Friday, 27 November 2009

Foresight 2010

What do you think South Africa needs to do in 2010? (Aside from winning the World Cup).

That was the question that Judge Dennis Davis put to the panel at the GIBS annual “Foresight 2010” forum. A quick survey of the members of his jury presented a variety of bullish and bearish responses – as well as one too many “Pass” cards, and talk of creating rather than predicting the future. The optimists got cross-examined for being unrealistic, while the pessimists were lambasted for being vague.

To be fair, the Judge was right. For all the talk of needing values, accountability, active citizenship, public-private dialogue – what does that actually mean? When push came to shove, to state some concrete action that the government should do in 2010 nobody wanted to put their neck on the line. Which was – ironically – stated as part of the problem and why business avoided engaging in debate with government, by Brian Bruce, CEO, Murray & Roberts among others.

What we might agree on is that there needs to be a vision for South Africa. What I don’t agree with is that business and government should share one same vision. By their very natures they will diverge completely – their interests lie in different corners. Yes, there needs to be co-operation, whereby government facilitates business to reach its goal, but the friction between the two – and the role that citizens play across both – is what drives change, and hopefully progress.

Michael Jordaan, CEO, First National Bank, was one of the panellists who came back to the human resources that South Africa has – training and keeping talent. Without going into the debate around school and university education that they embarked upon, it is also a key theme emerging in the survey that africapractice is conducting of African businesses, opportunities and challenges for the year ahead.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein took it one step further, talking about the importance of the human spirit, the need to have faith in people and their ability to deliver. However, he was also the one who addressed my question of what South Africa needs to do to improve the perception of the country abroad and attract foreign investment with a very swift and succinct response: “Crime”. How much faith does he have in the people committing the crime to stop, or the people set to stop it succeeding?

Wendy Luhabe, chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, had been the only one to reference the outside world (aside from mention of that old Global Economic Crisis, of course). What must foreign investors think of the lack of discourse and progress being made by the Government and Business Community in South Africa?
When push came to shove, and Judge Dennis insisted they give him an answer to what single step was needed, Bonang Mohale, chairman and VP, sales and operations, Shell, SA, said leadership, and repeated the old adage, "People get the leadership they deserve". I didn’t know that South Africa spends more per capita on education and healthcare than most countries in the world, but the results still point to failed leadership. Without government representation present, the panel represents some of the best business leadership the country has. If they can’t step up and take account for engaging government and civil society in the debate they talk about, then who can?

A thought provoking discussion, but one that brought up more questions than answers. Who will start the discourse? I can’t help thinking it will fall back to the media once again....

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