JEREMY MAGGS: It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of doom and despair in South Africa. Look at any news website when you wake up and it’s inevitably a litany of chaos, crime, upheaval and dire predictions. And then we warily start the day, best foot forward, all in the hope that things are going to be improving.
We are called a resilient nation and we wear, I think, that badge with pride, albeit sometimes reluctantly. But it can be exhausting living up to the label of constantly being tough and hardy.
It’s also easy to point fingers and to criticise. I would say that sitting on the opposition benches of life takes little effort. You don’t have to do much apart from criticise, disapprove and look and sound indignant. Doing the work and looking for practical solutions is so much harder.
Welcome to this Moneyweb podcast. It’s called Fix SA. I’m Jeremy Maggs. Our guests in coming weeks will be asked how we can make things better, improve matters, make us more competitive, make us a successful nation.
And this is how we are going to do it, it’s a broad outline:
- Step one is understanding the problem or problems our guests define.
- Step two, we will try to take them apart – the problems, that is, not the guests. Problems of course are multifaceted.
- Step three, we will identify key priorities.
Then I hope to dig a little deeper, suggest effective solutions. We’ll look for actionable steps – who takes account? And then we can look at timetables and measurement.
Sim Tshabalala is the chief executive of the Standard Bank Group. In recent weeks he has spoken about the perils of greylisting and how the power of commerce can uplift the country. Speaking in Davos a few years ago, this is what he said: “For me as a leader, it’s a person who provides direction and importantly provides people with faith and health.”
Those are interesting words. He went on to say that he believes values and principles really matter. So – how would Sim Tshabalala fix South Africa? Sim, a very warm welcome to you, our first guest. I think fixing things also means trying new things, as we are trying to do right now. If you could clean-slate things, start from scratch, what type of South Africa do you want to see?
SIM TSHABALALA: Jeremy, first of all thank you very much. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for years, by the way. And secondly, thank you for that great book of yours, Win! It’s a fabulous book. And Xolisa [Xolisa Vapi, head of communications, Standard Bank Group] my colleague [here], will tell you that all my emails to staff end with a phrase that says, ‘Go there and win’. So thank you for that. I mean that sincerely.
JEREMY MAGGS: I’m just glad we made a few sales. [Laughter]
SIM TSHABALALA: I actually wouldn’t start from scratch. I would draw on a great South African tradition, which is the belief in the idea of the life of struggle.
That actually is best expressed with reference to the motto of the [Dutch] province of Zeeland, which is Luctor et Emergo, which is I struggle – or we struggle – and arise. I’d refer back to the history of the country, the Anglo-Boer War, the Soweto uprising.
All of these things define who we are and they define our strength, our character and our gumption.
But because you insist on starting with a clean slate, I’d say, well, let’s start by using the John Rawls [US philosopher] approach, which was to start by assuming a ‘veil of ignorance’. You don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you were born, you don’t know where you grew up.
And in that context, if you are rational, you’d want a society that is fair, that is just, that distributes society’s benefits and burdens on a rational basis and fairly. And frankly that’s a social democracy.
If you pushed me and said, ah, but what does that mean for South Africa? I’d say go and read the preamble to the Constitution, which I like to, because it’s beautiful and it’s lyrical and it actually defines the answer to your question.
JEREMY MAGGS: I just love the fact that you carry a copy of the Constitution around with you. That’s another conversation.
SIM TSHABALALA: I’m a failed lawyer, Jeremy. So it says: ‘We therefore adopt this constitution so as to … lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people, and in which every citizen is equally protected by law to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person, and build a united, democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.’
It describes a social democracy – and that is what I would start with. That’s what I would want us to do.
JEREMY MAGGS: Key to that is the phrase ‘quality of life’, and quality of life in this country is unevenly distributed. We know that. What’s the problem? How do we fix that?
SIM TSHABALALA: Well, firstly, I’d start by trying to figure out what’s stopping us from getting there and, indeed, how we fix that. I think the first one is we’ve had a rough ride since 2008 – so that’s just bad luck. Secondly, we have failed to preserve the integrity of some of the most important institutions in the country …
As is set out in the Zondo Commission there’ve been levels of malfeasance that are legendary, and that needs to be rectified.
JEREMY MAGGS: Is it really bad luck, or did we just take our eye off the ball?
SIM TSHABALALA: It’s as a consequence of being a country that was initially led by [a] liberation movement, and there’s a long history and lots of literature on what happens with liberation movements.
I could point you to many instances and examples on the African content, but let me point out India. The [National] Congress actually was a liberation movement. It had monopoly and it collapsed. The same applies to Mexico.
But it’s not always meant to be that way. These liberation movements do modernise and they then turn to meeting the needs and the demands of the people – and that’s what needs to happen in South Africa.
JEREMY MAGGS: We’ve got scores of problems in this country. Inequality is one that you’ve just raised. The quality of life is the other one. Again, let’s come back to the premise of the podcast itself: Fix SA. What’s the big problem in your opinion that we need to start fixing?
SIM TSHABALALA: The problem, Jeremy, is poverty, inequality, and the failure of South Africa to address those in a systematic way.
The economy is not growing fast enough to create the number of jobs that are needed. The rates of crime arise from that failure to provide adequate jobs.
Our unemployment rate is roughly 34%. It’s among the highest in the world, and it has to be addressed. It’s actually 33.9%. The worst statistic actually is the one for people [aged] under 24. That’s 61.4%. And, mind you, those are people looking for jobs. So the actual number is higher.
JEREMY MAGGS: So many have just given up, haven’t they?
SIM TSHABALALA: And then of course there’s the costs of risk that are created by the climate, climate change. That’s a big risk that we need to address.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation says that South Africa faces five of the six negative weather effects. It’s unbelievable, five of the six!
It’s the only country on the continent that faces that. I don’t know if you realise that we face droughts, floods, landslide events, extreme temperature, storms and wildfires.
The third thing to worry about, of course, is deglobalisation, the increased competition between major powers and potential war, actually. I don’t know if you saw Martin Wolf’s article three days ago in the [London] Financial Times, where he says if this continues in that direction the world faces serious problems.
Why that’s relevant for us as South Africa is we could be impacted directly if we sleep-walked into getting caught in sanctions on either side of this battle, or more generally when the economy slows globally. We as South Africans need a response, and I’m happy to share some ideas if you want.
JEREMY MAGGS: Well, we’re going to get to the ideas in just a moment. But one of the things I hate doing in a conversation is listing a whole lot of questions. It’s a conversation that we are having. But the one question that I did put down is: ‘What keeps my guest awake at night when it comes to looking at those problems?’ You’ve talked about poverty and inequality, the economy, crime, the increasing risk of climate change. Having looked at that list, do you actually get any sleep at night at all, worrying about these issues?
SIM TSHABALALA: Well, I do, I do. I sleep the sleep of the just, I sleep the sleep of angels because–
JEREMY MAGGS: Because you’re optimistic.
SIM TSHABALALA: Because I’m optimistic.
I’m a glass half-full person. There is a long list – and we can get to it – a long list of the good things that are happening in South Africa that excite me.
JEREMY MAGGS: Let’s go there first, then let’s look at some of the fixes.
SIM TSHABALALA: The good things that are happening? Well, at a practical level and narrowly, we’ve seen the National Prosecuting Authority [NPA] enrolling a number of cases. I think there are 20 to deal with the issue of corruption. We said one of the causes is malfeasance. Well, they’ve charged 65 very senior people, and they have frozen assets to the value of R5.5 billion.
BLSA to support NPA with technical skills, to mount effective prosecutions
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JEREMY MAGGS: Still a drop in the ocean.
SIM TSHABALALA: Still a drop in the ocean, but there’s evidence of momentum building. The NPA has hired more than a thousand people. They’re filling the vacancies that they had.
You mentioned my comments around FATF [Financial Action Task Force]. The authorities have done an incredible job on the legislative piece; the legislation is well advanced in parliament.
And secondly, their actions been taken so that the chances of us actually not getting greylisted have improved.
The [SA] Revenue Service was rated among the best in the world, if you recall. It lost its way a couple of years ago. It’s back on track.
The collections are incredible. You saw the minister of finance saying we’ve exceeded targets by R83 billion.
The National Treasury is rated second in the world after Georgia, and it ranks ahead of New Zealand and Sweden for budget transparency. Stop for a moment and reflect on that ‘second in the world’. We are world champions on budget transparency.
JEREMY MAGGS: But that progress often gets lost, it gets drowned in this maelstrom of despair and anxiety, and just this overwhelming feeling of inertia.
SIM TSHABALALA: It does indeed and that’s why people like yourself and why a programme such as this are so important to point people to those green shoots, to those positive things and lift their spirits. It’s our jobs to do that.
JEREMY MAGGS: There is so much despair, as I mentioned in my introduction to our conversation, among the pockets of optimism albeit growing – that you have already mentioned.
SIM TSHABALALA: I wish you had given me more time. I could list you even more, but we can come back to it if you want.
JEREMY MAGGS: We can if we’ve got time. I would suggest before we even start fixing those that we need a national attitude change. It’s not just among leaders in business such as yourself or the private sector, it’s among ordinary South Africans. As we leave the studio later on today, it’s the person who is working the construction site next door to us, it’s the person who cannot boil the kettle because of load shedding. How do we inject that national attitude change, because surely that’s the starting point before we can start looking at practical solutions. We’ve just got to become better, surely?
SIM TSHABALALA: We must, Jeremy, and we can start in many places. But I would offer to you that we should start with leadership. So your job, my job, Edward’s job; all of us in different places need to lead.
JEREMY MAGGS: Edward, by the way is our colleague pushing the buttons here [Moneyweb radio manager Edward Masache], probably the most important person in the podcast.
SIM TSHABALALA: He is indeed. Thank you, Edward. It’s to start with understanding what leaders ought to do.
I love the definition of leadership by Napoleon, which is ‘A leader is a dealer in hope’.
The second one, I think, is – again talking about this podcast – as Einstein said: ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.’ The important thing is not to stop questioning, and that’s what you’re doing with this podcast.
I keep saying to you that this is just an incredible piece of work. So bravo for that. One of the things about hope is to be open-minded. Look at the facts, follow the data, and just be open to ideas.
JEREMY MAGGS: It’s difficult to be open-minded, though, when the lights won’t come on.
SIM TSHABALALA: Indeed. But then when the lights don’t come on you say to people, ‘But there’s a plan. There’s Bid Window 5 [of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme], which has closed. Bid Window 6 is about to happen.
Corporatisation of the different components of Eskom is well advanced – dismemberment of distribution, transmission and power generation. The limit of a hundred megawatts has now been lifted for the purposes of distributed power. That power will soon get on stream.
So yes, there are problems but, hey folks, there’s a plan and the plan is being executed.
JEREMY MAGGS: If the starting point then is a change in approach as far as leadership is concerned, do you sense, though, that many leaders, people that you talk to, have just given up? They’ve said to themselves it’s just too big a task to overcome?
SIM TSHABALALA: No. South African leaders are resilient. I had a conversation–
JEREMY MAGGS: Aren’t you tired of that word ‘resilient’?
SIM TSHABALALA: No. It’s a powerful word. I love it. They can withstand, they struggle, and they emerge. They struggle in the rise. So let me give you a couple of examples.
I had a fantastic conversation with a hero of mine, Reuel Khoza. Reuel is a musician, an outspoken businessman, a farmer, a father and a psychologist. He is just the Renaissance Man. There’s one example. There are a number.
Adrian Gore – what a leader! There’s the minister of finance, who stood up and presented that incredible speech just the other day, which is open to criticism. But that’s fantastic, because we live in a helium democracy, where it’s noisy but things do get done.
And so, yes, there are leaders that shine a light on what needs to be done. And there are leaders who are getting things done. Some of them are my competitors and I’m happy to name them.
The folks at FirstRand are incredible leaders, doing something quite important. I can sing their praises, but then I’m hoping I’m allowed to beat them up on the playing field. FirstRand, Absa, etc. So all of us are playing in our lane, making a difference every day, hiring – I mean, the financial sector employs over 150 000 people.
Multiply that – there’s a multiplier to it – multiply it by three to four times. They make a massive impact on jobs and on people. They play an important role, intermediation, giving you and I the opportunity to be active citizens, economic citizens.
So my argument is, yes, the leaders are there and they’re stepping up.
JEREMY MAGGS: Stepping up – and you talk about them making a difference every day. But there would be a frustration that we don’t see sometimes the fruits of those efforts, and the criticism might be that it’s not happening quickly enough. We also have to learn a little bit of national patience here.
SIM TSHABALALA: National impatience is actually quite important, because it holds people accountable. And so the extent to which our citizens and the Fourth Estate – which is loud, sophisticated, and says what needs to be said – is important because it then holds people to account.
But it’s then important for us as leaders to be able to point people to the things that happen. I pointed to what’s happening in energy, because that’s one of the limits to our growth. There’s Transnet and transportation, the movement of our goods from the manufacturer to the port and to the international markets. Incredible work is being done there to improve that.
We’ve just had the spectrum released. If you step back, the folks involved in that will tell you that it’s been an incredible process, a lot of money raised by the government through the licences. People then need to do and purchase the things necessary to do 5G. All of that creates jobs. There’s more activity. There’s a greater flow and velocity of money through the system as a result. [There’s] water.
So the list of things that are happening is long, and you and I should be speaking about it openly as we are today, right?
JEREMY MAGGS: Sim, I’m so glad that you raised leadership, deficiency in leadership, but also success in leadership as one of the big issues on this road towards fixing South Africa. It was interesting – earlier this year the Institute of Risk Management put out its Annual Risk Report, which said the biggest risk facing South Africa right now is deficiency, paucity of leadership. I think you’re spot on as far as that’s concerned. So let’s put a tick next to leadership, and where else would you start the fix process?
SIM TSHABALALA: I would next move to saying that we need to move with some expedition to fixing the education system as well as the health system, because the soft and hard infrastructure is necessary.
JEREMY MAGGS: What does that mean – ‘fixing the education system’? Everyone says that.
SIM TSHABALALA: I would make sure that there is a much clearer understanding between the labour movement, government and society that our kids need to be at school with proper curricula, staying at school, and learning and applying what they learn for the purposes of producing skills that are necessary for our economy.
Secondly, I’d make sure that what they’re learning is relevant for a modern, open but small economy in the world. I’d make sure that the learning is aligned to the knowledge, skill, and talent that we need.
We need more engineers, we need more vocational training, and indeed we also need more people who are studying liberal arts. In our business we need more bankers.
JEREMY MAGGS: You don’t have to answer that.
SIM TSHABALALA: Um – the bankers are not bad in South Africa, Jeremy. They’re not bad at all.
JEREMY MAGGS: All right. So two things. One is that often the education system is held hostage by the unions. That’s a fact. The other is the syllabus issue. How do you get those three constituencies talking – the education authorities, the unions and the parents – because there is a disconnect there? The unions are a problem. We know that.
SIM TSHABALALA: The unions? I would disagree with you on that. I would say part of the problem is actually saying that the unions are a problem. Why don’t we recognise unions for what they are? They represent the interests of workers, but those interests should not be trumping the interests of society in general, and a vigorous dialogue–
JEREMY MAGGS: – which does happen in the education system sometimes
SIM TSHABALALA: A vigorous dialogue in the appropriate forums needs to happen, including at Nedlac, setting the right parameters for the various industries and making sure that they play in their lane.
The next thing I would do in addition to what we’ve just spoken about would be to upskill the municipal system.
I’d make sure that the legislation that is applicable to them makes sure that management is not politicised in the municipal system. I would put money into bringing back the engineers that have left the municipal system, so that water articulation happens appropriately.
It breaks my heart that in Gauteng the dams are 90% full but there’s a water crisis. We need more engineers. We need a more rational policy-making approach.
We would need to change the legislation, for example, to make it more rational for coalitions to work, both at a local level but also at a national level. You and I at the moment are witnessing the collapse actually of the big municipalities, because the rules applicable to coalitions are not as clear as they ought to be.
JEREMY MAGGS: Is that a failure of policy? Is it bad policy, or is it simply poor politics getting in the way?
SIM TSHABALALA: It’s a liberation movement that was dominant and had monopoly that is in the process of modernising. It is opposition parties that are learning to be modern opposition parties, and it’s a nation learning to operate coalitions. We are ‘learning by doing’ at a municipal level. We’re going to have to learn by doing potentially at a national level as well. It’s just the country modernising.
JEREMY MAGGS: So just dial down the noise a little bit sometimes. I made the point in my introduction. It’s easy to be in opposition, isn’t it?
SIM TSHABALALA: It’s very easy. And I would also quote my leader and dear friend Mcebisi Jonas, who says in South Africa there is far too much emotion and not enough theorising and intellectualising the problem and thinking it through, and applying basic principles of logic to what we’ve got. That I think is right.
JEREMY MAGGS: That elegantly gets us back to education, because I like the idea of a radical change in syllabus, the need for a greater emphasis on technology, on mathematics and on science. How would you overhaul that quickly in order to meet the needs of a modern economy, particularly given that a lot of the skills needed to impart that information are not here? I think you’ve put your finger on something really important there.
SIM TSHABALALA: Firstly, I would change your question slightly and sort of decline to answer it directly, because –
JEREMY MAGGS: As is your right.
SIM TSHABALALA: – it’s a political problem. This I would say: banks and financial institutions and businesses need to play in their lane. Our lane is the economy.
We ought to be good corporate citizens, and acting through our organised business organisations such as BLSA, Busa, the BBC, the Banking Association, Absa, etc, and motivate for what is appropriate from a commercial perspective without arrogating the responsibilities of government.
We would then have to insist that the appropriate structures of the country need to address these things as we do, such as a structure like a Nedlac, which is where social dialogue ought to be happening.
We would need to insist that the level of discussion in those forums gets lifted; we would have to insist that policymaking has to become more sophisticated and rational. And then the allocation of resources off the back of those policies ought to be rational and more disciplined.
What I’m arguing for, Jeremy, is that there are no quick solutions. We need to just go back to strengthening institutions, go back to insisting on the rule of law. People talk about the social compact and the social contract. Well, you’ve got Nedlac – I keep going back to that – which is an institution that was established for that purpose. Make sure that it functions properly. Make sure that debates, then, around the policies, in this case education from a business perspective, give rise to outcomes that are consistent with what business requires.
JEREMY MAGGS: You talk about raising the level of dialogue in an organisation like Nedlac and others. What’s the problem there?
SIM TSHABALALA: The problem is what Mcebisi Jonas did say, that a lot of what we do is sectarian, it’s personalised, as opposed to it being lifted to a national level and making sure that we’re focusing on national interest.
People, for example like myself, or people in business, need to speak out – but within our lanes from a business perspective and insist on that happening. And as I said to you, some of the people I mentioned earlier on are doing that. You’ve heard business leaders speaking out about this.
Another example of this is that business insists, for example, that government ought to be more coordinated and more integrated in its problem-solving. Business leaders have been saying that in public fora and also in private, and you’re seeing evidence of that happening. There’s a much tighter integration in government on problem-solving.
One small example is how the government is dealing with the fact of greylisting. There’s great evidence of the Department of Justice, the National Treasury and various government departments getting together to address that problem. I’m giving you a practical example of that happening.
JEREMY MAGGS: I’m assuming when you’re sitting in a board meeting or an exco meeting and you are discussing an issue, the old cliché comes up that ‘you can’t manage it unless you measure it’. So, in terms of the big fix as far as South Africa is concerned, what’s your thinking around that and how would you define short-term success?
SIM TSHABALALA: On the things that you and I have been speaking about, I would say I’d love to see the amount of megawatt hours being produced in South Africa going up, because that’s a level of direct impact on our activity.
I would say a measure of carbon intensity of our economy, so how much carbon dioxide per human being [is] being emitted, because that makes a difference to the issues we spoke about – the floods in KZN, etc. I’d say let’s please measure, for example, how many containers are getting out of the ports, because that’ll speak to the efficiency of our rail system and our ports.
I’d speak to the GDP growth rate and GDP per head, per person, which, as it happens, over the last 10 years or so has been at roughly 2.3%. So let’s measure that and make sure that it gets higher. I’d also measure the human development index and speak about it more often because it covers health, income, education – the things again that you and I spoke about earlier. There are the crime rates, let’s speak about them often.
JEREMY MAGGS: How do you make sure then that we stay the course, because in all the problems you’ve identified and the solutions that you’ve offered these are big-ticket items and they require an enormous amount of work. How do you make sure that we stay on course, that we remain committed, that we remain optimistic – because it’s so easy, isn’t it, to give up?
SIM TSHABALALA: It’s so easy, but I would say don’t give up. I’d say, again, I keep telling you, Jeremy, let’s look at the structural forms that are happening, let’s talk about them.
Let’s keep encouraging one another and our authorities and our leaders to keep driving those structural reforms, and let’s make sure that the arguments around them are not populist, they’re not loud, but they’re fact-based, they are evidence-based, and they’re rational.
And lastly, let’s encourage people to keep building institutions. We spoke about Sars – power and strength to the authorities. Keep strengthening Sars, keep strengthening the Department of Justice, keep strengthening the NPA. As I’ve said to you, they’ve hired a large number of people. Please carry on. The minister of police spoke about hiring an additional 15 000 constables. Please hire them, please train them, and please have those boots on the ground is what I would argue for.
JEREMY MAGGS: For me, a leader is someone who provides direction and importantly provides people with faith and health. You said that in Davos a couple of years ago. I hope you remember that.
SIM TSHABALALA: Yes, I do.
JEREMY MAGGS: What do you mean by the faith and the health bit?
SIM TSHABALALA: When I sit, as Xolisa would tell you – Xolisa is my colleague sitting here – when I sit in my office if I look to my left I see the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital. Charlotte Maxeke was the quintessential renaissance person. She was an educationist. She had a BSc from, I think, the University of Ohio. She was a leader in the church, she was a leader in the liberation movement. And she provided people with love, faith, hope and health because she was a health scientist. And therefore that hospital – one example.
I’d speak about Dr Imtiaz Sooliman [founder of Gift of the Givers], a philanthropist, a humanist and an exemplar of excellence, providing us with hope.
I’d speak to you about [Reuel] Khoza, I’d speak to you about Jeremy Mansfield, the quintessential man of the Fourth Estate and a leader and a provider of hope, even at the most difficult time of his life.
JEREMY MAGGS: The late Jeremy Mansfield – only hope but laughter, which is also something we need a lot more of.
SIM TSHABALALA: Indeed, laughter, humour. But as I often say, and forgive me for putting it this way but it’s true, you don’t have to be grave to be deadly serious.
JEREMY MAGGS: I’m going to let that resonate a little bit, because it’s quite a powerful term.
SIM TSHABALALA: Indeed.
JEREMY MAGGS: I want to finish this, unless you’ve got something burning that you need to add?
SIM TSHABALALA: No. My main point was that we can draw inspiration from great South Africans – Bruce Fordyce, Nelson Mandela, Christiaan Barnard, Captain Lindi [inaudible]. The list is long. Reuel Khoza.
JEREMY MAGGS: Here’s the final question to you. When you’re talking to your grandchildren in 20, 30 years’ time and you reflect back on the early 2020s, as they have now become the baton-holding generation, what would you tell them about this time?
SIM TSHABALALA: I’d say to them it was an exciting time and we saw green shoots, and it was actually when the flywheel really got going, the lights came on. I would say, well, you know, when an African tried to apply for a job to be an IT specialist at one of our competitors it didn’t take a year for them to get their work permit. They got it in days. So when you, my daughter, wanted to fly to Belgium it was not necessary for you to get a visa, because South Africa took its rightful place in the community of nations.
I would say to them we were talking at that time about the great Jeremy Mansfield, the Reuel Khozas, the Nelson Mandelas, the Christiaan Barnards of this world who [all] made a massive difference to people’s lives. So not theoretical stuff, they made a real difference to people’s lives.
And I’d say to them, you go and read that Constitution and you find a way of playing in your lane to do what those great men and women did.
JEREMY MAGGS: Not a bad idea to carry a copy of the Constitution around with you. Fixing South Africa is for the brave, it’s for the committed, it’s for the incorruptible, and it’s for those who work tirelessly. Sim Tshabalala, thank you very much indeed. My name’s Jeremy Maggs. Thank you for listening.