Elections are done, now let’s get down to business!

Opinion by Ryan Ravens, CEO, Accelerate Cape Town

Elections are done, now let’s get down to business!
Ryan Ravens, CEO, Accelerate Cape Town

As the dust settles on our national elections, a number of things have become abundantly clear with respect to the South African electorate. The first and most obvious is that our democracy has matured admirably – we no longer vote en masse for the romantic notions of the past and the ruling elite will be held accountable if they fail to deliver.

The ANC have learnt this in no uncertain terms this week and it bodes well for the future, but only if they now choose partners to take the country forward rather than aligning with destructive forces intent on destroying our Constitution for personal gain. South Africans no longer trust any single party to govern alone, which potentially opens the door to a far more accountable government of national unity (GNU). This coalition needs to be aligned to the best interests of the country (rather than personal interests) and needs to set aside any political and ideological differences to work together productively. South Africa desperately needs a coalition that upholds the rule of law without fear or favour, that has zero tolerance for any form of corruption, and that supports investment and business-friendly policies.

Which segues nicely into another revelation this past week – the short-term memories and unfortunate ignorance amongst voters with respect to the level of destruction caused by corrupt politicians. We have spent the past few years bemoaning the ‘lost 9 years’ under Jacob Zuma – a period during which our SOE’s were looted to the point of collapse, misinformation and fake narratives around ‘white monopoly capital’ were perpetuated, and investors fled under threats of expropriation without compensation. Any reasonable person of sound intelligence would be astounded to know that nearly 15% of voters – more than 2.3 million people – still believe that Jacob Zuma could take our country forward.

South Africa now stands at a critical inflection point – one path lined with parties promoting populist policies that will inevitably deepen our economic crisis, and an alternative that includes parties willing to protect and promote our Constitution and advocate for market friendly policies. Organised business at a national level – through organisations such as BUSA and BLSA – have made it clear that the working relationship with government, and subsequent gains achieved during the past few years, will come to an abrupt end if the populist route is followed. South Africa urgently requires both local and foreign direct investment in order to foster economic growth. A populist anti-business government threatening to destroy our Constitution and expropriate land is not going to attract any form of investment any time soon and will drag us back decades.

In the Western Cape, organised business has been represented by Accelerate Cape Town (ACT) since 2006. All the companies represented by this organisation have a national (or international) footprint and are very much aligned to the national growth agenda. However, the reality is that most of these businesses are cautious when pursuing meaningful initiatives in this region – because historical experience has shown that national government will seek to punish companies who are perceived to be favouring the region run by the opposition.

This has defined to a large extent how organised business operates in the Western Cape. We don’t make a song and dance of every initiative, there are no pledges to be signed to generate PR, there are no committees or countless workstreams, and we don’t try and dictate who the political partners should be – instead, we’ve been quietly getting on with it. Quietly working together to create jobs and opportunity, quietly working together to improve the lives of the people who live here. Loudly criticising when we feel policies or behaviours are not conducive to creating a thriving business environment.

This is how it’s been in the Western Cape for nearly two decades. Organised business in this region is strictly apolitical but works very closely with the Western Cape government and have developed robust, deeply honest relationships. We have co-created economic development policies such as the Growth for Jobs strategy, we share learnings and insights around job creation initiatives, we interrogate local and regional government’s infrastructure investment plans, and our feedback is valued and appreciated. Our official engagements in the province are devoid of the pomp and ceremony so common amongst the former ruling elite. The Premier and members of the provincial cabinet have never cancelled or even been late for a single engagement. Not once.

This spirit of meaningful collaboration – even if we don’t always agree with each other on every issue – has undeniably been working in this region. The Western Cape now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country – 21.4% compared to the national unemployment rate of 32.9%; over the past five years, 4 out of every 5 new jobs in SA were created in the Western Cape; we are less prone to load-shedding through initiatives like the Alternative Energy Support Programme; and even our property prices have enjoyed continuous growth as more South Africans seek to relocate.

Whilst we are greatly encouraged by the renewed mandate for the DA in the Western Cape and look forward to continuing the great work we’ve been doing, the hope now is that this same spirit of humility, collaboration, and commitment to the economic growth agenda will be what defines our new national government. The alternative is simply too terrifying to contemplate.