The government should start acting in the interests of our country rather than the ruling ANC party, and do far more to support business – which regularly pays billions in taxes and is the backbone of our economy. The response to the tragic Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted the African National Congress’s unhelpful attitude to large sections of the business community. There is no doubt that fairly desperate measures had to be taken to contain the spread of this deadly virus, especially given the stuttering state of the economy and an inadequate public health system.
However, much of this was done in an autocratic and erratic manner, with some business sectors completely banned and others hampered by confusing regulations and bizarre-decision making at the highest levels of government.
Many business leaders believe President Cyril Ramaphosa is trying his best to encourage investment and create jobs, but the ANC’s reaction to Covid-19 has enhanced the view that he is severely restricted by certain members in the so-called “Big Six” and others in the party.
This is extremely disappointing as just over two years ago there was hope that things would change fairly quickly, given that Ramaphosa was seen as progressive and had a deep understanding of business.
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, many businesses that should have been thriving were not because of confusing and complex regulations, a general lack of trust and enablement by government, and other issues. The lack of trust has been exacerbated by the hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money that has gone into crumbling SOEs such as Eskom and South African Airways.
Eskom still evades shaming companies and entities that have overcharged, and corrupt managers and staff have not yet been brought to book. SAA, which should have been closed down as a failed entity years ago, still stutters along.
Governments are put in place by voters to run countries well. They are also expected to take responsibility for failures. In many instances, the ANC does neither.
Nobody can reasonably deny that apartheid was a flagrantly cruel and vile system that created intense disunity, uncertainty, injustice, and inequality for decades. However, to constantly blame the past and racial friction for a host of current political and economic failures after decades of democracy and great power smacks of cynical political party manipulation.
Governments are put in place by voters to run countries well. They are also expected to take responsibility for failures. In many instances the ANC does neither.
This is especially true following the massive corruption that held the country in its grip throughout the years under Jacob Zuma. To be fair, some businesses and professionals also colluded in robbing the state, to the detriment of society as a whole.
Corruption is still a major problem and in many instances a hindrance to good business.
Broadly, the ANC is seen as anti-business because of its inability to deal with powerful unions and other organisations on an equal footing, the failure to ensure criminal convictions for those guilty of widespread corruption, and a general inference by the ANC that business − especially big business, which creates so many jobs and pays most of the taxes that support the state − is undemocratic and works against the welfare of the majority of the people.
Companies are hampered by a myriad of strange regulations and red tape, VAT returns are often not paid back on time to many companies, including our own, and anti-business campaigns and breakdowns in communication are the order of the day.
No company likes to do it but those that get into difficulties and must retrench staff, or go under and lose everything, face a virtual wall of obstacles from legal battles to sabotage via intimidation and even arson. This has been the case with many industries, including our own timber treatment industry. In some cases companies have been forced to close, thus losing all jobs rather than merely the proportion proposed by the retrenchment planning.
This self-entitlement hampers growth, makes investors balk, and dampens business confidence and ratings from international ratings agencies such as Moody’s.
In twisted rhetoric, government representatives often pillory companies as unpatriotic; the truth is most business people commit their capital, expertise, and futures to a country and its economy in a way that many others do not.
The situation in South Africa appears dire, with rising debt, massive unemployment, increasing poverty, and predictions that hundreds of smaller businesses will soon be lost.
However, most business people are optimistic by nature and any effort by government to ease the way for entrepreneurship, or appear grateful for their contribution to society, would go a long way to boosting confidence and the determination to succeed − even against the heavy odds facing the country as Covid-19 takes its deadly toll.
Businesspeople, at least those with drive and acumen, are also generally pragmatic. Given more of a chance by government, business would make even greater effort towards helping the country recover from its current woes.
In the end, it is vital for the government to get along with business, for the good of the nation.