BN@10: Rob Hersov ‘reserves a special place in Hell’ for appeasing SA business execs

When handed a microphone and offered a podium, global entrepreneur turned business activist Rob Hersov rarely disappoints. Some deliveries, however, are better than others and his ad-libbed opening address at the conference to celebrate the 10th BizNews anniversary was a tour de force. Hersov took no prisoners, castigating SA business leaders whom he believes are colluding with the ANC government – and sharing his dream of a country fulfilling its undeniable potential after the 2024 National Election. Potent. Inspirational. Visionary. If this doesn’t fill you with hope, nothing will. – Alec Hogg

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Edited transcript, streamlined for clarity, of Rob Hersov’s address to the BizNews 10th Anniversary conference:

Alec Hogg: Allow me to introduce Rob Hersov. Rob is a remarkable South African. In times when many hesitate to voice their opinions, Rob courageously stepped forward. During our second news conference at B and C, he faced not just criticism but intense backlash. But as a result, he reshaped the dialogue in South Africa. Prior to Rob, it felt as if many were afraid to speak out. Now, more voices are joining the chorus, thanks in part to pioneers like him. Rob is fully aware of his privileged background; his father and grandfather were trailblazers here, founding one of our nation’s prominent companies. Yet, despite this, he took the risk of speaking out. His credentials, including a Harvard MBA and establishing major businesses globally, gave him the foundation. After prospering overseas, he chose to return to South Africa. Rob has always been authentic and we’re honoured to have him kick off today’s event.

Rob Hersov: Thank you. Alec advised me to stay stationary for the sake of the camera and audio, which isn’t easy for me. I’d like to congratulate Biznews on their 10th anniversary. Having Biznews in Hermanus is fantastic. It’s a delight to see my eldest son, Alex, here from Los Angeles, sitting in the front row. Alec urged me to maintain a positive tone today, which is apt given that there’s still much to be optimistic about in South Africa, despite the current political challenges. Admittedly, it’s tough for me to stay entirely positive. When I speak, it’s always spontaneous.

I often revisit my speeches, astonished by my own words. As I’ve taken on the unexpected role of a capitalist activist, the proudest moments have been my father’s words of pride and a backhanded compliment from Gwede Mantashe. Although I have immense discontent with the ANC’s direction, my utmost disdain is reserved for the silent business leaders. Those who don’t challenge the status quo, like Martin Kingston, who in my view appeases the ANC. When I read about such business magnates teaming with the government, it makes me question their true intentions.

I recently came across a puzzling initiative where businesses were attempting to solve problems created by the current administration, seemingly propping up the ANC for the upcoming election. But when I noticed Neal Froneman’s name, whom I greatly respect, it made me question my skepticism. I asked Neal about his involvement. He expressed that our country’s situation is dire and that we must act now, regardless of the impending election. His involvement aims for lasting change, regardless of who leads in the future. But with Martin Kingston at the helm, I remain wary.

Now, let me share my optimism, which might sound familiar. It’s challenging to find positivity in the country’s current state, but bear with me. I had a vivid dream set around 2025 or 2030. The ANC wasn’t governing; instead, there was a coalition. The president might have been Herman Mashaba, John Steenhuisen, or Mmusi Maimane — someone with pro-West, capitalist views, a staunch believer in democracy and the rule of law. This dream government was efficient, staffed by experts, and led by competent ministers.

In this future, South Africa was thriving, growing at 8% annually, outpacing even Kenya. Such growth is possible under the right leadership. I witnessed foreign direct investment flooding in. Today, there’s a massive potential for investment across all sectors, but current regulations and mistrust of the ANC’s governance hinder this. Consider Elon Musk’s StarLink; we could provide Wi-Fi to the most remote areas if it weren’t for current policies and regulations.

There’s immense potential for foreign investment from all over the world, but current policies, including racial biases, property rights issues, and the socialist leanings of the ANC, repel investors. But in my envisioned future, these barriers were torn down. South Africa saw an influx of foreign investment and a rapid decrease in unemployment. The country’s informal economy, especially the vibrant township entrepreneurial scene, showcases our resilience and potential.

In short, South Africa’s future can be bright. With the right leadership and policies, we can unleash our full potential.

In my envisioned future, unemployment drastically drops to around 10%, which, in South Africa, equates to almost full employment. It’s heartbreaking that so many South Africans, including many of our children, find themselves overseas, compelled by circumstances and a desire for a brighter future. They’ve had no choice but to thrive in foreign lands. There’s a notable presence of successful South Africans abroad; Elon Musk and Patrick Soon-Shiong in Los Angeles are just two of the many examples. Astonishingly, most of our billionaires reside outside South Africa.

However, in this hopeful dream of mine, a significant portion of these expatriates, especially the younger and skilled, return. They bring with them knowledge, global connections, and resources, ready to rebuild our nation. Our country evolves digitally, embracing innovations like StarLink, thus expanding access to world-class education regardless of location or physical classrooms.

The scars of apartheid, especially its devastating educational inequalities, linger. It’s painful to acknowledge that there are entire generations, including many in current leadership, who are undereducated and fail to grasp the perils of socialism.

In this positive future, there’s a strong alignment with the West, while distancing from Russia and China. Following South Africa’s success, Zimbabwe experiences a political transformation, leading to a resurgence of its economy. Zimbabweans, who were once refugees in our land, joyfully return home, contributing to the growth of their nation.

This dream isn’t far-fetched. It’s achievable, contingent upon a united political front opposing the ANC. This requires not just the collaboration of political parties but also an active and engaged civil society. People like Michael Louis, whom I recall speaking about changing our Electoral Act years ago at a gathering, epitomise the kind of proactive involvement that can catalyse change. If we come together, this dream can become our reality.

Michael deserves recognition for his exemplary efforts. He’s managed to unite civil associations in our country, bringing changes to the Electoral Act to support independent candidates. The strength of our civil society, as displayed by organisations like Afriforum, is commendable.

However, our business community leaves much to be desired. While some, like Sim Tshabalala and Gareth Ackerman, are vocal, many remain silent. This silence is concerning, and I challenge them to take a stand. In times of change, society remembers those who made a difference. Neil Froneman stands out, while others, like Martin Kingston, seemingly placate the status quo. But it’s not just business leaders; we need entertainers, athletes, podcasters, and influencers to use their platforms to shed light on the truth, just as Ian Cameron, Jan Oberholzer, Herman Mashaba, and Penuel MLotshwa does.

Our nation faces challenges, with the ANC’s apparent inability to manage our state-owned enterprises being one of the most significant. I urge those who believe Cyril Ramaphosa is a reformer to reconsider. His leadership pushes a socialist agenda, masked by charisma and eloquence. It’s time for South Africans to see the reality and recognise the path our country is on under his leadership.

So, what’s the way forward? We need a united front: politics, civil society, athletes, entertainers, influencers, and the business community. Most importantly, our youth must be engaged. We need the 18-25 age group, who are often disinterested or disillusioned by politics, to realise the power of their vote. They weren’t born during apartheid, and they have the clarity to see the challenges we currently face.

In conclusion, I envision a brighter South Africa, free from the constraints of the current leadership. I dream of a nation rebuilt, and I’ll be discussing a potential reconstruction bond later, which could be a catalyst for this change. I yearn for the day when this dream becomes our reality and the current challenges become a distant memory.

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