The ANC needs to realign with the business community

A spectre is haunting the ANC, the spectre of low voter turnout and a disillusioned base. The 2021 local government elections ushered in a new era in our democratic dispensation when a critical mass of the electorate opted to not cast their mark next to the ANC. 

In strategic metros such as Johannesburg, ANC support fell by 11%. Such results provide an indication of a post-ANC led government within the next decade. It is clear that change is needed in the ANC. The important question for the party is, what change is needed?

In simple terms, I propose that the party needs to genuinely realign itself with the business community. Should the party wish to enjoy growth in the polls, as it did under the Mbeki presidency, it will need to return to a Mbeki-esque pro-business orientation, which grew the economy and enhanced the brand of the ANC. 

A new realignment with the business community, should not lean too heavily on the interests of big business, as it would lead to another case of state capture. Rather, the party needs to broaden its reach to all corners of the business community, small and big, black and white, local and foreign.

For far too long the broader business community has felt ignored and at times been crippled by failures of the party. It is now time that the needs of all businesses find expression within the policy framework of the ANC. The party will never reach its main objective of transforming South Africa into a non-racial prosperous society if it cannot grow the economy. It’s all about the money.

The misalignment between the party and business has resulted in several blockages in the economy. For instance, the telecommunications industry has long been calling for an increase in spectrum. Consumers have had to endure relatively high telecommunication costs, compared to other developing countries. Despite this, the government has dragged its feet by failing to increase the range of spectrum.

For big business to find their needs expressed in ANC policy, they should clearly define how their needs are in the public interest as well as the job opportunities which would be created from the implementation of their needs. Where there is a substantial public benefit, the party must undertake to implement the needs of big business within a specific time frame. Theoretical as this may sound, it will rebuild trust in the ANC, as voters will begin to view the party as one which appreciates their concerns and implements practical policies that benefits the lives of the populace. 

Similar discussions need to occur between provincial structures of the party and the medium sized business community. When last did the ANC leadership engage business owners in industrial areas around the country? Historical industrial areas such as those found in Germiston, Springfield and Johannesburg South have not received government assistance, despite being the bedrock of local job creation.

An appreciation of the business model and challenges faced by medium businesses in industrial areas could lead to the creation of specialised economic zones as well as preferential interest rates given to spur on economic growth. Provincial and regional spheres of the ANC need to understand the needs of the business community on a local level. This will enable municipalities run by the party to develop business driven policies which cultivates the local economy and workforce.

Additionally, the party has failed to create an environment for small businesses to grow into medium sized enterprises. Local government policies for small businesses have been focused on training programmes and the creation of cooperatives. These policies remain insufficient and ineffective. The people of South Africa are blessed with an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset. Thriving economies are built on a start-up culture. To unlock the potential of the South African small business sector, the ANC must focus on practical programmes which grow small businesses.

For instance, how can we develop cheaper logistics networks in the country, which enable the product offering of small businesses in rural areas to be accessible on the national market. More importantly, successful small businesses must have access to cheaper capital from the banking sector. Ultimately, small businesses will need access to capital in order to be transformed into medium entities. Unquestionably, the national government will need to work closely with the business sector to ensure that developmental capital is accessible to small businesses, whilst safeguarding the economy from the risks associated with bad debt. 

Growing the economy requires a multifaceted approach aided by all sectors of the business community. Business sectors involved will need to clearly understand the benefit it will extract out of each policy change of the party. In order to bring small and big business back onside, the ANC will need to undergo a realignment with the business community.

As the ANC positions itself as a party which respects the free market whilst appreciating the need for government intervention to create a transformed society, a realignment with the business community is well within its ideological framework. 

The pertinent question then is whether the party has the capacity to change. The past decade has shown that the party does not have the business orientated mindset necessary to bring about practical changes to the economy. As such, the ANC may have to call upon its supporters from the broader progressive fraternity to modernise the party. Ultimately, if the ANC does not realign itself with the business community it will run the risk of a continually stagnant economy, voter discontentment and finally an exit from the main political stage.

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Taahir Motan
Taahir Motan, a practising lawyer, graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand with a Bcom, LLB (Cum Laude) and is an MBA candidate at Mancosa.

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