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Alec on Winslyn: SA’s A-team represented at Davos – ‘give them a chance’

The hard work the South African team did at Davos cannot be understated, and it was a 180 degree turnaround from 2016. The mood was good, and not one ‘scandal’ came up for air. What follows however is anyone’s guess. Rumours of a cabinet shuffle, which may be an attempt to silence this Davos ‘A’ team. Sitting on the other side of the table, or in this instance, computer screen. Biznews founder Alec Hogg, spoke to Winslyn’s Divan Botha, for some on the ground feedback from last week’s event. Stuart Lowman

Die jaarlikse Wêreld Ekonomiese Forum het amptelik vandag in Davos Switserland begin en ons skakel nou deur na Alec Hogg in Switserland, hallo Alec.

Hey Divan, lekker om saam te praat.

Dis net so lekker om met jou te gesels. Alec, just give us an idea and some background to all of our viewers, what’s the importance of the World Economic Forum and specifically Davos?

Well, it’s a gathering every year in January for a week where you get the powerful politicians, company executives, people from civic society, people from the media who get together to address the issues of the time. This year, for instance, was the first time ever that the President of China, President Xi came here and he’s shaken up the place with a speech, which was very anti what’s going on in Brexit, Trump, and parts of Europe, etcetera, where he is fighting for the little guys, for the South Africa’s.

In fact, Pravin Gordhan said afterwards that President Xi spoke for all of us smaller countries when he said globalisation is good, it’s brought economic growth around the world and we should not now regress into the kind of world that unfortunately, some of the Trump supporters want it to be, so the world on a bit of a knife edge at the moment, Divan and Davos is a good place to come and absorb.

Alec Hogg, Davos, 2017

It’s interesting that you say that the Chinese President was there to fight on our behalf. Our president decided a day or so before the event to pull out and not to join the delegation, which he normally does. What do you read into this and was it actually a good thing?

Well, I’ve been coming here for 14 years and every year that I’ve come here, the President of South Africa has been here, even during the year when Kgalema Motlanthe was the President (if you remember for that brief period), he came and he represented the country. Last year Zuma was very unpopular. He didn’t pitch for a big panel discussion on investing in Africa. He maintains that he told them beforehand that he wasn’t going to be there, but the fact later emerged that he went and had a meeting with the president of Sweden, who’s not going to do a whole lot for South Africa’s cause, whereas inventing in Africa would have. He was also featured on the second page of a big newspaper here, which talked about a toxic president.

They had a photograph of him that was not at all flattering, so I guess Davos is not his happy place right now and as far as he’s concerned, he’d rather just give it a miss, but he gave it a miss late and he also gave it a miss at an inappropriate time if you consider that the star of the show here is the Chinese President, who is supposedly South Africa’s big friend in BRICS, but it appears as though another of the geopolitical histories that are developing in the world, is that China is going the one way and then you have Russia and America becoming allies the other way and sadly, I think that the Zuma camp is wanting to ally with Russia and America, whereas Pravin Gordhan, Cyril Ramaphosa, the other candidate, which we well know, everybody knows that the ANC is split in half and that camp is very favourably disposed towards China and the way that it thinks.

Let’s rather talk about the camp that’s actually there and specifically our deputy president. I know he’s not the only person there and he’s followed by a bigger South African delegation. How are we received this year because last year the Nhlanhla Nene issue had just arisen, how were we received this year so far?

We were talking, I spoke to one of the big bankers who were here this morning, and he said, “You might not feel great this year, but last year, remember it was just after Nenegate and this year I’m actually feeling a lot more optimistic. These guys who where here, who are representing South Africa, this is the A Team and we’ve had a B Team and a C Team and actually the E Team representing the country for most of the last few years”. In fact, one of the years Zuma didn’t come and Pravin Gordhan ran the show and that was great. We’ve also had Trevor Manuel taking over after the President, I think it was Mbeki and then he left and took over, but I don’t remember seeing as much cohesion in a government delegation, as much articulation, as much skill.

These are guys who know what’s going on with bring presidential today. We’ve lost him, over the last few years while he’s been deputy president, he’s been invisible, he’s been under Zuma’s shadow. We thought oh, this guy that we loved so much, or Madiba loved so much has just become one of them, if you’d like, very mediocre, he’s not. He showed himself today, he didn’t have a script, he spoke off script, he answered questions spontaneously, very well, he spoke about how South Africa’s financial services sector is the ‘Jewel of Africa’ and we need to protect it.

You know the Guptas are trying to put the banks out of business. He spoke about how business is very important for the cohesion and that the big thing of last year, in his opinion was that there was greater cohesion between business, labour, and government for the first time in many years. He painted a nice picture for us, Divan and you know, if things happen the way they might have (we don’t know which way things are going to break), Zuma might decide next week to have a cabinet reshuffle and goodbye Pravin Gordhan and the other guys who were here, Rob Davies did a good job, Ebrahim Patel, who knows what that man’s going to do, but the reality of where we are, is we have a fantastic A Team if we can just get them off the bench and put them in the field to play.

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister, gestures as he speaks during a panel session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Alec, we only have about 30 seconds. What are the difficult questions that the delegation or the people at the event are actually asking our delegation?

Well, so far our guys have been given a pretty easy ride and the reason for that is that the focus is elsewhere, the focus is on the world, it is on a world that’s in crisis, and it’s a world that doesn’t know which way to go. As much as you have, for instance, in South Africa, this political divide, you have a similar political divide in the world as a whole. We’ve been used to coming to Davos and hearing good news and hearing about the cohesion of humanity, how we’re addressing poverty and the good things that are happening. Now we’re starting to hear or see the warning flags about the other side and how things could actually go backwards. So South Africa, so far, pretty good, I was in a session a minute ago with Pravin Gordhan, who really is such a class act. You must see him on the global stage; he’s one of the global statesmen. Well, we’ve got them, they’re there Divan, we’ve just go to give them a chance.

Alec, thank you so much and thanks for flying the flag, we appreciate that.

My pleasure.

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