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We Must Think Deeply And Profoundly About How We Posit Business As A National Asset

We need to demonstrate to 55 million South Africans that 23 years of democracy have benefited everybody.

20/09/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 20/09/2017 09:34 SAST
Sebnem Coskun/ Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images
Bonang Mohale, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA).

Banking and financial services, in general, are quite a critical and pivotal part of our economy. In fact, since our mining days, this is probably the fastest-growing sector in terms of a percentage of the GDP, but also in terms of a percentage of the number of people that it employs.

So, mining used to be probably our biggest sector at about 18 percent of GDP. South Africa was the number-one goods producer in the world. Manufacturing was 24 percent and now it is sitting at 40 percent. Manufacturing in gold has dropped, but services, in general, have increased, driven mostly by financial services.

This is important because if you want to be internationally competitive, then you want to make sure that your people have absolute access to the 21st-century technology. And banking has done that for us, South Africa's banking system is among the top five in the world. In the last 10 years, the number-one banking company in the world has always been a South African company -- in the last three or five years it's been Capitec and before then it was Absa.

South Africa has a very robust financial system, the proof point is the fact that during the 2007/2008 global recession precipitated by the subprime crisis in the USA -- by nature a financial crisis that then lead to a liquidity crisis -- SA never suffered any of those. In fact, in 2008 we had a positive GDP growth, with 2007 being our highest where we clocked 5.4 percent GDP growth.

The only contraction was in 2009 at 0.9 percent, but we were lucky because in 2010 we hosted the soccer world cup, spending R787 billion, then we spent our way out of recession. This is proof of how robust the financial sector has saved our country, our reputation and therefore the millions of jobs.

Today poverty still has a black face, the majority of our people are still languishing in the self-perpetuating vicious cycle of abject poverty.

A much more important reason of why we are here is because we want to use the banking association to address the three challenges that are facing business today:

1. How can we survive as a business in the short-term whilst not compromising the long-term sustainability?

Many people think that the purpose of business is to make a profit, whereas the purpose of business is to survive. If you don't survive, there will be no profits to make and no jobs created. And this is the number one challenge which we face.

2. How do we as a country with great natural endowments, begin to effect transformation by deeds not just words?

We need to demonstrate to the 55 million South Africans that the 23 years of democracy have benefitted everybody. Today poverty still has a black face, the majority of our people are still languishing in the self-perpetuating vicious cycle of abject poverty.

Until you look at the face of business and it is broadly reflective of the demographics then we are not winning.

3. How do we as business address this global phenomenon [which is not just South African] of inequality?

South Africa has now taken over from Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.

The three things that keep us awake at night as a business is the stubbornly high level of unemployment that leads to increasing levels of poverty, and by definition increasing levels of inequality.

It ought to be businesses' primary purpose to say how do we create jobs that can pay decent salaries so that our own employees can afford the goods that we produce and the services that we provide -- if they don't then clearly there is a problem.

Jobs of the 21st century are a critical component of what business ought to be seized with to ensure that this notion of resilience in Africa goes beyond the food-energy-water nexus.

Business ought to be saying, as we create jobs, South Africa's economic structure is such that we have always done well in those blue-collar and low-skilled industries -- manufacturing, mining etc. Now we are really making a dent in the white collar jobs or financial services and that is why we are here.

How then do we have a conversation about whether we can have a situation where we start thinking about the jobs of the 21st century. Where we know that in the fourth industrial revolution -- more than 40 percent of the jobs that will be needed then -- which we don't know -- don't exist today.

You want to develop a resilence in the way in which we create jobs that can best prepare us so that when that period comes, our curricula and institutions of higher learning have prepared our people to feel comfortable in that world, to take advantages presented by that world, but also, to describe, define and shape for themselves that world.

President Thabo Mbeki said: "If we do not think for ourselves, we place our future in the hands of others. It is up to us to create our own new world."

So, jobs of the 21st century are a critical component of what business ought to be seized with to ensure that this notion of resilience in Africa goes beyond the food-energy-water nexus. It also means identifying Africa's unique role in a rapidly globalising world and interrogating what would be our unique offering and our sustainable competitive advantage [something that is uniquely African].

This is what has prompted me to wake up in the morning, to think deeply and profoundly about how do we posit business as a national asset.