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One on one

with Sipho Pityana

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Daniël Kriel

Former CEO of Sanlam Private Wealth

AngloGold Ashanti Chairman and ANC stalwart Sipho Pityana needs no introduction. As convenor of the Save South Africa campaign, he spends most of his time these days campaigning to ensure that the promise of our democratic Constitution is a lived reality that transforms the lives of all South Africans. I caught up with Sipho to find out more about the campaign, his outlook for the year ahead, and what makes him excited about South Africa.

DK: What were, for you, the most important events of 2016?

SP: Well, after the Nenegate debacle in December 2015, we at least started off the year with a trusted, steady hand in the Finance Ministry in Pravin Gordhan. We were definitely all in a panic about the potential sovereign credit ratings downgrade, but we fortunately averted this through the combined efforts of business, labour and government.

In March, there was the important judgement by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in respect of the powers of the Public Protector, which compelled President Jacob Zuma to comply with her findings on the Nkandla upgrades. This underscored South Africa’s commitment to the rule of law, as well as our Constitution.

Lastly, we shouldn’t forget that not so long ago, the protests we saw at our universities could well have resulted in bloodshed. Instead, there was a great deal of restraint in the way the South African Police Service exercised its authority. This was certainly progress after what happened at Marikana.

DK: Now for 2017 what is your outlook for the year ahead?

SP: It’s important to realise that we are in period of transition. The main political event will of course be the ANC leadership conference at the end of the year. We ended 2016 with the ANC government divided about the efficacy of the leadership of the President, and this conflict may lead to further division within the leadership of the ANC and therefore the government. From an economic point of view, we’ll naturally be affected by Brexit, as well as the election of President Donald Trump in the US. He hasn’t mentioned Africa specifically, but protectionist policies may impact us negatively.

On the positive side, the current vibrant partnership between government, business and labour in South Africa is working hard to find solutions. We’ve seen, for example, with the talks around a national minimum wage, that dialogue is definitely the preferred way of resolving our problems.

Assuming that the political environment doesn’t impact us negatively, I agree with our Finance Minister that we may well see around 1.5% economic growth this year. The big issue will be developments around our leadership. I agree with the theme set at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year – that of ‘responsive and responsible leadership’. The idea is that leaders shouldn’t pander to mindless populism, but at the same time they need to be responsive to the needs of ordinary people. I believe this is highly appropriate in the context of what is happening in our own country.

DK: What makes you excited about South Africa?

SP: For an emerging market, South Africa has much to offer:

  • Our society is built on the rule of law, with a strong Constitution. If you invest in South Africa, your investments are protected by law. Our constitutional and legal framework is a big selling point for our country. I have absolute trust in the law, and in the independence of our judiciary and other independent institutions established to ensure appropriate checks and balances.
  • South Africa has world-class, well-regulated financial markets. Investors used to the regulations of institutions such as the NYSE will find in our country an environment they’re familiar with, which is aligned with international frameworks.
  • The South African experience of conflict, income disparity and high levels of poverty makes us highly sensitive to issues around responsible investment. Sustainability, ethics, environmental awareness, issues of safety and ensuring that we make a positive impact on society are all very much part of our corporate framework.
  • South Africa has exciting growth prospects, which provide huge opportunities. In the energy sector, for example, there’s much room for investment and expansion. Our telecoms sector and information technology infrastructure will enable us to be at the centre of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will be information- and technology-driven. And of course, we’re well known as a gateway to Africa.

DK: What have been the successes of the Save SA campaign so far?

SP: Save South Africa is a campaign made up of organisations, civil society groups, business leaders, prominent individuals, South African citizens and supporters of the founding principles of our democracy. It was formed to focus on the worryingly accelerated pace of unethical governance in our country, which implicated President Zuma. One of the things we’ve done very successfully is to highlight the fact that we have in him a president with complete disregard for the Constitution.

One of the biggest successes of the campaign has been that it has enabled ordinary citizens to find their voice and unite irrespective of political association, race, religion or class. South Africans are saying they want to be an ethical society, led by someone with honour and integrity who is accountable and respects the Constitution and the rule of law.

DK: What does the future hold for the Save SA campaign?

SP: It will continue as long as President Zuma remains in power. At the end of last year, we launched a people’s motion of no confidence in Zuma, and this motion will continue. The President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) will take place on Thursday 9 February, but in our view the real SONA will be held the day before. We’ve invited young people in particular to give us an indication of what they consider to be the real state of the nation, as they are the custodians of our future, and their views are of crucial importance.

There are also a number of other activities taking place, such as town hall meetings in different regions of South Africa, where people are coming together to reflect on what roles they can play, all under the auspices of Save SA.

DK: If you were the Minister of Finance, what would you do to ensure job creation on a massive scale?

SP: Our Finance Minister already has a number of initiatives under way, including youth employment programmes. Personally, I would do away with public works programmes and use the money to assist young entrepreneurs instead. Public works programmes provide only short-term unemployment relief, which raises false expectations. All over the world, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are key drivers in job creation, so this is where we should be channelling funds, creating a favourable environment for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.

DK: Any concluding remarks?

SP: In a nutshell, I believe we have a beautiful country, with great prospects, and we have the vibrancy often associated with democratic societies. People shouldn’t confuse vibrancy with political instability – our vibrancy is what makes our democracy stable. And this vibrancy is reflected in our people – who are all working together, as civil society, labour, government or organised business, to build our country and its economy in a responsible and sustainable way.

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