Siki Mgabadeli
19 minute read
28 Apr 2017
8:03 am

There is an effort to silence voices that don’t go along with state capture, corruption – Pityana

Siki Mgabadeli

From struggle activism to Save South Africa – Sipho Pityana – executive chair, Izingwe Capital.

Save SA convenor Sipho Pityana addressing protesters at the National Treasury in Pretoria. Photo: ANA

SIKI MGABADELI:  Good evening and welcome to this special edition of the SAfm Market Update with Moneyweb. My name is  Siki Mgabadeli.

Today we meet Sipho Pityana, who has extensive business experience, having served in both an executive and non-executive capacity on several boards of JSE-listed companies, as well as running his own companies, Izingwe Capital and Izingwe Holdings, which he chairs. He is perhaps now most familiar to all of us because of his outspoken activism as co-convenor of Save South Africa, and he is here to share his journey with us today. Sipho, it’s such a pleasure to have you with us.

For those who may not be familiar with your history, I think let’s take a few steps back and start with your own personal journey in activism. What sparked it?

SIPHO PITYANA:  Well, I grew up in an activist family. We were at it for many, many years. My entire family at some point during the apartheid period would all be locked up and detained in different parts of the country, and our mother would be running all over the place looking for us. We’ve been through the torture. I was burned at the age of 22 as a trade unionist with them in the civic movement. We are children of the African National Congress, and we’ve been at it for many, many years.

That’s one of the things that makes one feel desperately angry with what is going on, because a lot of our comrades in the course of that struggle died because we believed that we could convert this country into something fantastic for the interests of the people of this country. To stand by and watch when you see what is obviously a blatant betrayal of everything that the ANC stands for and stood for, for many, many years, is totally unacceptable and would be treacherous to those who fought with us in the trenches and died.

And, by the way, one of the stalwarts in the struggle, who died at a very young age, Steve Biko, was a very close family friend. I come from Port Elizabeth and he died in Port Elizabeth. That generation of activists were in and out of my home in the seventies as activists. So this is not something that one has woken up to.

I moved out of politics by choice. I decided that there are other ways in which one can make a contribution, and I remain a loyal, committed member of the ANC. It is that loyalty to the ANC that has moved me to believe that where the ANC is being hijacked its colours and what it represents is being hijacked by a leadership that is doing things that have nothing to do with what the ANC is about. It calls upon us to actually stand up and do something, and say: “This is not what the ANC is about.”

Listen to the audio below

SIKI MGABADELI:  When you were planning and delivering the eulogy at Reverend Stofile’s funeral, did you imagine the reaction that would come from that?

SIPHO PITYANA:  I didn’t. Actually, I didn’t even know that it was a live broadcast. But I was quite touched by the request by Stofile himself – and his family honoured it, thankfully – that his voice should not be lost. And a lot of what one was reflecting on there were exchanges that he and many comrades in the ANC talked about.

What you see now is an attempt to suppress all of that. They didn’t listen to Stofile, they didn’t listen to Kathrada, they didn’t listen to many comrades who are writing. They are not listening to the organised group of veterans and stalwarts today who are trying to make representations and seek to secure an arrangement that seeks to build the organisation. There is a determined effort – and it is quite clear – to silence voices that don’t go along with this project of state capture and justifying corruption. There is a determined voice that seeks to side-line anything and everything that seeks to bring the ANC back into line. And certainly there is sort of concerted creation of a culture of intolerance in the ANC.

Now, the ANC has always been a festival of ideas. We grew up in an ANC where we could argue and challenge views of big guns like Joe Slovo, Oliver Tambo and all those people. I can’t be in an environment where an idiotic youth leader tells me that I must shut up and I must do so. I find that quite offensive. The ANC is not that kind of organisation. The ANC is characterised by robust engagement and discussion, and we persuade other. So don’t threaten me with violence and labelling and all of that and think you are going to shut me up. It doesn’t work like that. There are many of us who are in that space, and we are not intimidated.

It’s preposterous for an ANC president to suggest that the multitudes that were marching on Friday are a bunch of racists. Can you imagine? It just tells you how desperate he has become. So it’s ill advised to move in that direction.

The leadership of the ANC must rediscover the values of the ANC, and importantly they must rediscover the values of what this country is all about – they were influenced a great deal by the values of the ANC.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Let’s talk about Save South Africa. Some ask today what you are trying to save South Africa from, and who Save South Africa is.

SIPHO PITYANA:  Save South Africa is exactly that, because our view is that the president of the ANC is corrupt and the president of the country is corrupt. He is working with what in our view are very organised professional criminals who are seeking to undermine our state system. They have penetrated our intelligence system, they have penetrated institutions of state, they are crippling them and they are facilitating dysfunctionality of the state because that kind of environment enables corruption to thrive. They have a presence through people that they appoint to state-owned entities, whether these are security structures or these are state-owned corporates and other institutions. They have penetrated cabinet institutions. This is a capture of the state. They basically have undermined the democratic project, and that’s why we say to South Africans that this is not what South Africa should be about.

So we need to save South Africa from being taken over by this bunch of criminals and thugs. They have captured the president and those that are working with him. So it’s a very systematic and orchestrated project and it is not located just in South Africa. It has an aspect about it which is international syndicated crime.

That’s why we have a big debate about the Fica amendment legislation which is supposed to stop money laundering and racketeering and all those kinds of things. Why would our president block legislation that was put forward by an ANC and National Executive Committee member who is a minister of finance, approved by his cabinet and passed by a parliament dominated by the ANC? When he is supposed to sign off on it he is told by criminal crooks that he should stop it. It just doesn’t make sense. It says to us that that this is a president who is being manipulated and being controlled.

SIKI MGABADELI:  We are speaking Sipho Pityana, who has extensive experience on both the public and private sectors. In fact, he was the first director-general of the Department of Labour in former President Mandela’s administration.

Sipho, many forget that time when you were DG in Foreign Affairs and DG in Labour. Let’s go back to those days, the kind of public sector that you as the new democratic administration were trying to build.

SIPHO PITYANA:  Well, we were a generation of political activists who had professional skills that the ANC felt we needed to get back into the administration, to re-orientate the public sector to be sensitive to a new constitutional dispensation. That’s what we were all about.

One of the things that preoccupied us was that we needed to make sure that we vindicate the idea that a black government can be successful. So our obsession in that period was around making sure that the transition from apartheid to a post-apartheid South Africa was achieved successfully. It’s a time in history that doesn’t repeat itself many times. It was a great honour to have been put in that role.

One of the things that I really take away and that I don’t think I’ll ever experience in my career – the Department of Labour was very important because this is where a new post-apartheid government had to make good its promise to workers’ aspirations to deliver a dignified workplace. And one of the manifestations of ruthless oppression in South Africa had been in the sphere of labour, denial of labour rights, trade union rights, denial of the right to strike and all of those kinds of things. So we were really at the forefront of ensuring that we transform that.

So the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, for instance, was about ensuring the protection of the rights of domestic workers, of farmworkers, and all of that. The Department of Labour was in the forefront of this transformative agenda. So the whole project around black economic empowerment – remember that we were the architects of the employment equity legislation – we were firmly in that space. I used to chair the director-general’s committee on economic transformation in government, and the whole issue around preferential procurement and the black economic empowerment framework and all of that. In the framework of the public service we were responsible for that.

But there is no doubt that the transformation agenda has been abused in some instances.

SIKI MGABADELI:  This was going to be my next question. When you look at what you were trying to build back then, laying that foundation, and you fast-forward to today and the way that preferential procurement is being used right now, we know that the term “tenderpreneur” that has been coined over the years, and look at the lack of progress on employment equity, for example, is this what you’d invested…?

SIPHO PITYANA:  No. I run a black empowerment business. I find it absolutely scandalous that anybody should be happy with being part of a contract where you are given a contract to build a school and the cost of building that school is three times what it should be in order to ensure that you have advancement of black economic empowerment. What it does in fact is it takes from the poor and gives to the elite. It’s abominable. You can’t have the notion that black economic empowerment must mean that you overlay costs in order to ensure that that happens, because those costs are carried not by the state but carried by the poor. So we need to actually have an open discussion about that.

But once you have raised that discussion, it’s phrased around being under-transformation and that you are against black economic progress. Black economic advancement cannot be on the back of stealing from the poor. We must be aligned in respect of that.

You can’t undermine the efficiency and effective functioning of state-owned enterprises by having people fronting and being dragged along by white companies in the name of black economic empowerment. That’s not what that was all about because all it means is that you will never have true black entrepreneurs. You actually have fronts, and black entrepreneurs need to be afforded opportunities to be in construction and engineering and these things, doing things, and be allowed to scale up properly and not be made to be holding onto the skirts of white capital.

SIKI MGABADELI:  How did the rot creep in?

SIPHO PITYANA:  The rot crept in because I think it was legitimated on the notion of what I think is the racial chauvinism that became preeminent around the discourse of black economic empowerment, that to criticise black corruption is seen as somewhat anathema and that you are undermining black economic empowerment. We need to actually disabuse each other of that notion. Black economic empowerment is not about corruption. It is a legitimate project, and we must separate it and liberate it from this idea that it must be a corrupt project. We tolerated that for a period of time, and we need to actually get to the bottom of it because this is one of the things that happens.

A second thing, in my view, is that our refusal for political parties to have open party-political funding that is transparent has been a source of this, because a lot of this is that guys go and say: “I’m connected to the ANC. If you deal with me, I’m going to give this to the ANC.” And the private sector, which actually established white businesses which had experience in corruption under conditions of apartheid, are now socialising all of us to corrupt. It starts with black business leadership taking a view that “I will thrive and be successful business, but I won’t be corrupt”.

SIKI MGABADELI:  What about the criticism, for example, of some of the messaging right now, that we are saying that we need to focus on the public sector, obviously get rid of corruption there, because that affects every single one of us – that’s public money – but we don’t shine a similar spotlight on the private sector and the corruption that takes place there. So for every corruptee there is a corruptor.

SIPHO PITYANA:  There is no doubt that corruption actually starts with the private sector, and we need to be quite open about that. Corruption, wherever it manifests, is unacceptable. But here’s the problem. The state shouldn’t just not be corrupt, it should enforce a corruption-free environment. And, when it is corrupted, its ability to enforce a corruption-free private sector is undermined. So that’s why in our view we have to put pressure on the state to liberate itself from corrupt practices so that its agents and agencies that are supposed to fight corruption are enabled to fight it effectively.

Having said that, in 2010 we had a very robust engagement with Business Leadership South Africa under the auspices of one of the organisations I lead – which is the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution – to say to South African business that you guys have not gotten out of your corrupt practices of the apartheid era. This is one of the things that we have to do, to adopt a framework on how to deal with corruption in business. Little did they expect that the exposure of corrupt practices by construction companies in the 2010 World Cup was going to blow up, and they didn’t follow up on the commitments that they had made.

But the fact of the matter is that shining the spotlight on corruption in the private sector does not attract as much attention as when you shine it on the state, because everybody understands that the state has a much bigger role in fighting corruption. And all the efforts that we were focusing on in the private sector missed the media focus.

But we have no qualms with people who are arguing that we must fight corruption in the private sector.

SIKI MGABADELI:  I also want to talk a little about your time as Foreign Affairs DG. South Africa for a long time punched above its weight in the international arena. I want to get a sense of whether you think we are still as important as they once thought we were.

Let’s talk about South Africa’s standing in the world, if you have to compare it to the time when you were Foreign Affairs DG. You were going to the United Nations, the African Union, the Commonwealth, building those relationships – and we were the darling of the world.

SIPHO PITYANA:  Absolutely. I sometimes feel that Thabo Mbeki was the president of the country at the wrong time. Here we have the anniversary of the centenary of the ANC, which is one of the major liberation movements in the country, and the opportunity of a centenary of the ANC was yet another occasion to reflect from colonialism to a post-colonial environment, what becomes an African agenda. Unfortunately we had a president who couldn’t rise to the occasion and give a vision to the world.

Under the leadership of Thabo Mbeki, who is pan-Africanist by all accounts, and of course under Nelson Mandela, there was a lot of euphoria about what we represented. But actually the person who positioned and enabled South Africa to punch above its weight was Thabo Mbeki in our international system. We were all shocked by what happened I Rwanda, the massacre of almost a million people…

SIKI MGABADELI:  As we welcomed democracy.

SIPHO PITYANA:  And of course as we welcomed democracy. We were all paralysed by what happened. That’s one of the reasons why we readily recognised the need to have entities like the International Criminal Court prosecute those kind of activities, because it was not the first time that we saw that – in Liberia and in other places and now recently in Darfur in Sudan.

Now to have a South African government that says somebody who is involved and responsible for that should get away with it, and that if they don’t get away with it we are going to pull out of the ICC is actually preposterous, because we’ve actually positioned ourselves as that champion of human rights and our international relations system and approach is embedded around that. If you remember, Nepad focused on issues around good governance, political stability and so on as the necessary conditions to create opportunities for Africa to move away from aid to trade, so that the economy must be able to thrive.

It’s a far cry to where we are now. We were punching above our weight. Our invitation to Brics doesn’t come with this government. In fact, Thabo Mbeki was one of the major champions of building south-south relations, our relations with China. I remember I was sent to China in 2000. That’s when we defined the relationship between South Africa and China in the way that it is. It evolved long before we talked about Brics. And the Millennium Development Goals that focused the agenda on addressing the needs of the poor, we were architects of that. We’ve lost that.

The first conversation that you have with anybody anywhere in the world today is about the pathetic leadership that we are getting from our president. Our voting patters at the United Nations certainly don’t represent the values of South Africa. People don’t actually understand where we stand on a range of things. We are neither pan-Africanists – nobody knows where we stand, what our vision of our international system is.

SIKI MGABADELI:  What prompted your move out of politics, out of  the public sector into private?

SIPHO PITYANA:  I left government because firstly we had major differences with Nkosazana [Zuma], somebody that I had worked with for many, many years. I had had immense respect for her in terms of the politics of where we both came from. Remember that in exile Nkosazana and I were in the leadership structures of the ANC. She was the chairperson and the secretary of the ANC in London and Ireland and Europe and we were involved in a lot of things, and we had close family relations.

But this thing called power has its ways of manifesting itself that are very strange. And one of the things that I found totally unacceptable as a movement where we stand for gender equality and I have colleagues and comrades who were diplomats who were abusing women, and I took them on. I fired them and to my utter disappointment Nkosazana took them back and overruled my decisions. It meant that I could not enable a department that I was leading to live up to the values of what I strongly believed in and the values of a new dispensation. There were a number of other major differences.

I was also pained by our response to the Zimbabwe situation, which clearly came across as condoning what was going on there. There comes a time when you are in roles when you actually have to take a principled position. In my view that moment had come.

SIKI MGABADELI:  Do you think South Africa, the ANC, can regenerate, rejuvenate, go back to that path?

SIPHO PITYANA:  I think that the ANC is doomed for as long as it doesn’t confront the reality that Jacob Zuma is a divisive influence. He is betraying its values, and is doing everything to ensure that it loses power in 2019. But 2019 is too far. I worry if the ANC at the rate at which we are going will be able to have a successful, credible elective conference in December. I’m not convinced that enough is being done to rein in and to have a proper confrontation of the negative things that are happening now.

This resort to violence by so-called MK veterans and this resort to bellicose utterances and violence by the politically ill-prepared Youth League is a serious problem. It’s a threat to the ANC, but it is threat to the country. This is a bunch of youngsters who have not experienced what it was like to live in the difficult times that we lived through. Many of us would rather not have a repeat of that. Because they’ve never experienced it, they are calling for it. I think South Africa and the ANC leadership in particular has got to do what it takes to actually rein them in.

SIKI MGABADELI: We have to leave it there. Thanks so much for your time today. Sipho Pityana is executive chair of Izingwe Capital.

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