BIG companies should not apologise for their existence. They should get better at marketing the good they do for society, said Ann Bernstein, executive director at the Centre for Development and Enterprise.
Bernstein and Songezo Zibi, director of the Rivonia Circle, were two panelists at the second day of the 2022 Joburg Indaba conference during a discussion on politics and policy in South Africa and the mining industry.
The CDE is an independent policy analysis and advocacy organisation that frequently hosts webinars on trade and the economy. The Rivonia Circle was recently launched as a think tank that liaises with government, business and civil society to find political and economic solutions for South Africa.
Bernstein said South Africa will not see reform unless it puts the private sector at the heart of its growth plans. “The non-government sector – in particular the private sector – is the only sector that can get things done in South Africa.”
She said South Africa should have a realistic conversation about South Africa being a developmental state and government’s ability to drive growth and reform. “It’s a false assumption. We have a state that can’t ensure safety, give quality education or create an environment for employment.”
Big business should stand up and talk about the remarkable things they do – running profitable, legally compliant companies that pay taxes and pensions and create careers. “You saved us last year with your tax. You are important,” she said in reference to the handsome tax contribution mining companies have made to the fiscus over the past two years.
Zibi, a former Business Day editor, and the former flak catcher for mining group Xstrata said it’s no longer the case of “the business of business is business”.
“I want to appeal to you to reimagine your political participation in the country. You need to co-determine the political direction. Only then you’ll see the right statutes and legislation. Because Parliament doesn’t the capability to put that in place.”
Zibi also said it won’t benefit mining companies to try and forge new relationships with communities in which they operate. “The politicians are inciting those very communities (to turn) against you. You need to find out who the ‘new elite’ is you need to talk to. Who is your new ‘ANC in exile’ you need to get consensus?”
According to Zibi, the taxes and royalties that mining companies pay should be put aside for the work that is needed in certain provinces and communities. “Use the proceeds (from mining companies) for specific communities. Otherwise it gets wasted on overheads.”
Both Bernstein and Zibi lamented Mines and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe’s absence at the Indaba. Mantashe was in Cape Town where he attended the Oil Africa Week conference. He was supposed to deliver the keynote address virtually, but cancelled at short notice.
“Whatever we had of the consensus reached between 1986 and 1994, it collapsed. It’s all the more evident by the fact that the minister didn’t even turn up today,” Zibi said.