Business

Busa on the Phala Phala report

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FIFI PETERS: If you look at Twitter right now and you look at the top trends in South Africa, all are very much focused on the political situation here. You’ve got a ‘Family Meeting’ topping the trend, followed by ‘President Ramaphosa’. Not too sure why Pravin [Gordhan] is trending – the minister of public enterprises. [ANC national spokesperson] Pule Mabe, as well as [former president Jacob] Zuma are all top trends here in South Africa.

In fact there were reports that we were having a Family Meeting and that the president would be addressing the nation today at seven o’clock. Nothing has been confirmed as yet. [Presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said in a televised address on Thursday evening that President Cyril Ramaphosa is preparing to make an announcement but cannot state when it will be made.]

But of course we know that it’s all in relation to the reports by the independent panel that was released yesterday which found that the president had something to answer for in relation to the money that was stolen from his farm and the alleged cover-up. So what does business think about the situation and a possible impeachment of the president?

We have Cas Coovadia, the CEO of Busa, Business Unity South Africa [with us]. Cas, thanks so much for your time. Busa issued a statement earlier this afternoon in which you said in that ‘business needs policy and political certainty with a capable government that can fulfil its governance role ethically and efficiently’. Cas, what did you mean by that?

CAS COOVADIA: What we mean by that is that, irrespective of what comes out of this, what is absolutely an existential crisis now in this country, we need to deal with this issue in a way that doesn’t actually get us to jump off recklessly. We are on the precipice right now.

We’ve got to deal with this issue in a way that begins to bring the country together and does not create more uncertainty, erode more confidence, [or] bring about more instability, because that is not to the benefit of anybody.

So we’ve also said in the statement that what is now needed is statesman-like leadership.

As you said, the report has found that the president has something to answer for, and that was a mandate of the panel to find out and see whether [there is] a prima facie case against the president. They have found that there could be a prima facie case against the president.

I believe parliament is sitting on Tuesday to consider the report, and that’s what they’ve got to do. They’ve got to move expeditiously to consider the report and inform the country very, very quickly what they’re going to do about this, and we’ve got to allow that process to unfold, because that’s what this panel was about. It was appointed by parliament with a particular mandate. It fulfilled its mandate. It’s now for parliament to processes its report and process it quickly.

But whatever happens, we’ve got to put the national interest topmost – not political party interest, not personal interest.

We’ve had difficult things to do, but this is what we are appealing for, and we will obviously track things as they unfold – and they are unfolding at a rapid rate. We’ll respond as things unfold.

But at this point in time we are saying, let’s be stateman like; it’s a critical issue for the country, but let’s act and conduct ourselves in a way that allows us to get through this in a way that doesn’t actually bring about more problems and erode confidence substantially further. The rand has already suffered.

I have no doubt that investors are looking at this very, very carefully. I think we’ve just got to focus on how we actually grow this economy and how we improve the lot of people.

FIFI PETERS: All right. The rand is not the only casualty in today’s session. If you look at banks, Absa, Capitec, First Rand down over 9%, Nedbank and Standard Bank not too far from that. The Foschini Group down almost 6%.

A solution that brings the country together – what does that look like? Does that look like Ramaphosa staying in office, or does that look like the president resigning or being impeached?

CAS COOVADIA: What it looks like to me is for the process to complete, as I’ve described and for the process to unfold in a transparent way, in a proper way. It’s up to parliament now to be transparent about what they’re doing and arrive at whatever decision they arrive at very, very quickly.

Then what brings the country together, in my view, is that we’ve got to have the country accept the outcome of the process.

If the outcome of the process is that the president has to go, we’ve got to accept that.

If the outcome of the process is the president can stay – and I don’t know [inaudible]. Whatever the decision, they need to be totally transparent with the public. They need to be totally above board and we should not have to question any part of the process that will unfold.

In dealing with this, let’s not cut through the process, let’s not look for shortcuts in a process that we all agree with – an independent panel. Let that process unfold and let us accept what comes out of that process.

FIFI PETERS: What if President Ramaphosa chooses to resign?

CAS COOVADIA: If he chooses to resign, I think that’s either his own decision or [taken] in consultation with his party. He might feel it’s the honourable thing to do. But if he chooses to resign, then the Constitution says what the succession looks like. In the Constitution, from what I know, the deputy president takes over. And then I think we should probably move towards an early election to give the country confidence that we will put into place a properly elected leadership of this country.

FIFI PETERS: Will business be okay with that? Will business confidence be okay?

CAS COOVADIA: If the president resigns?

FIFI PETERS: If the president resigns and if it is actually the current deputy president who steps up to the role.

CAS COOVADIA: Well, look, let’s be quite clear.

The problems in the ANC and the different factions and so on are now going to come into play. This is a matter of public knowledge.

And again, that’s why we are calling for statesman-like leadership. There might be differences, there might be issues related to the deputy president [that] we would appeal.

And, given that the ANC is still the majority party, we would appeal to the ANC in particular to put the country first.

And any decision they make internally must have an impact on what happens going forward in government, at least for the foreseeable future. Whatever decisions they make, they make a decision, and decisions that are good for the national interest and not just for the party or particular factions in the party.

FIFI PETERS: I was speaking to the chief strategist at Rand Merchant Bank earlier about the different scenarios, and he introduced another candidate possibly – [former] president Kgalema Motlanthe stepping in as carer. I wonder what you think about that and whether that could possibly be in the national interest?

CAS COOVADIA: I’ve read that, and I’ve also read something from [former] president Kgalema Motlanthe to say that he wouldn’t be interested.

FIFI PETERS: Feels like déjà vu for him.

CAS COOVADIA: Yeah. It seems like déjà vu for him, absolutely. But that would be something that the ANC would have to agree to, and would have to then [be] constitutionally [valid]. It’s a deputy president, right? But if the ANC in their internal discussions feel that they want to approach [former] president Kgalema Motlanthe, then I think they should do so.

But indications are that, as you say, it’s déjà vu for him, and certainly from what I’ve seen recently he said he wouldn’t be too keen on the job.

FIFI PETERS: So he wouldn’t be keen on the call to ‘thuma mina’ [‘send me’].

CAS COOVADIA: Thuma mina.

FIFI PETERS: Cas, we’ll leave it there. Really interesting times. We’ll see how the story unfolds and we look forward to speaking to you on the other side of this. Cas Coovadia is the CEO at Busa.

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