‘Champions’ of the war against economic apartheid

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THE real reason the Black Business Council (BBC) exists is because its members are “economic apartheid fighters”, says general secretary Sandile Zungu.

The BBC of today was formed as a result of the breakaway from Business Unity SA by the Black Management Forum in late 2011 after an acrimonious battle over transformation. It was first formed in 1996, but then merged with Business SA in 2003 to form Business Unity SA after then president Thabo Mbeki called for a more united voice for organised business.

The general secretary believes “economic apartheid may take more effort to change than real apartheid”, and that while the BBC is working against it, “we are still awaiting determined champions who are white”.

One of the ways he is trying to do this is through lobbying. The BBC has been present at most forums where government and business have met, and also tries to lobby individual politicians where it can. “It’s about creating opportunities for our members — accountants and lawyers want a share of state spend, we argue for them,” he says.

Mr Zungu says the ANC is not taking into account what business wants when it makes decisions, creating a dynamic in which the two sides could become more hostile to each other. This has led to situations in which the ANC and government have “tended to do a climb-down, months or even years later, which almost always leaves a sour taste”.

This creates a “winners and losers” syndrome, which could have been avoided by a proper engagement with each other much earlier.

The BBC says “black graduates come to us, and complain they are unemployed, thus we need to be an agent for change”.

The nexus between politicians and business has become a difficult and complicated space, and could become more so, as labour unions are likely to use their ties with the ANC during this year’s round of salary negotiations. Mr Zungu is seen as well connected in both the political and business spheres, and is clearly concerned about the relationship between the two.

“There are moments when I wonder whether the actions and decisions taken (by the ANC) are necessarily informed by what business thinks.”

But he is critical of political analysis on the part of business, which often “claims to have champions in the ANC’s national executive committee”, based on the fact that “Cyril (Ramaphosa) or Tokyo (Sexwale) are members”.

His suggestion is to copy the way labour and the ANC work. “They have structured interactions, with deployees from labour, and the SACP, in their national executives.”

The approach from business is not working because the purported business champions are “actually there as individual cadres”.

The way around this is to arrange regular meetings between business and economic cluster ministers, such as trade and industry’s Rob Davies and economic development’s Ebrahim Patel.

This is part of the lobbying process, and one of the reasons the BBC gives for its existence.

Mr Zungu is a critic of the ANC’s concept of a “developmental state” which he believes may “create false expectations as to what the state can do without business ... the fact is the ANC cannot do without business, and people will continue to drive and succeed in spite of what the ANC may do in the short term ... but business cannot do without the ANC in the longer term”.

That is quite forthright criticism by a person who also wants certain opportunities from the government the party runs.

Mr Zungu is most passionate in his organisation’s call for a Ministry of Small Business. He firmly believes if this ministry existed the “Business Registration Bill would be done in a completely different way”.

He echoes complaints by other business groups that the state does not focus enough on small, medium and micro enterprises, pointing to global numbers indicating that smaller firms account for a greater share of economic growth. He believes an additional 1% of growth can be unlocked with such a focus.

By Stephen Grootes

Grootes is an Eyewitness News Reporter. He studied at Rhodes University

Source: Business Day