Privatise the selling of South Africa?

Once upon a time there was an organisation called the South Africa Foundation. It was a voice of big business in the apartheid era and it spoke in markets South Africa then considered particularly important. It had offices in London, Paris, Bonn and Washington. Its representatives in those capitals were cultivated, well-connected men who could speak confidently and credibly to captains of industry, policymakers and shapers of public opinion abroad and to those with ears to hear back home.

Yes, they lobbied against sanctions and disinvestment, but they did so independent of the then government. These were no apologists for a wicked system but they did take the unfashionable view that gumming up the economic engines of change was not the best way to go about ending it. What they wanted the world to understand was that, as dire as things looked, South Africa Inc. had the resources, human and physical, to transcend the beastliness of apartheid, and that the centre would hold.

After 1994, the Foundation’s corporate underwriters closed its international offices and rebranded the organisation as Business Leadership SA. They figured full-time overseas representation was now an unnecessary expense and that their purposes could be just as well served by parachuting in an occasional stick of CEOs. Amid the optimism of the Nelson Mandela quinquennium, who could blame them? Continue reading “Privatise the selling of South Africa?”

An Open Letter to Steve Hayes

Steve Hayes, CEO of the US Corporate Council on Africa, gets alarmist. Wearing my Brand South Africa hat, I respond:

Dear Steve,

If nothing else, it takes courage to go public with a piece like your latest column on the US News and World Report website. One has to assume that dues-paying members of the Corporate Council on Africa might prefer its CEO to abstain from sounding shrill alarums about the continent’s most advanced and diversified economy particularly when that economy’s president is due in Washington in a few weeks time.

You lament what you see as South Africa turning away from the US and Western Europe and towards its partners — China, India, Brazil and Russia — in the BRICS grouping of major emerging markets. Could you blame us if the analysis in your article accurately reflects thinking in America’s boardrooms? Happily, I don’t for a moment believe it does. Nor, I would argue, is it correct to see the BRICS partnership as necessarily hostile to US or European interests. That smacks of Manichean oldthink.

South Africa — and on this you are right — is presently in a difficult place. But the one place we are not is in denial. The woes you list we fully acknowledge. Have you read the diagnostic on which our National Development Plan based? Were you listening when the ANC embraced Goldman Sachs’ “Two Decades of Freedom” evaluation not just for the laudatory sections but in its warts and all totality? Have you been keeping current with everything our government has been saying, especially since the election? You do not have to listen that closely to hear genuine urgency in the voices of our leaders. The ratings agencies are not telling us anything we don’t know or that we aren’t addressing. Continue reading “An Open Letter to Steve Hayes”