The #BusinessBelieves campaign, which was launched in August 2017 in Alexandra, a well-known township outside Sandton, by members of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), sought to change and challenge the negative public discourse against the country’s private sector.

The campaign, perhaps one of the strongest positions that business has taken, also saw BLSA members sign a contract with South Africa and had its members sign an Integrity Pledge. The Integrity Pledge ensures that BLSA members have zero tolerance for corruption, not just externally within the wider South African environment, but also internally, holding themselves accountable.

Bonang Mohale, BLSA’s new CEO, reflects on the #BusinessBelieves campaign, the state of South Africa’s economy and politics as well as his outlook for the country in 2018.

How can business take more responsibility for corruption, which is a two-way street?
Corruption is unacceptable wherever it shows its face-in the government, business, or in society at large. It’s fair to say that in the past, business was too disengaged from the public discussion of this cancer. We thought that the business of business was business. Unwittingly we allowed ourselves to be portrayed as somehow separate from society non-inclusive and self-interested. That has now changed. Through our #BusinessBelieves campaign, Integrity Pledge and contract with South Africa, BLSA has taken more responsibility in speaking out against corruption and restoring the lost credibility within our institutions.

We recognise that business has made mistakes and has too often fallen short. One of the main tenets of our campaign, first and foremost, was that we had to clear up our own house and ensure that our members addressed corruption in a serious manner. That is why the Integrity Pledge is so important. We had to promise ourselves and the people of South Africa that business would take strong measures against corruption, even and especially within our ranks. For the first time in the history of BLSA, we suspended one of our members, KPMG, due to allegations of corruption and collusion over the state capture project. We have spoken out wherever we have seen wrongdoing and called for proper due process to occur.

But we also have to acknowledge that while accountability and processes exist in business, this is not true for the government, where corruption is rife and not challenged. That is why our campaign also calls on the government to do their part in tackling the twin cancers of corruption and state capture.

What are the political/economic challenges that have faced business in 2017?
This past year was a difficult and challenging year for all South Africans, not just business. We had a steady and painful drip of disturbing allegations, secrets and corrupt practices at the highest levels of the government at the expense of South Africa.

We have found out that the leaders of our country who swore to protect the interests of South Africans, protect and serve the Constitution of South Africa and promote equality and sustainable development for all South Africans, chose, instead, to mortgage our country’s future.

This past year will go down as the moment the worst fears of South Africans were confirmed; that the cancer of corruption and state capture embedded itself in our country. That said, it was also the time where business, along with millions of South Africans, stood up and said loud and clear, not in our name.

In terms of the state of our economy, we should look no further than Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement(MTBPS).

The fiscal slippage we witnessed in the MTBPS was incredibly worrying, not to mention that the revenue shortfalls (R51billion) is the largest gap since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

We cannot be the generation that ushered in so much hope and promise, yet leaves our children in a South Africa that is worse off than we inherited. This past year saw many of us wake up to that reality and decide that we need to speak up to ensure that we reverse these negative economic trends.

It has been a challenging year for business, largely due to the negative campaign that was waged against business in South Africa. But it also prompted business leaders to speak out and demonstrate that we are a vital part of this society. We emanate from this society. We know business does not stand apart from society-it should be society at work and, as such, a critical player in our national life.

Which key leadership traits are missing in South Africa today?
In South Africa, we have been fortunate to have had leaders who demonstrated the necessary leadership traits that can support our country’s political and economic transformation. And we must learn the lessons of Madiba’s struggle, courage and leadership. Ethical and moral leadership is a necessity; one that many of my colleagues at the BLSA have sought to abide by and live by each day. In November, BLSA took the extraordinary step of clearly stating what our expectations are from the leaders of our country in particular, the ANC as the ruling party A lot of the criteria we highlighted are exactly the traits we look for in leaders, ones that are currently missing in South Africa. These include:

Remaining vigilant against any forms of corruption;
Prioritising the eradication of the capture of the state and protecting Chapter 9 institutions, including the National Treasury and the SA Reserve Bank;
Prioritising inclusive economic growth and job creation, with the aim of implementing an economic recovery plan that is of benefit to all South Africans, not just the few;
Making a clear commitment to working with business and other sectors of society to make the reforms that are necessary to get our economy growing and creating jobs;
Ethical leadership and a moral compass that strictly adheres to our Constitution.
This can be a basis that allows us to focus on the authentic promotion of and prioritisation of inclusive economic growth and sustainable economic development…with the goal of benefitting all South Africans. Not just the few.

How can business foster a more positive outlook and bring about change in 2018?
I am optimistic about South Africa’s future and am constantly amazed by the resilience South Africans have shown. Business believes in South Africa and we will continue to speak out on behalf of South Africans.

BLSA will continue to speak out against corruption and state capture, but we can and will help South Africa’s leadership turn our country around. The government alone cannot fix our country’s troubles, nor can business be expected to do the same. We must work together.

In 2018, BLSA and its members will continue to live by and commit to our Contract with South Africa. We will look to create jobs, encourage and empower senior black leadership, promote and invest in South Africans via skills transfer and training, support small businesses and invest in communities. We will continue to encourage our members to convert our words into deeds and to support them in promoting and implementing economic and social transformation.

Published on (07 December 2017)