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INCLUSIVE GROWTH - Ernest Mahlaule

South Africa is at a crossroads. The country has had the fortune of transitioning from a pariah state to a beacon of hope. Its history, however, is very much a part of the present, because there are a myriad socio-economic problems that threaten to derail the significant progress made over the past 23 years.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as an exception, it’s abundantly clear that we are not and we might never be, depending on what we choose to do.

Some wonder how much collective will there is to foster fundamental change in South Africa, while ensuring no unwelcome surprises along the way.

The Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), one of the country’s pre-eminent business associations representing interests of key sectors of the South African economy, acknowledges and shares the fundamental concerns of everyone about the challenges facing our economy.

It is really not a surprise that, in 2017, there is a lot of clamour for meaningful economic transformation. Whether this is known as radical economic transformation or by some other catchphrase, it doesn’t make much difference.

Wherever one looks, it is clear that we have been tinkering on the edges, whether we are talking about developing small businesses, creating jobs, upskilling the nation’s human resources, aligning our educational outputs with the reality of a globalised world or in creating better linkages between business, labour, government and civil society.

By most measures, South Africa is now among the world’s most dangerously unequal societies. Unemployment has become a perennial or worse, a structural problem. There are more young people unemployed than there are students at institutions of higher learning.

Most of these issues, if not all of them, were set to be addressed by the National Development Plan, which was supposed to be the national blueprint to get the economy back on a sustainable path.

But the imperatives of the NDP have been overshadowed by a new mantra of radical economic transformation.

Policy disconnection
While this might sound at times like populist rhetoric, many in the business community see it as policy disjuncture, the outcomes of which are hard to predict since there is little information or no reference to what it might actually entail.

Our members, whose contribution to the broader economy amounts to billions of rand in investments across key sectors, want to understand the essence of what radical economic transformation speaks to in the practical sense.

They are also keen to understand what is expected of business with regard to making sure that business is able to play a meaningful role in bringing about a constructive and sustainable approach to economic transformation.

Business is very much on board with the need to change course so that South Africa builds a more inclusive, resilient and dynamic economy that can enable many of its people to not live in squalor and poverty. As business, we are keen to see that the policy direction does not create the same mistakes that have held back or thwarted meaningful transformation of the economy.

It is for this and other reasons that there is a very good justification for the government, along with business, labour and civic society, to put aside all differences emanating from, inter alia, perceived trust deficit and policy instability, and join hands in finding lasting and inclusive solutions for our country in general and the economy in particular.

As a contribution towards all the isolated efforts currently under way, including the presidential chief executive roundtable and other related initiatives, the JCCI during 2016 launched an “Inclusive Growth through Stakeholder Partnership” process in an attempt to broaden the platform and ensure inclusivity of all stakeholders – from SMEEs to large entities, government, civil society and organised labour. The annual summit, which takes place on August 3, is underpinned by the implementation of an action plan. The main objective is to provide an open and honest engagement about how to better advance transformation and reverse the current negative economic growth trajectory, which is clearly an issue of national common interest, in a sustainable but yet integrated format, without excluding any key stakeholder.

Growing an economy is a function of economic participation of as many people as possible and not just a few.

The necessary conditions, however, include the fact that there must be a coherent and consistent message about any important intervention such as radical economic transformation in order to eliminate unintended confusion to investors and other stakeholders.

At the practical level, it would also be imperative to talk about the structural reform of our economy, as that will depoliticise the issue and ensure that the process of transformation does not become an emotive one across all fronts.

The chamber is keen to continue providing a platform and input in any dialogue that would help advance changes in our economy and create an environment that fosters growth and ingenuity.

Ernest Mahlaule is president of the JCCI.
This article appeared in the following newspapers:

- The Star (Greater Johannesburg, Gauteng)
- The Cape Times (Greater Western Cape, Cape Town)
- Pretoria News (Greater Pretoria/Gauteng)
- The Mercury (Greater Durban/KZN)

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