This post was adapted from a talk presented by Roelf Meyer at Nation Builder’s In Good Company 2019 conference on 15 August 2019.
Roelf Meyer, Founder and Director of the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) said South Africans appear to have lost hope in light of the five years preceding 2018 when 20% of the country’s wealth was misspent due to mismanagement of State assets, looting of public enterprises and the reckless hiring and firing of Ministers of Finance, amongst other things. This loss of wealth across the board has caused some very influential people to consider leaving the country. “Yet we have been in this situation before,” said Meyer. He suggested this was reminiscent of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when severe sanctions and punitive measures were exercised against the country in protest against Apartheid.
In the 1990s South Africans created what is possibly the best democracy on earth with a constitution offering hope to all. Meyer maintains that it is a pity that those drafting the constitution did not continue by planning the socio-economic transformation of the country as well. Instead, 25 years down the line, transformation is barely visible. When President Mandela came into office it took about five years to realise a successful economic turnaround. Things were going well and the growth rate of 5% boded well for the future. Yet that was not to be. It will take several years to work our way out of the doldrums, but it can be done. “I think the turning point has been reached and I understand that the results of the second quarter (of 2019) are better than those of the first,” Meyer remarked.
During his first State of the Nation Address last year, President Ramaposa asked the private sector to assist in bringing about the economic transformation necessary to restore South Africa to its former success. Johan van Zyl, the current head of Toyota Europe, Africa and the Middle East, devised a plan which he shared with Meyer. In exchange for the removal of economic inhibitors, certain sectors of the economy would commit to specific growth targets, job creation and transformation over the next five years. They approached the President with the draft-plan in August 2018 and obtained the go-ahead to roll it out in three sectors, namely automotive, agriculture and tourism.
Working closely with Minister Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma the project progressed quickly and within a few months it had spread across 20 sectors of the economy. “The intermediate result was that the President could announce in June, in his (2019) State of the Nation Address, that the Private Sector has committed itself to R840-billion new investments, internally,” Meyer reported. This should result in the creation of 155,000 jobs and has already begun to bear fruit.
The project, called the Public Private Growth Initiative, is run by ITI who facilitate between the Government and the Private Sector, helping them to focus on what action is required. For example, members of the Information and Communication Technology sector did not communicate well among themselves, yet having been encouraged to form a co-ordinated structure they now work readily and successfully together as well as with the Department of Telecommunications. For the first time they are enjoying proper responses from Government which they could not obtain in the past. The same may be said for other sectors too. One problem which endures is the obtaining of visas to visit South Africa. E-visas to visit other countries are granted with ease, yet it is almost impossible for travellers from some countries to obtain South African visas. This problem needs immediate attention.
After a meeting with the President a few days ago to discuss progress achieved, as well as possible removal of further trade inhibitors, van Zyl and Meyer are confident in the success of their initiative as well as the President’s dedication to taking the nation forward to new prosperity. Minister Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma is eager to apply the principles of the Public-Private Growth Initiative to her own portfolio; specifically, the problem of local government and service delivery in rural areas.
Within the agricultural sector, new and emerging farmers will imminently be meeting with existing, commercial farmers who are willing to share their expertise and knowledge. This is just the beginning of helping local communities throughout the country to turn around. “It can be done; we must just create a positive spirit,” Meyer says.
Minister Ebrahim Patel suggested that what the Government cannot accomplish, the private sector will be asked to step in and do. This is a message that has not been heard for the past 25 years. South Africans must work together at finding solutions to transform the country into a successful entity again. Meyer encourages us all to be a part of this renewal so as to achieve our former prosperity for the sake of our children and grandchildren. We should also dissuade those who wish to leave or entice those already gone, to return. The 6.7 million South Africans who are out of work need a successful business sector to bring a positive spirit back to the nation.
“We have to turn the tide; it can be done. We’ve done it before and we can do it again,” asserts Meyer.
Roelf Meyer is a lawyer by profession. He served as Minister of Defence and of Constitutional Affairs in the cabinet of former President FW de Klerk and was intimately involved in the negotiations to end apartheid. After the first democratic elections in South Africa, Meyer continued in the portfolio of Constitutional Affairs in the cabinet of former President Nelson Mandela. Since his retirement from politics, he has acted as an advisor in peace processes across the globe, including Northern Ireland, the Middle East and the Central African Republic. He is a Founder and Director of the In Transformation Initiative (ITI) and presently part of the leadership of the Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI).