🔒 Boardroom Talk – Blast from the past; oh how we miss the late great Cees Bruggemans

By Alec Hogg

I’m indebted to tribe member Dou Pienaar for his timely reminder about the late, great Cees Bruggemans (above).

I first met the Dutch immigrant in 1983 when he joined our team at the Sunday Times Business Times. He wrote a column under the pseudonym “Rex” (a play on the FT’s ‘Lex’) to keep the contributions a secret from his bosses at Shell.


Cees’s weekly analysis was so insightful that he was eventually headhunted by FNB, where he spent 28 years delivering a blend of hope and warnings to our Young Democracy. After retiring in 2012, before he passed away Cees devoted his retirement to offering fiercely independent insights, much of which was published on BizNews.

Last month marked the sixth anniversary of Cees’s death from cancer at the age of 64. We lost a rational voice characterised by Dutch directness, but one who also always managed to point out the positive aspects. This made Cees’s voice resonate within South Africa’s corridors of power. While Pretoria may have listened, political realities often meant that it never truly heard.

More’s the pity. Here’s one of Cees’s brilliant insights from August 2015 that, if heeded, would have saved the nation much pain.

“Believing in what one says, but doing things that achieve the opposite.

In order to understand events, that requires ignoring what is being said in favour of closely examining what is being done. And cumulatively over years, decades even, this mounts up.

The SA government does not have an effective growth policy. Instead, for years, it has been consumed by a legalistic preoccupation best described as achieving restitution or rich compensation for past iniquities, whatever apparently the cost of doing so.

Moreover, there is apparently often no awareness that this approach imposes costs and opportunity loss. Or differently put, the cost is for those not favoured while benefits are obtained for those that are. This is sold as a win-win outcome and can only be understood in historic terms, not futuristic ones.

In so many words, SA’s political leadership continues living in the past rather than being concerned with preparing the country overall for the future.

Restitution & compensation is blind to the allocation of human capital (skills, experience) in the economy. Instead, it reallocates favours & imposes penalties. This represents a continuation of past practices rather than offering a decisive break with the past.

Instead of economic logic being applied, seeking optimum results for the larger population over time, the legalistic approach has often let skills go and allowed a weakening of the human capital base, primarily in the public sector.

The cumulative unintended consequences of this can be observed daily.

There is so far no evidence of a change in this approach. Instead, it would seem single-mindedness rules. The unintended consequences are therefore likely to keep multiplying as society has difficulty in generating the human capital allocation required to efficiently underwrite this legalistic approach.

Only a change of heart can lead to change for the foreseeable future. This does not necessarily mean a shift to unfettered economic logic. Restitution & compensation can remain a major feature of changing South Africa’s complexion, as to be expected, but in a secondary supporting role rather than the sole primary one as so far the case for too many years now increasingly harvesting “an approaching storm”.

And this is before considering the state of the world economy and what it might still do to us.”

Cees, the nation really misses you.    



PS Tomorrow evening (Wednesday) it’s my report-back on the MTBPS (mini Budget) after a marathon day in lockup starting at 6am. Here’s the link to register:  https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Nu_Ar9wVTgiTKS0MoFPcGw

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