Moeletsi Mbeki’s rallying cry for business to become active in politics to save SA

Political analyst and Chairperson of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), Moeletsi Mbeki says it’s evident from high unemployment, collapsing infrastructure, a deteriorating healthcare system and ailing security apparatus that the ANC government is not coping with its responsibilities and that the global status of South Africa has declined enormously. In an interview with BizNews, he also criticised the negative impact of black economic empowerment on the economy and on social cohesion. Change would be possible through the 2024 elections, he said, by a coalition of opposition parties. Mbeki called for the private sector to play an active role in politics, urging individual business leaders to intervene rather than simply advising the government. However, he dismissed the notion of a messiah-like figure driving this process. – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:49 – Moeletsi Mbeki on the current state of South Africa
  • 02:49 – Mbeki on how the nation is perceived globally
  • 04:11 – On BRICS and SA’s relationship with Russia
  • 05:09 – On the 2024 elections
  • 06:32 – On who could lead the ANC opposition as SA president
  • 07:33 – On Roelf Meyer’s comments on BEE and the mistakes made during 1994’s transfer of power
  • 09:16 – On the ANC doubling down on BEE and implementing similar detrimental policy
  • 10:51 – On the private sector’s involvement in politics
  • 15:49 – On the future of the ANC and South Africa’s democracy
  • 20:11 – On the Mbeki family’s history of leadership

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Excerpts from the interview

Average private soldier 40 years old, SA is not in a good space

A country with 42% unemployment is in a very bad shape. So, that’s the reality of our situation in South Africa. Many of the state-owned infrastructure projects have all but collapsed. The railways, for example, have more or less collapsed, the power generation company, which is also state owned, provides power intermittently. Our hospitals, our public health hospitals are in a shocking state. And you can go on and on. So, the country is not in a good shape. Then you look at the military, the police, the security apparatus of South Africa in a shocking state. I’m told the average age of a South African private soldier is 40-years old when in the American army it is 19-years old. So, we don’t have an army. Lots of the military equipment that was bought at great expense is mothballed because there are not enough trained people to use it and there are no spare parts. I can go on and on. South Africa is not in a good space. 

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Status of SA in the world declined enormously

I was in Kenya last week, and the people in Kenya are a bit surprised. There used to be two flights a day, one by Kenya Airways and another one by South African Airways. South African Airways has all but collapsed, but Kenya Airways is still operating. So, it’s clear to everybody that the South African government is really not coping with its assignment and the status of South Africa in the world has declined enormously. I’m sure you noticed that they were uninvited to the G7 meetings which they normally attend. The Japanese government invited the African Union chairman instead. 

Read more: 2024 Elections: Opposition parties face an uphill battle in dethroning ANC

BEE created a class of rich politicians who added no value to the economy

I opposed it [BEE] from the word go because it was creating a class of rich politicians who were living off the existing companies and adding no value. But the existing companies wanted to buy off the policies of the new ANC government. So, they thought it was a price worth paying. We now know that it actually wasn’t a price worth paying. It’s caused lots of disruption to the social cohesion of South Africa and it’s been a major driver of corruption.

Read more: ‘We can do it – we’ve done it before’: Kevin Lings says path to SA economic rebound lies in using past lessons

Business leaders should intervene in politics

There’s a new book, interestingly, about a biography of Harry Oppenheimer, which interestingly shows that at least Ernest Oppenheimer and Harry Oppenheimer intervened politically to try to change the situation. So, hopefully this new book will inspire the private sector to start to realise that it has to intervene instead of becoming an advisor. It has to realise they are South African citizens, they should play a role in the politics of the country in the way that people like Donald Trump, George Bush, who are private sector operators, are playing their role as citizens in the political space in their own country. So, I think this is where South Africa is heading.

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