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Department of Political Sciences

Opinion: Treatment of Khoza Betrays ANCís Insecurity

By Mzukisi Qobo

Posted on 13 April 2012

SAís business leaders should speak up more. Their responsibility extends beyond making profits to grappling with complex social issues as well as giving politicians a run for taxpayersí money, writes UP Political Sciences lecturer and Business Day Columnist, Dr Mzukisi Qobo.

The recent spat involving the African National Congress (ANC) and Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza reveals serious cracks in the relationship between the political leadership and big business in SA and is also replete with farcical ironies.

Business leadership has a responsibility to contribute to social change. Economist Milton Friedman once famously remarked: "The business of business is business." That cannot be true in a country such as SA, which has big social challenges. Business is uniquely placed to broaden the possibilities for national economic prosperity if propitious conditions are in place. Importantly, business should exercise greater responsibility in holding political leaders to account. Thus, the ANC needs to be more appreciative of the contribution business makes in society and tolerant of its dissenting views.

The ANC’s heavy-handed response to Khoza’s criticism goes against this spirit and is a sign of political insecurity.

This gratuitous attack on a high-profile business leader sends an alarming message about SA’s commitment to a climate that encourages freedom of thought and expression. It also communicates a visceral hostility to big business.

Khoza’s denunciation by a succession of senior party and government leaders is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Among his catalogue of political sins, Khoza is accused of having a poor record on transformation and of failing to invent a black CEO at Nedbank. This kind of vitriol is divisive and has no place in the SA we set about building in 1994.

In his reflections, Khoza simply stated the obvious — that the moral quotient of the country’s leadership is degenerating and its intellectual capacity is weak and that SA is led by elites who have debased the worth of political office. This is difficult to argue against in the face of unsettling evidence.

On the emerging political culture and governance, there is the threat of constitutional review lurking on the horizon, which the ANC rationalises as a great leap forward to a second transition. This might take place while President Jacob Zuma faces a marathon court process to defend himself against graft charges, if the Democratic Alliance succeeds in having the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to drop them rescinded by the courts. The Constitutional Court, which the ANC is targeting for review, will be the ultimate arbiter in the matter.

In a twist of irony, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who had earlier castigated Khoza for hiding in Nedbank’s cushy offices "licking fingers of fat cheques", is now implicated in the abuse of secret police intelligence accounts to renovate his home in KwaZulu-Natal to the tune of R200 000.

Cabinet spokesman Jimmy Manyi, who was tasked with the hatchet job on Khoza, once fell foul of then labour minister Membathisi Mdladlana for allegedly soliciting business for himself from Norwegian diplomats while serving as a government official. The incident forced him on special leave after the Norwegian embassy laid a complaint. As if that was a badge of honour, he was later parachuted to greater heights as the government’s communications chief.

Not so long ago, some Cabinet ministers demonstrated judgment flaws by buying expensive luxury vehicles just because the Ministerial Handbook allows them to. Their expensive tastes and playing fast and loose with taxpayers’ money underlines the lack of capacity to think ethically. Last year, the Special Investigating Unit declared that 25% of state procurement expenditure amounting to about R30bn was lost to wasteful expenditure and corruption.

Given this dispiriting reality, Khoza’s criticism of the government is diplomatic. The ANC should have used this as a moment for reflection and seized the initiative to reconstitute relations with big business on a sounder plane. That would have been a mark of humility and political maturity.

In August last year, the government denounced then head of Business Leadership SA Michael Spicer for expressing misgivings about the nationalisation of mines and warning the government to act responsibly. The government accused Spicer of disdain for the ANC and failing to transform business.

This irrational reaction to criticism is a sign that the ANC is vulnerable intellectually and morally. It is a weakness whose source lies in its slippery grip on governance. It also reflects the extent to which the ANC is out of touch with reality.

SA’s business leaders should speak up more. Their responsibility extends beyond making profits to grappling with complex social issues as well as giving politicians a run for taxpayers’ money. Speaking truth to power is a patriotic thing to do. It is ironic that the ANC is happy to accept party funding from business but not its criticism.

This article appeared in the Business Day of Friday 13 March 2012    

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