The chief executive officer of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA), Gerhard Papenfus, issued the following letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa. Read and see if you agree with Papenfus’ observations.
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT
13 May 2020
Mr. MC Ramaphosa
The State President
Republic of South Africa
Dear Mr President
The National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA), the organisation I represent, consists of thousands of employers/businesses, all entrepreneurs. These employers are not, in any way, a burden to the state. They do not rely on you or your government for any support; they do not expect any handouts from you or your government. In fact, the notion of any form of help from government does not form part of their frame of reference. Many years of hard work and dedication, often against the odds, have taught them that.
These employers are all taxpayers, generously contributing towards the functioning of the State, among others your government’s social programs, which, sadly, millions of South Africans are completely reliant on, and which poses a huge threat to the long-term socio-economic stability of the country.
These employers are also, collectively, responsible for the employment of several hundreds of thousands of employees. These employees, in turn, collectively sustain millions of dependents – children, parents and extended family members.
For their contribution towards the well-being of South Africa, these employers (and thousands like them) expect, at the very least, an environment that is conducive to their optimum functionality. The contribution of these employers could have, in fact, would have been far more productive, and far-reaching, were it not for your government’s focused agenda to hamstring and disempower them.
Although the labour legislation framework hamstrung these employers from functioning at their full potential, and although red tape, mainly designed by bureaucrats who have not manufactured anything in their lifetime, serves as a frustration, nothing has done more to harm these businesses, and to exclude them from the mainstream economy, than your government’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program.
The fact that I say that BEE has harmed these businesses, may provide you, and many others in your government, with some sense of achievement. That, however, should not be the case, since these policies, although they have harmed these employers, have caused even more harm to the country as a whole – resulting in skyrocketing unemployment and inequality.
This is the reality because you cannot intentionally harm one part of the economy, and then expect the rest to prosper. The injury you inflict on part of the body, impacts on the whole. Mr President, as long as BEE (with all its tentacles) are advanced, the economy will suffer and nothing else you do will change this. Any party, or any person, ignoring this, does so at his/her own peril.
That brings me to the current events taking place in South Africa. What is currently transpiring, in particular the lockdown with its senseless arbitrary rules and regulations is no longer a subtle and prolonged attack on these employers, but a direct onslaught on their survival.
Mr President, it is important for you to know that we no longer view your government’s evaluation of the Coronavirus threat, as well as your response thereto, as credible. It is now, not only a perception, but our understanding that the current lockdown approach has become a political tool, not only to advance political agendas within the ruling party, but also to advance your government’s ‘radical economic transformation’ agenda and to correct the so-called ‘fault lines’ in society.
Exactly how your government wants to achieve this, through the mechanisms provided to you by the global Covid-19 crisis, is not entirely clear, but it is quite appalling that your government is, in fact, using this (self-generated) ‘crisis’, to achieve its ulterior motives.
Towards the end of March 2020, you announced the three-week lockdown, stating that it will buy your government time to prepare the health system for Covid-19’s real onslaught. If, six weeks later, the health system is still not in place, your government will never get it in place and, although the so-called ‘curve’ is on the rise, that was to be expected right from the outset. Or were we somehow, intentionally, mislead?
The lack of a plan and an exit plan, as well as political powerplay, is holding the country hostage. The constitutional right to work, to engage in commerce, is being infringed on. Our livelihood, and therefore our lives, are being destroyed. Our dignity is being infringed upon.
While this is happening, you are not providing any visible leadership. Is this as a result of malice, political paralysis or simply not knowing what to do?
Now, Mr President is the time for strong leadership, not consensus-seeking and political survival. The economy must be opened up, immediately and in its entirety. If you do that, you may regain some credibility and support.