by Hussein Solomon
An independent and assertive business community is as important to any democracy as a vibrant civil society, media professionalism or an independent judiciary. Indeed, if we look at South Africa’s own transition to democracy the role of the business community in getting the Nationalist Party to engage with their avowed enemy – the African National Congress – cannot be underestimated. Moreover, once the Kempton Park negotiations commenced, the South African business community played a key role to keep those negotiations on track despite the zero-sum games played by some of the politicians.
Whilst, those critics to the left of the political spectrum believe that business is all about profits, the truth is that the business community understands the wider context in which such profits are to take place: macro-economic stability and socio-political stability. Thus the business community have a keen interest in fixing our failing education system, they are concerned with the rising tide of corruption and, of course, the increasingly dirty ANC succession race which risks tearing both party and country apart. The business community, are therefore, vital partners in South Africa’s project for democracy.
It is in this context that Nedbank’s chairman, Dr. Reuel Khoza’s political statements need to be welcomed. His concern about the “…emergence of a strange breed of leaders who are determined to undermine the rule of law and override the Constitution” should be a concern to all South Africans. Characteristically the ANC’s Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe launched a scathing personal attack against Khoza, urging him to talk about “… business at Nedbank, not business he did not understand”. If we are to understand Mantashe correctly, the business community should stay out of politics and focus on economic matters entirely. The ANC Secretary-General should know that at a time when government plans to review the judiciary and when some ANC members called for the Constitution to be reviewed, since in their estimation it hinders transformation, this is a matter for all South Africans since the Constitution and our democracy is owned by all. The inclusive nature of our democratic transition has ensured a collective ownership of the Constitution which reflects the collective aspirations of all South Africans – including Dr. Reuel Khoza.
The intolerant nature of the ANC was exposed in the manner they launched highly personalized and vitriolic attacks against Dr. Khoza. Far from engaging with the merits and the underlying facts of the arguments, government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi saw Dr. Khoza’s statement as an “…attempt to discredit the government”. In similar vein Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa referred to Dr. Khoza’s statement as “twisted logic”. In my view, all this proves Dr. Khoza’s second point: “We have a duty to build and develop this nation and call to book the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity, cannot deal with the complexity of 21st century governance and leadership, cannot lead”.
Conversely, the vicious attacks on Dr. Khoza might have provided the shot in the arm for our democracy. First, it has proven the growing intolerance within the ANC and that any review of our Constitution or our judiciary should be feared by all democratic South Africans. Any revision of these by an intolerant party would be bound to undermine our nascent democratic project. Second, other business executives have joined the fray. Outgoing ABSA Chairman Garth Griffin have also criticized government for its lack of a clear policy framework to alleviate the country’s economic problems. Dr. Khoza’s cause was also taken up by Leslie Maasdorp, Vice-President of Business Leadership SA who stated, “The personal attack last week by Mr. Mantashe was unjustified, inappropriate and cannot go unchallenged”.
Perhaps the result of the ANC’s brutal attack on Dr. Khoza was to awaken the sleeping giant, which is South Africa’s business community.