Former finance minister Trevor Manuel lashed out at President Jacob Zuma, saying he is corrupt and incapable of governing South Africa.
Manuel also took a swing at current ministers, saying government fails to deal with corruption because competent leadership has "been replaced by incompetence".
"You look around the world today and it seems to be okay for people to get away with what they can get away with. Start with our own president -- he is corrupt and has demonstrated himself incapable of leading this nation," Manuel said.
He was speaking along with AngloGold Ashanti chair and SaveSA convener Sipho Pityana, as well as Nedbank Group CEO Mike Brown at the GIBS Ethics and Governance Think Tank in Sandton on Tuesday. The panel discussion focused on ethical leadership and the role of business in the future of South Africa.
Manuel said corruption needed to be treated as a violation of law; not just as an ethical misdemeanor.
"Other ministers don't do their jobs because it doesn't matter anymore. Because it doesn't matter at the highest level of government, it is possible for business to get away with what they can... It is not possible for government leaders to deal with the issue [corruption] partly because they replaced competent people in administration with incompetence," Manuel said.
He also took a dig at UK-based PR firm and Gupta spinsters, Bell Pottinger.
"Somebody must explain to me how they [Bell Pottinger] can claim they didn't know. When your core business is communication, you don't read the newspapers, you don't read social media? We have a duty right now to call an end to what is happening in our country," Manuel said.
Answering questions on the role of business in politics, Pityana said businesses have a responsibility to play a meaningful role as an important partner in society.
"I don't believe that we can kick business out of politics but I don't believe it is appropriate for businesses becoming a bunch of political activists... The business voice must be out there," Pityana said.
"The immediate presumption is that the first thing we do as soon as you are in trouble is to cut jobs. But the circumstances under which this happens are sometimes exacerbated. The challenge of creating jobs is not just a business one. The macro-economic environment is essential to this."
Pityana called on businesses to call out government on its mistakes -- and at the same time, hit out against Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.
"I'd be disappointed if business leadership goes and meets the government, and doesn't say Mr President, your minister of finance should never have been minister of finance because he doesn't have integrity. You know for a fact that he has been implicated in the Gupta leaks, and you can't entrust him with the finances of the nation," Pityana said.
"Businesses have the responsibility to do that."