The Progressive Business Forum marquee at the Mangaung elective conference revealed a mixed bag of companies hoping to cosy up to the ruling party.
A well as some looking to provide some sort of input on policy decisions.
There were more than 120 companies in 70 stalls at the University of the Free State that paid between R25 000 to R500 000 for a place. It drew many businesses, ranging from small and medium enterprises to multinationals. Minions Zack’s Business Enterprises, which specialises in the manufacture of school furniture, and “relaxation specialists” Therapy On The Go competed for space with behemoths MultiChoice and Deloitte and Touche. Highlights among the stalls were British American Tobacco’s 200m2 luxury furnished smoking lounge next to the media centre and Vodacom’s smoothie and cappuccino stall.
“It would be incorrect to say these companies are linked to the ANC — they are merely involved in an interactive engagement platform created by the ruling party,” said Renier Schoeman, co-convenor of the forum. Schoeman, a former National Party stalwart and deputy minister who has since found a home in the ANC, said companies invited to participate were offered a unique opportunity to engage with state policymakers. “This is where primary economic policy in South Africa is formed and it is a chance for all here to have access to the people who construct it,” he said.
Reasons for attending the Mangaung conference differed for those gathered at the marquee.
“If you’re in business and don’t know the people in government, you’re doomed to fail,” said Tebogo Nkosi, managing director of Boffin & Fundi.
The company assists with matters such as municipal billing and auditing, data cleansing and field surveys. “This interaction is important because we can plan and clarify our engagements with government.”
But business and deal-making were not the only activities in the marquee, where ANC clothing, memorabilia and mementos were up for sale.
R900 could buy a two-tone pair of ANC-branded leather shoes and a peaked cap, made in China and with a clenched fist emblazoned on the front, cost R120.
“We know people love the ANC. We are just making it easier for them to show it,” said Ntokozo Chamane of Brand ANC, one of the exhibitors.
For Johannes Moller, president of the agricultural body Agri SA, the reasons couldn’t be more different. “All we want is some say in the policy decisions that get made here. It’s important for the government to experience us as a partner and not in opposition to them.”
Asked how successful Agri SA’s attendance had been, his response was measured. “It has been okay.”
Government ministers and business heavyweights put in a show at the marquee and President Jacob Zuma staged a 45-minute walkabout on Thursday. But most ruling party and business bigwigs making their way through the area to the VIP lounge at the back of the marquee gave the proceedings little more than a cursory glance.