William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Score 2012 as a bad year for good business

Billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa, President Jacob Zuma’s new understudy, is perceived by big business as the potential rescuer of what passes here for the market system. Hope so for their sake, since a scorecard of our industrial and commercial titans reveals they had a bad 2012.

The local strain of capitalism has become dank and unpleasant, in need of some judicious hacking. The massacre at Lonmin’s Marikana operation and subsequent events elsewhere cast a harsh spotlight on multinationals in the appropriately named extractive sector.

These companies — coincidentally, Lonmin is chaired by Ramaphosa — inadvertently have done more to bolster the prospect of nationalisation than any number of agit-prop Julius Malemas could have achieved. Nevertheless, the Stinking Capitalist Award for 2012 goes rather to the microlending industry, whose practices rival those of Shylock.

Relying on debtor ignorance and illiteracy to charge exorbitant interest and inflate repayments, unscrupulous lenders force borrowers into a relentless debt spiral. With the co-operation of ethically challenged attorneys they then rely on often illegal salary garnishee orders for repayment, sometimes leaving the hapless borrower with zilch in their pay packet.

First runner-up is Woolworths, for copying Frankie’s “old-fashioned” range of soft drinks. Fortunately there was sufficient public outrage at Woolies’ hypocrisy — it makes much in its marketing of its support for small producers — that the retailer backed off.

Second runner-up, also for corporate bullying, is Dolce & Gabbana, which sued a small Hout Bay gift store that called itself Dolce & Banana. Owner Mijou Beller was making an “objectionable mockery” and diluting the cachet of its brand, claimed the multibillion-dollar Italian fashion house.

Third runner-up, yet another would-be bully, is Absa. It threatened to interdict Solidarity, but then backed off, because the union set up stopabsa.co.za.

The website mobilised the public against what Solidarity called Absa’s “cold and clinical” retrenchment process. This included an emailed culling of staff, which Solidarity successfully challenged in court.

Given that 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the cellphone industry in SA, a special Greedy Piggies award must go to industry leaders Vodacom and MTN collectively. Compared to similarly developed economies, SA has the highest call and data charges, providing the top two — Vodacom, too, is chaired by Ramaphosa — with a combined turnover of close to R100-billion and pre-tax earnings of about R26-billion.

On the positive side, a cheer for Nedbank. Its chair, Dr Reuel Khoza, courageously bemoaned in the Nedbank annual report the “degenerating moral quotient of SA’s political leadership”, a “strange breed — determined to undermine the rule of law and override the constitution”.

An entourage of African National Congress notables immediately proved his point, calling for his sacking and a boycott of Nedbank, as well as deriding him as a pawn of colonialist and racist paymasters. Khoza, however, is not only still the Nedbank chair, but returned to the fray in a memorial lecture honouring Abram Tiro, assassinated by the apartheid government.

Khoza lambasted the present ANC’s “masquerade of leadership — not predicated on principle”. Then he took aim at the education system for producing “semi-literate, semi-numerate” school leavers; at the country’s intelligentsia for behaving as a “priestly elite” rather than talking truth to power and finally at the business community for doing everything possible to remain on the “right side” of power.

Who knows whether Khoza will survive as Nedbank’s chair? But if he does, the banking group’s annual report in April will likely again make for interesting reading.

So the Diogenes Lamp Award goes to Khoza, a rare phenomenon in a generally craven corporate world. Forelock tugging was ingrained into business leaders during the apartheid era but here at least is an outspokenly honest executive whose concerns about the country, in which his business operates, outweigh short-term political expediency.
Ramaphosa should take a leaf.

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    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      This is because the ANC imported American type Capitalism, re-inforcing it with BEE and American Laws, selling our parastatals (to themselves like the Russian Mafia did), and changing our Roman Dutch Socialist Law to American Capitalist Law.

      But I disagree about Marikana. The sooner the migrant labour gets sent beck to Swaziland and Lesotho from the mines; and to Swaziland and Zimbabwe from the Cape farms the better.

      The failed African Kingdoms have exported their labour to South Africa ever since the Boers lost the Anglo Boer War. The new failed state doing the same is Zimbabwe.

      Not only do they take jobs needed by South Africans, they overload our welfare, education and health systems.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      I am more interested in Zuma’s request for Bishop Tutu to hold a cleansing ceremony.
      Apparently some of the sangomas have decided that the accidents on the roads are being caused by restless spirits of those who died on the roads getting into cars to go home, and these spirits need to be cleansed.

      So what will Tutu do? Say yes and he offends the Christians; say no and he offends the Africanists.

    • Judith

      I recommend Tutu keeps his peace in that matter, Lyndall. Can’t fault your conclusions here, Mr Saunders. Lonmin’s handling of Marikana was dreadful and its revealed lack of commitment to its development programmes was made very clear by the appalling conditions in which the community has to live around the mine.

      If the government were to be focused on running the country effectively, many of the problems caused by high levels of poverty would be solved. Sadly personal enrichment takes the high points of the agenda

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy


      Dies Tutu “keep his peace” by saying “yes” or by saying “no”? That is my question?

      And I don’t see why South African Mines should develop anything for Swazis, Basutu or Zimbabean migrant labour – let their own Kings/Presidents develop their countries for them.

    • Thato

      Ramaphosa is NOT the chairman of Lonmin and he is NOT the chairman of Vodacom.

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      William – Let’s wait and see if Mr Ramaphosa turns out to be an understudy. Long way to go. Just starting.

    • Jean Wright

      AS Thato says. Just for information, Roger Phillimore is Chairman of Lonmin (Ramaphosa is a non executive Director through Shanduka Lonmin’s BEE partner. Cyril chairs the Transformation Committee) and Peter Moyo is Chairman of Vodacom.

      I wait with interest to see how Cyril Ramaphosa turns out. Had respect for him, and was sorry when he left politics. Now hope he will have a good affect on ANC politics and feel he has too much character to be anyone’s understudy…..

    • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      Its really astounding to see how William has the arrogance to proclaim “awards” similar to the DA’s scorecard of the government! LOL

      This rant masquerading as “criticism” of corporate abuse, is squarely targeted at Ramaphosa in another underhanded attempt at character assassination.

      “outspokenly honest executive (Khosa) whose concerns about the country”
      In the same breath, William attempts to elevate a subservient banking executive Khosa as some kind of intellectual giant who cares for our society!!! This is counter to the universal hatred of BANKERS for their greed that led to the worst worldwide recession in living memory. So before you praise Khosa, remember who he really represents!

    • http://MandG Busiso Mazibuko

      Lyndall Beddy you spewing your xenophobic bile, you and your fellow racists did not shut out exRhodisian whites, Swazis-whites, Lesotho-whites, Botswana-whites and Mozambican-Portuguese-whites from settling here, instead you welcomed them with open arms, but you have the audacity to call on a sitting black government to shut out Zulus and Basothos and Shanganes who were displaced by yesteryear tribal wars, to be thrown out, well they are back in their ancestral land, neither you nor anyone else can do anything about it. We know that there is a rumour you are feeding on that says that the recent strike action by mining workers was fuelled by people from neighbouring countries, that is far from true, you and your fellow evil capitalists must brace yourselves for the worst as your evil business practices are enslaving rather than empowring the worker, black Africans have long suffered under the york of the white man and people can see through all your rhetoric and will not allow you to divide us Africans along your colonial lines that were drawn by your colonial fathers during the scramble for Africa.

    • The Creator

      Actually, Ramaphosa is the principal South African shareholder in the local operations of Coke and McDonalds. Forget the Marikana massacre — his real plan is to make our kids too fat to move and too dumb to vote!

      Otherwise, can’t fault Mr. Saunderson-Meyer’s observation that this has been a bad year for good business — or rather, a good year for bad business. But that’s been true for the last thirty years or so.

    • Truth be known

      Cyril Ramaposa has shares in coal mines. Cyril makes money out of killing the planet and Africa through climate change. Zuma or Cyril, no difference between a rock and a hard place. Save South Africa, get some peoples politicians not greedy crony capitalists.

    • http://blogroid.wordpress.com Blogroid

      Given that it took under two minutes on Google to confirm the various contributor corrections that Roger Phillimore is chairman of Lonmin [and btw the Late Harry Oppenheimer’s godson]; and that Peter Voyo is chairman of Vodacom one wonders why the writer here has chosen to distribute such an untruth regarding Mr Ramaphosa.

      It certainly calls into question the probity of the entire blog, and renders the bloggist’s opinions to be of nugatory effect, and hence any further comment to be pointless.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Post Polokwane Zuma’s lifestyle has deliberately copycatted the Zulu King

      On order to put the final nail in the coffin of the IFP which serves neither the South African people, nor the Zulu people, but the Zulu King and Royal Family.

      The amount of “People’s Money” used to build Nkandla pales into insignificance compared to the value of the 40 percent of the land of Zululand expropriated post 1994 by the Zulu King for the Royal Family, despite his being given more than R50 million a year by the South African taxpayer.

      Anyway Nkandla is built to be a government institution, not a private home, as I have pointed out before, which is why the Key Point’s Act was invoked. It puzzles me why you can’t all see the obvious.

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      Please explain how we should empower the worker instead? Because the model that the “sitting black government” is currently following, is evidently not working.

    • GrahamJ

      Again, all the politically correct prejudices are on display. Mr Saunderson-Meyer makes excellent observations and gives suitable evidence to support them, but the masses are blinded by the myths they fell in love with.

      And to Busiso Mazibuko I can only respond, where do you GET that rubbish?

    • http://MandG Busiso Mazibuko

      GrahamJ which rubbish are you referring to, do you mean my response to Lyndall Beddy’s racist xenophobic comments.

    • http://MandG Busiso Mazibuko

      GrahamJ-You your self are spewing garbage, am responding to Lyndall Beddy’s racist,xenophobic comments, please read through all the comments before exhibiting your biased hollow, shallow comments.

    • ntozakhona

      When I first read the quotations from thought leader contributors I thought there might be something to it. The idea of a thought leader blog was fascinating and seemed habinger prospects of an eveidence reasoning and assumptions based on analysis.

      How disappointed I was to be. The Meyer blog is typical of canards, rumour and slander dressed up as thought. Khoza will survive or not survive his post due to Nedbank business considerations, it is not owned by government or the ANC. He is a BEE giant and must have calculated the business risk or returns of his utterings, it is his decision.

      Kagalema Motlanthe when he was brefly President of South Africa had a taste of the slander when his private life suddenly became a subject of malicious conjecture. Ramaphosa was not going to be an exception. Despite claims and pretences of having been behind Mandela, he too was not exception.The companies on whose boards Ramaphosa sit are no different from your typical South African companies as the farmworkers at De Doorns will painfully attest. Yes Ramaphosa is a shareholder but the question any thinking person would ask is how much sway does he hold, is he a majority shareholder. A student of business studies know that there is also a difference between ownership and control. In any case Ramophosa alleged views on criminality that was unfolding at Marikana echoed those of the National Union of Mineworkers.

      If we are to claim we are thought leaders, let us at least pretend to think.

    • ntozakhona

      Thato these self styled thought leaders are not interested in facts and knowledge but rumour and slander, why allow those to get in the way of a juicy dinner party gossip?

    • DFB

      Truth be told I have few answers for SA’s economic woes.khoza ia right but in the contaxt of macro factors not seen before in mining. Fracking with a conversion to gas and out of coal in the interim and a strict development of alternaitves with such as a gas boom might be good. SA nees to convert out of Coal but vested new emergent interests in the affirmative coal inustry are working against this. SA is about to lose the gas to liquid race with technologies being developed in the UK. Metals and minerals seem set to dip for a while an hyrogen economies the possibilityu for the platinum industry looks like its post natuaral gas now Which is a long time into the future. Zuma the modern Lobenguela and his entourage cannot provide the kind of thinking and direction needed for a social democratic initiative with strength. Ramaphosa as a sucessor to Zuma would be interesting. Is he capable of doing what Khosa asks before actually taking over ependes on whter Zuma goes into a semi retirement first as his deputy takes over. Shoot the sherif and let the deputy take over or just let ? him go to Sleep. SA faces a very difficult new role in the world economy. Will it be able to take up the possibilities as the global economy starts to resurge or will it be power failures an billions in missing revenue again…..