive economy, ways to alleviate unemployment and promote entrepreneurship as well as the impact of politics on the economy.

Ramaphosa is intent on putting the economy back on a positive trajectory and curbing corruption at state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Business has responded positively with a #CountUsIn approach. However, though sentiment is more positive than it was in 2017, the economy is not out of the woods yet and significant challenges still lie ahead, delegates heard.

New boards at SOEs are focused on restoring governance, but there remains uncertainty about government’s intention to expropriate land without compensation, and unemployment figures are still alarmingly high. The president earlier this year launched the Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative, which aims to provide more than 1m young South Africans with paid work experience. MMI Holdings and Tiso Blackstar contributed R450,000 and a percentage of ticket sales from The Directors Event to the YES initiative.

“The YES initiative is incredibly grateful to both MMI Holdings and Tiso Blackstar for this donation, which will be enormously helpful in assisting us to build quality infrastructure in our drive to provide SA youth with paid work experience,” says Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville, CEO of YES.

The big take-out

Despite there being a more positive political outlook, delegates at the 2018 Directors Event heard that SA is not yet out of the woods, though the country is responding to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s “Thuma Mina” (#send me) slogan.

Business Times editor Ron Derby said SA has failed to provide investors with policy certainty. The country has a small window of opportunity for recovery, but this relies on government’s ability to return fiscal stability to SOEs and on certainty about the mining charter, economic growth and policy solutions for the health and education sectors.

Deputy CEO of MMI Holdings and CEO of Momentum Investments, Jeanette Marais, said it is just as much the responsibility of the private sector as of the public sector to pitch in. Inclusive growth will be achieved only if practical solutions are found to enable job creation, drive investment, improve educational outcomes, upskill workers for a new digital world and speed up real transformation.

Delivering the chairman’s report, Business Leadership SA chair Jabu Mabuza said SA’s biggest problem is low economic growth, which has manifested itself in a lack of investment, a scarcity of jobs and a skills shortage. Businesses, he said, don’t operate in isolation, and it is the responsibility of all to ensure a more equitable society.

Minister of finance Nhlanhla Nene said reducing costs in the ICT sector by half could increase GDP growth by 0.3 percentage points a year and create 200,000 jobs over the next decade. He said government needs to deliver on reforms if it is to rebuild confidence in it, attract investment and create jobs. Furthermore, SA needs to upskill its people to meet the needs of business in the fourth industrial revolution and to allow more people to enter the labour market.

The first panel discussion of the event focused on how technology could be used to promote inclusive growth in SA, while the second considered youth employment and entrepreneurship.  The final panel discussion was about SA politics and the economy, including where the country is now and where it is headed.