Opinion

Danger signs - and the right flags to fly at Davos

20 January 2019 - 00:00 By Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
"How will President Cyril Ramaphosa sidestep the impression that we have an investor-adverse atmosphere?" the writer asks.
"How will President Cyril Ramaphosa sidestep the impression that we have an investor-adverse atmosphere?" the writer asks.
Image: Kopano Tlape

As usual, a delegation of high-ups will head for the cold of Davos to convince the world that SA is still open for business. Sadly, they have a mountain to climb given recent events in our country.

Apart from the continuing story of unbridled corruption that is playing out at the Zondo commission, there is the continuing story of violence against women as well as seeing violence as a way of resolving our problems. Such violence is perpetrated by all social partners.

The unions had their turn at Sibanye Gold, where petrol bombs are now part of how Amcu resolves problems related to bargaining. This can't be the way to settle issues of bargaining - a matter as old as mining itself.

The tendency to exploit has taken root and many businesses are laying off thousands of workers to circumvent the minimum wage.

There must be a way in which we can avoid another Marikana. It started just like this, when social partners failed to show each other reason and tragedy ensued. One would have thought we had learnt from this. We have become so numb to violence that there have been few voices condemning Amcu because maybe, in the absence of solid union action by the likes of the toothless Cosatu, we have come to believe that Amcu is the only credible workers' voice.

Maybe it is, but is violence the language of unionisation?

How will President Cyril Ramaphosa sidestep the impression that we have an investor-adverse atmosphere? The government is not innocent. The mineral resources minister has mishandled the balance between the need for investment and the aspirations of the Eastern Cape community of Xolobeni, which is anti-mining.

This is not good for those who want to sing a good song at Davos. It is scandalous that the community had to resort to the courts because its own government had not learnt how to consult them after 25 years of freedom.

This assertion would be hyperbole if it was not accompanied this week by a report that shows that 2018 had the highest service delivery protests since 1994. Is this the kind of flag we want to raise in Davos?

Another social partner, business, is not smelling of roses either. The tendency to exploit has taken root and many businesses are laying off thousands of workers to circumvent the minimum wage. The scandals at Steinhoff, KPMG and Bosasa are not wonderful flags, either.

There is always a temptation that, as we sell the country at Davos, we think the investor community will ignore these glaring missteps by all our social partners. They will not turn a blind eye. We must fix these things if we have any hope of attracting sensible and substantial investment. The instability that violence brings to our efforts for economic growth can do untold harm to Brand SA. It is worse if it has to do with a sector such as mining, which has been a crown jewel of our economy for decades.

The disjointed approach to the land question will also come forth in Davos. The investor community will have the Zimbabwe-style land grabs in mind when they see SA preparing to go down the same route of haphazard, state-sanctioned land grabs, otherwise called expropriation without compensation. It won't escape them that the governing party doesn't seem to have a clear plan to ensure that land redistribution doesn't result in violence and won't harm social cohesion when the promises of "land for all" do not translate into economic freedom.

Every country has a level of policy uncertainty, especially in an election year. But what the ANC has done on the land question must rank as the most desperate move to cling to power - just change policy to sound like the opposition until you are faced with the challenge of implementing it. The reluctance of some ratings agencies to take us firmly out of junk status is clearly informed by this policy schizophrenia. This is a recipe for violent instability - a poor flag to hoist at Davos.

We can't fix these things through pretty pictures and billboards, but through a change of the value system to one that frowns upon violence as a manner of resolving our problems, whether domestic or otherwise. It has to start at the top. State-sponsored violence, labour unions' impunity and economic violence unleashed by business must all be tackled head-on if any investor in Davos is to regard this country as a serious consideration for investment.

Tabane is author of Let's Talk Frankly, an independent commentator and a communications expert


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