Although South Africa is in a period of chaos, it is at least chaos in the right direction, financial journalist Bruce Whitfield said on Wednesday.
He was speaking at a business breakfast hosted by Decision Makers in Cape Town, where he featured short video clips of some of the business people he had interviewed previously.
Whitfield said he is happy that Tito Mboweni is back as minister of finance.
“The job of finance minister is not a beauty contest nor a popularity contest. Mboweni will be tougher than Pravin Gordhan and at least President Cyril Ramaphosa has his back,” said Whitfield.
“This is good news, because SA is in a time of chaos.”
Whitfield agrees with billionaire Patrice Motsepe that SA’s biggest risk would lie in not creating opportunities for as many people as possible.
“Yet, SA is a difficult place to be in right now. If there is no investment from the business sector, the economy cannot grow and create jobs. But if business does invest, it raises the question of whether they will get a return,” he said.
“So, the question is whether we really are in chaos? We tell each other how terrible things are and that the sky will fall on our heads.”
He looked to various interviews he had with successful SA business leaders on whether it is a good time to invest in SA.
Business Leadership South Africa CEO Bonang Mohale told him that SA needs conscientious capital.
“We need patriotic businesses, not stupid sentiment. When civil society is in strife, that is when the entrepreneurial spirit thrives,” said Mohale.
To this Whitfield told the audience that the definition of a South African optimist is “someone going down a one-way street looking both ways”.
“Yes, you can thrive in a time of chaos. It will be a bumpy ride. We will have an election. It is time to put on our big boy and big girl pants,” he said.
“Henry Ford said you cannot build a reputation on what you are going to do.”
Billionaire businessman Stephen Saad, founder and CEO of Aspen Pharmacare, the largest producer of generic medicines in Africa, had told Whitfield in a prior interview that agility is key for business success.
“We shift and change all the time. The world has become so small, you have to keep moving with the time,” said Saad.
Investec Group CEO Stephen Koseff had told Whitfield that “people must be allowed to make affordable mistakes” on the road to building a successful business, while Bidvest founder Brian Joffe said “if you looked only at the accounting, you would never do a deal”.
Adrian Gore, founder and CEO of the Discovery Group, had told Whitfield that it is important to “separate out the short-term noise” and that taking the road less travelled leads to success. Gore’s basic message was “if it is not Armageddon, you should be building”.
Laurie Dippenaar, one of the founders of FirstRand, had told Whitfield that he does not believe in “chaos”.
“Chaos is Syria,” Dippenaar had said.
“We have rapid political change and policy uncertainty. There is no such thing as the perfect moment or the perfect decision. It is about making the best decision in the circumstances. You cannot wait for the perfect situation.”
Former Pick n Pay chair Raymond Ackerman had told Whitfield that his approach was always to listen to people and give them time – “and don’t get too big for your boots”.
Last but not least, former Steinhoff International Holdings chair Christo Wiese – who lost billions in the Steinhoff saga – had told Whitfield in a past interview that he does not even want to be in a business he does not control.
“I often crack the joke that one of life’s blessings is that I never qualified as a CA. They are very important people and help to keep me on the straight and narrow. I find it hard to accept that anybody can be more logical than me,” Wiese said in a clip of the interview played to the audience by Whitfield.