/ 7 February 2024

Corruption is not an excuse to abandon South Africa

Protesters March In Cape Town During The Move One Million Protest In South Africa
As we consider the state of our beloved country, let us not dwell on what divides and hinders us, but on the opportunities. We must rebuild a nation together. (Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

“A country never dies. People get sick and die, a country might get sick for a while but lives on forever.” — These are the astute words of my grandfather, Morris Lubner.

Such words should ring true for all South Africans as we prepare to witness the 2024 State of the Nation Address (Sona) which takes place in arguably the most contentious election year in South Africa to date.

While many of us may feel tempted to lean into apathy and despair, believing that the imminent collapse of the country cannot be thwarted, this is a dangerous attitude to adopt, and it is incredibly disheartening that some business leaders are doing just that.

Despite worrying calls for private entities to stop working with the government, ostensibly to curb corruption, civil society says that when it comes to rebuilding trust between the government and the private sector, “you can count us in”.

Although corruption and mismanagement have underpinned much of the country’s major system failures that have hampered development, industry leaders cannot adopt a divisive and pessimistic attitude when credible solutions point toward a spirit of collaboration in all spheres of society.

Government leadership has admitted to failures in delivering services to its people and appears to be taking steps to allow the private sector to help rebuild the economy and the broken systems that hamper service delivery in this disintegrating country. 

Recent engagements between government entities and corporate SA are encouraging and suggest that a transformative process is underway that will see the government entrusting the private sector with a larger role to play in improving service delivery to the poor and uplifting communities in the process.

The continued downward spiral being experienced by key state-owned entities which have not embraced privatisation is a testament to this. It is encouraging to realise that certain public office bearers are starting to engage with the private sector and are more robust in looking for solutions that include offering the use of state entities to private entities in finding more effective and sustainable solutions.

Those who publicly suggest that private entities working with the government are propping up corruption are making ill-informed and dangerous statements that only seek to further widen the chasm of distrust between public and private organisations.

While it is no secret that crime and corruption are massive problems in the country, instead of driving more investors away, let’s be part of the solution.

I applaud the contributions of Discovery Limited CEO, Adrian Gore, Sibanye Gold CEO, Niel Froneman and Business Leadership SA (BLSA) CEO Busisiwe Mavuso, and many others to this national conversation. These captains of industry have all been engaged in discussion with the government on how private entities can work with state-owned entities (SOE’s) to optimise their ability to deliver on the services they are mandated to provide.

Active citizenship, not sitting and waiting for the country to collapse, is the only credible moral high ground we can stand on.  Those who live luxuriously need to be more sensitive to the massive disparity in wealth and play their role in ensuring the skills are taught and the opportunities are created for the poor to build lives where water and food are not everyday crises.

However, I strongly condemn those who have used state capture, bribery and narcissistic self-interest to steal from the nation and its citizens. Devoted leaders and office-bearers who are willing to serve their country must prevail, a feat that cannot be achieved overnight.

I challenge those in positions of power to lead by example and bring to task those who steal resources and time from our country and its people. I have encountered a great deal of honourable leaders in the government sector, these are the ones who should be empowered to spread a culture of ethical leadership.

Civil society is a major piece of the puzzle

Government needs the non-profit industrial complex, to fill the service delivery gaps that its historically Marxist, centralised-control model has only managed to widen. As the government engages the private sector over the use of state-owned entities and resources to help the government to fulfil its mandate, civil society is a crucial element being left out of the conversation.

The current trajectory towards more public-private partnerships is a positive step in tackling the lack of accountability in government while making sure that state resources and private funds are used sustainably for the benefit of society, not just those in the private and public sector who benefit from corruption and inequality.

I urge that civil society and non-profit organisations must be part of these discussions. As soon as the government includes civil society in these engagements their planning will be far more holistically informed and pragmatic. For example, Kusile power station is being converted for renewable energy rather than coal fire and hundreds of workers who are trained to work on coal fire plants will require training and orientation.

Undertakings of that nature are not just about a transfer of skills but are also about instilling values and soft skills that create more harmonious, productive organisations. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of developing soft skills in conjunction with hard skills to enable holistic development.

There is so much expertise, knowledge and power in the thousands of community-based organisations across the country, the opportunity should not be lost to include the community-based organisations that have deep insights into what will be required to create a generation of empowered, capable young people in an economy of equal opportunity.

As much as it is a national issue involving major institutions and billions of misspent funds, SA’s lack of service delivery is a grassroots issue that requires deep-level introspection and solutions that come from within the communities needing to be served.

As we consider the state of our beloved country, let us not dwell on what divides and hinders us, but on the opportunities. We must rebuild a nation together. 

Marc Lubner is chairperson & CEO at Afrika Tikkun Group.