/ 21 June 2011

Business ‘could be more involved’ in nationalisation debate

Business could have been more “proactive” in the debate around nationalisation of the country’s mines and banks, Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) said on Tuesday.

Chief executive Michael Spicer told reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday: “Business has a responsibility in managing this debate. We are quite willing to say we could have done more.”

The debate around nationalisation of the mining and banking sectors reached a crescendo last week as its main proponents, the ANC Youth League, resolved on it at its national conference. Led by its president, Julius Malema, the league resolved on drastic economic policy shifts in an attempt to address the country’s widening inequality and unemployment problem.

BLSA chairperson Bobby Godsell said business remained “unconvinced” that nationalisation was the way to go in addressing these real and pressing challenges.

Godsell said the “potential danger” of the debate was that it was aimed at addressing real concerns.

“We … are hugely unconvinced that nationalising the mining industry is in any way going to make progress in [addressing] unemployment,” he said.

“We think its a bad idea, emphatically,” he said, adding that it would deter investment and growth.

Speaking after a meeting of the BLSA board, he said the nationalisation issue was discussed intensively.

The BLSA was equally sceptical about nationalising the banks, which Malema argued was necessary to secure funding to put the mines in state hands.

Godsell said business was not taking on “personalities”, but wanted to contribute to the debate in a meaningful way.

“We are not going to join the personality fights, we are not a political party.”

Spicer said the private sector would “articulate more clearly” its perspective on addressing the economy’s problems.

It was in talks with the government on its new growth path, unveiled by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel last year.

While the contentious policy had consequences, Spicer said it was “too soon to panic” about it.

“There are reasons to be concerned. We are concerned.” Debating nationalisation of the mines was also not a “risk free” or “consequence free” and government had to consider how to manage it, and its constituency. Spicer said business shied away from uncertainty, as did consumers, and this had a direct effect on unemployment.

The debate over the nationalisation of mines and other sectors could not be dominated by a single organisation and needed the input of all South Africans.

The league’s discussion documents on nationalisation of the mines contained five areas where the country would benefit. The BLSA was looking at responding to and addressing each of those.

The ANC resolved to research the state playing a bigger role in key sectors of the economy at its mid-term policy meeting last year. The party moved to allay fears after the ANCYL gathering, saying government policy had not changed. Spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said pronouncements by the ANCYL on matters such as the nationalisation of mines and land redistribution formed part of ongoing discussions within the ruling party.

The ANC’s probe into the viability of nationalisation would be developed at its policy conference next year, and a decision on the way forward taken at its national elective conference thereafter. — Sapa