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KHOLOFELO MAPONYA: A response to Jessie Duarte on the PIC

OPINION

Predictably, the statement by ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte criticising the PIC for wanting to liquidate Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) has been met with mixed views.

There are those who believe that Duarte is meddling in a business that has nothing to do with her while she has received support from various sources including other political parties and at least one trade union.

Broadly speaking, the PIC argues that SIM has defaulted on its arrangement, whereas Duarte and those who support her point out that the company is the only black-owned and managed media company and its liquidation would be bad news for transformation.

As with most arguments by political heads and pertaining to big business, there is more to the debate than what is at face value.

SIM has become a site of battle for the control and influence over the PIC.

It would be naïve to think that the PIC has never been contested since its establishment in 1911 as the Public Debt Commissioners. Any institution with the capacity and the mandate to fund business and create jobs and thus reduce unemployment and poverty is obviously strategic to any government.

With R2,1 trillion under management, whoever controls the PIC holds the keys to great potential turnaround of the South African economy, the PIC is probably more in demand than at any time of its 108 years of existence.

Considering that the PIC is a year older than the ANC, it comes as no surprise that it has always been an integral part of making South Africa the continental economic powerhouse our country became. Naturally, in a racially segregated era, the PIC was only for the benefit of white business – a feat it has achieved spectacularly given the influence of what is often referred to as White Monopoly Capital in South Africa and increasingly on the continent.

Unfortunately, the PIC seems to be hamstrung by extraneous considerations when it comes to doing for the growth of black business what it did for historically white business.

The PIC is too critical in the life of South Africa to be “left alone”. In fact, at this time of South Africa’s history, it is ever more crucial that the Commission’s role be interrogated, fixed where it needs to be and its competitive advantages exploited further.

That is why, regardless of where one stands on Duarte and the unions comments, none of us can afford to treat issues around how the PIC is managed and controlled as a purely business matter to be dealt with by the Commission’s board and the relevant state department.

It is however, limited and limiting to focus only on one company or individual businessman. Which is why, whichever way one is inclined, Duarte’s statement should be paid attention to, even expanded on. If, like Duarte and the unions, we limit the conversation to Sekunjalo and Iqbal Surve, we run the risk of personalising the matter and arriving at conclusions based on how we feel about the company or the individual running it.

The unions, too, need to pay closer attention to where their monies are being invested instead of jumping into the bandwagon when it only suits their leaders.

South Africa Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande was right to express disappointment in how the trade unions had not said a word on the internal squabbles at Old Mutual given that the PIC was the biggest single investor in the financial services company.

The conversation that must arise from Duarte’s comments should help formulate a principle by which the state, the PIC and those who seek its services can all work around. The unions and the ANC should take a comprehensive approach to getting to the bottom of how the PIC works.

The party, as the one governing South Africa and that has deployed the minister in charge of the PIC, should use its proximity to power to seek solutions that are enduring and go beyond the person of one man or one business.
It is also uneconomic of the ANC’s engine room, the party secretariat, to issue a statement pertaining to one individual when the most recently sat Mpati Commission showed there were many other businesses that had an issue with the PIC or the PIC had an issue with them.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa is sending envoys around the world entreating entrepreneurs to invest in South Africa, he could do his work even easier by showing how local initiatives are themselves growing and thriving thanks to, among other things, the work of the PIC.

A PIC working optimally would also mean that South African entrepreneurs would not have to go outside the country as much as they do now to get financing for their creative ideas. This means that instead of the profits made from businesses funded by foreign entities leaving the country, they would stay at home, growing the South African economy and creating jobs.

That is why the government should also not be aloof or reason that any conversation about this strategic state-owned enterprise is beneath its attention. If for no other reason, the government should act out of self-interest and prioritise the attention given to the PIC management and board because the success of the PIC helps to guarantee South Africa’s peaceful and prosperous future.

To say this is not to cast aspersions on the board. One must assume that it being a relatively new board, it is still finding its feet and will not necessarily inherit the friends or foes of the old one. It will make its own as it sees fit.
It goes without saying that the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality need a strong business community actively investing in the South African economy. This economy needs a PIC that can be trusted to go beyond petty personality differences, a governing party that is moved by principle and not individual interest and a government that takes a global view of things and intervenes in the good of all South Africans.

Kholofelo Maponya is chairperson of Matome Maponya Investments, an investment company with interests in agriculture, property development and financial services. He made written presentations to the PIC Commissions but has not been called to appear before the Commission.

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