Rob Hersov: South African corporates – cowards or colluders?

By Rob Hersov*

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Alan Moore

On Monday February 6th, 2023, Cyril Ramaphosa opened the Mining Indaba with a speech that called out business leaders, telling them to stop moaning and complaining and asking them to “get into the ring” and start providing solutions to South Africa’s problems.

Instead of booing him off the stage, which he deserved – as the problems this country faces are almost entirely brought about by Ramaphosa and his incompetent and kleptocratic ANC – the business community clapped like circus seals.

Neal Froneman is the only miner to show any spine whatsoever, and alone in the mining industry, tells the ANC and the beyond-useless Gwede Mantashe where to get off. A national hero.

And when we look across corporate South Africa, and consider the blatant and unmitigated destruction Ramaphosa and the ANC have wrought upon our economy and democracy, we need to ask ourselves: where is the Harry Oppenheimer of our generation? Where are the corporate Bravehearts?

Other than Neal Froneman, only Johann Rupert has stood tall, and very much alone, in calling out Zuma and his gangsters.

From 2015 for several years, Rupert called out the corrupt ANC and then got publicly attacked as the face of white monopoly capitalists (when that nonsense prevailed) and received numerous threats for his stance. He received no support whatsoever from other corporate leaders in South Africa. Another national hero.

I must give credit to a few corporate leaders who are fighting back in different ways, namely Mike Brown of Nedbank, the Capitec gang, Graham Dunford of Hudaco, Gerhard Papenfus of NEASA and Gareth Ackerman of Pick ‘n Pay. But they are too few to really scare the mobsters in Pretoria.

So where is corporate South Africa’s voice?

The people of this country are looking for leaders and many of us are hoping the corporates will defy Ramaphosa and his cabinet of clowns, and hear the clarion call of bravery, but all we currently hear is a deadly silence. Or pathetic clapping.

Discovery is not only silent but actively supports the NHI, which will surely further destroy free enterprise in this country. Where then is Aspen Pharmaceuticals’ voice? Standard Bank’s voice? SASOL’s? Impala? The ever-woke Dischem? Naspers? African Rainbow Minerals and ARC? Well, we know the main ANC funder here………..And Old Mutual? Safika? DiData? Ninety-One?  All silent. I could go on and on……….it is truly the silence of the lambs.

If I was not a businessman myself, maybe I should ask myself why I am even expecting big business to stand up for South Africans. Even in developed countries, big business and government are seen to be in crony-capitalist cahoots. In many countries ruling parties rely on big business for funding, and big business need government on their side to get licences and win tenders. Given that the raison d’être of business is to make money, maybe it is not in their interest to offend the government of the day (Discovery and its keenness for the disastrous NHI being a case in point).

It is worrying that business in SA has just quietly accepted all the BEE and EE and industry charter nonsense over the years. Why haven’t SA corporates spoken up against tariffs and corruption and infrastructure decay and sectoral wage agreements? Business seems to be in NEDLAC not to negotiate with government, but to collude with government.

If the ANC loses power, and a DA-led coalition takes over (an improbable but possible development), watch big business spin on a dime to start licking DA boots and loudly proclaim that they were anti-ANC all along.

I lift my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? Not from big business right now, that’s for sure.

A lot creepier than these corporate cowards are the heads of advisory firms like Martin Kingston (Rothschilds) and Colin Coleman (ex-Goldman Sachs), to take two cringe-worthy examples (not to mention the awful Gootkin and the Werksmans crowd).

Both Kingston and Coleman sucked up to the ANC when they needed to win government business, but neither have spine enough today to be able to make a stand and say they were wrong – read their pathetic high-level attempts to start to worm their way onto the right side of history with articles headed “Business has a powerful role to play in fixing SA” and “Open the economy to all or we can kiss goodbye to  our democracy”.

In neither case do these men-not-in-the-arena directly identify the ANC as the problem. For all we know, Kingston is still a card-carrying ANC member (he may need to keep marrying cabinet ministers’ daughters or ex-wives to stay relevant) and Coleman is too-obviously angling for a cabinet position.

There are so many excuses I have heard from wealthy and powerful corporate leaders and business heads, ranging from the old lie “business and politics shouldn’t mix” to “I might lose my license”, “I am not big enough”, and “why pick on me, what about the other guys………..”.

The head of one of the largest financial institutions in this country told me that corporate SA is active “behind the scenes”, and via respected organisations like BLSA, producing white papers and engaging Ramaphosa and others in private (and heated, he tells me) meetings.

But from the viewpoint of the average South African, corporates are doing less than nothing, and are truly scared or, worse, are colluding and therefore very much part of the problem.

BEE has imposed shareholders onto corporates who have mixed views on the ANC but, in most cases, won’t ever speak out against injustice as they are beneficiaries of this failed ideology. Cadre deployment has delivered Stasi-like directors onto boards (as an example, the SACP-supporting politician Geraldine Fraser Moleketi on the Standard Bank board). And ANC-linked institutions like the PIC, and even Standard Bank and Multichoice (add foreigners SwedFund and BII UK to this list, as I have unpleasant personal experiences with all four) have used their credit committees to turn down anyone who expresses anti-ANC sentiments.

Speaking truth to power has its drawbacks, and I am more aware of that than most other South Africans in the business world, but surely we South Africans have shown our resilience against oppression over the centuries? Why not now, corporate South Africa? The proverbial frog is truly boiling, and we are running out of time……….

If ever there was a time for SA corporates and business leaders to stand up, collectively, and tell the ANC that THEY are the state of disaster – and it is time for the ANC to leave – it is now.

*Rob Hersov is a global entrepreneur based in Cape Town.

Read more:

Visited 15,749 times, 2 visit(s) today