Business leaders promise to ‘clean house’ in fight against state capture

At Wednesday’s launch of its new project to fight corruption, Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) warned its members implicated in state capture that they would not be welcome if they continued to undermine the law. 

The organisation, which represents South African business leaders, signed a promise to help South Africa’s economy and the poor. While the defenders of the Guptas and the Zumas say white monopoly capital is at the core of everything wrong in South Africa, the BLSA had a message for government at the project’s launch: it’s not us, it’s you.

The BLSA’s members include audit company KPMG, state power utility Eskom, consultancy firm McKinsey and software giant SAP. In his keynote address in a community hall in Alexandra, Johannesburg, BLSA chief executive Bonang Mohale condemned state capture and “white monopoly capital” but shied away from naming the organisation’s member companies involved in the Gupta web .

“Everyone in this country must cry: ‘Not in my name’,” Mohale said of state capture before an audience of business leaders and journalists.

But when asked by the Mail & Guardian whether the BLSA was dealing with its reported Gupta-friendly companies, Mohale said: “Those are the things that embarrass us as business.

“The past is very useful – I wish I could’ve changed it. We are where we are and we have owned up.”

Mohale and JSE chief executive Nicky Newton King, signed a “contract with South Africa” in which its members commit to job creation, growing the economy, supporting small businesses, investing in poor communities and people, encouraging black leadership and to condemn and “root out” corruption. 

An “integrity pledge” was also signed at the event. The pledge is a commitment to have zero tolerance of corruption, to protect whistle-blowers and to behave competitively. 

Mohale said that all BLSA’s members had signed the pledge and the contract. If they, including companies with reported links to state capture, break the pledge then their membership should be terminated, he said.

“Now that all of us have signed this integrity pledge, which is our own anti-corruption oath we’re making to South Africa, any company that chooses not to comply with these, they should not be members of BLSA.”

Government and business play blame game
The BLSA’s contract on how it will expand the economy is vague. It contains six bullet points with a line of explanation. 

Mohale said the launch of the contract and the pledge was a reaction to economic woes, but also the “white monopoly capital” campaign spread by pro-Gupta bots. It was devised to counter allegations of state capture.

“Though dishonest, this campaign did damage business’s reputation,” Mohale said

He said that more black people should have senior positions in private companies, but it is government’s responsibility to create jobs and a stable environment for economic growth. Although Mohale acknowledged that the socio-economic legacy of apartheid on poor black families is still evident, he blamed government for the dire unemployment level and the economic recession.

“Changing the finance minister over a weekend was an own-goal; a mistake that could’ve been avoided,” he said.

Mohale said business had its fair share of work to do to empower small businesses, especially those in townships and rural areas.

The BLSA said it is igniting a #BusinessBelieves campaign, which includes the contract and the pledge, to show that corporates do believe in South Africa. Mohale promised that BLSA members would be more attentive to improving wages – he suggested that executives could take a cut. 

The implementation of such wage promises are becoming increasingly vital. On Tuesday, Statistics South Africa released a report on poverty which damned government policies for incompetence.

The report found that the population of South Africa’s poor has increased by three million since 2011, and one in three South Africans now live on less than R797 a month. Women, children and the elderly in black families are hardest affected by poverty. 

Mohale acknowledged that corporate South Africa hasn’t always done as much as it should. “We know business is not blameless. We know you will judge us by our deeds and not just our words. We welcome that.”

He said that members of the BLSA will travel to different parts of South Africa, he said, to listen to the concerns of people. 

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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