Media Releases

Fortune Favours the Brave

In this article by Managing Director Andrew McGregor, Who Owns Whom’s Wholesale and Retail of Food in Egypt and Construction Industry in Ethiopia industry research reports provide data-driven insights into foreign direct investments (FDI) by South Africa companies on the rest of the continent. Is South Africa’s state and private sector doing enough to form a cohesive approach to the African opportunity or are we being out manoeuvred by the likes of India and China? Read more on The Africa Report

Don’t ignore Zimbabwe

An opinion piece that brings attention to the impact of Zimbabwe’s economic hardships on South Africa. With the economy of South Africa’s neighbour falling even further due to recent political events in the country, there could be potentially dire consequences for South Africa and its companies. Will the revenue earned from exports to Zimbabwe be placed at risk or will the tide turn? Read more at iAfrica.com or Africa.com

Advocacy: A call for disclosure of beneficial owners

Who Owns Whom Managing Director Andrew McGregor calls on South African citizenry to join those in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria who are holding their governments accountable for rising state debt. Let’s peel back the layers of corporate secrecy with the Companies Amendment Bill and demand transparency in the current procurement system such that ultimate beneficial owners of private companies are disclosed. Read more at AmaBhungane.com or iAfrica.com

Restructuring the Private Sector

Conglomerates did not deliver their side of the postapartheid bargain
Private fixed investment flatlined in business-friendly climate but asset managers and BEE beneficiaries score

The unbundling and reconstitution of SA’s apartheid-era conglomerates since the early 1990s is arguably the biggest restructuring of the South African economy since the discovery of diamonds in the 1880s, but it has received only limited attention. Yet, as SA grapples with its fundamental challenges of unemployment, inequality and fracturing social cohesion, it is critical to reflect on how the bargains that gave rise to this restructuring were formed, their effect on economic structure and performance and the urgent need for a new set of pragmatic bargains. One question, in particular, needs to be posed: have postapartheid corporates contributed to higher levels of private sector fixed investment? In 1990, six corporate groups controlled 84% of the JSE: Anglo American, Rembrandt, Sanlam, SA Mutual, Liberty Life/Standard Bank and Anglovaal, with Anglo alone accounting for 44.2%. The roots of SA’s current corporate landscape were established over the early 1990s as the groups sought to restore their prospects for growth and profits from the economic stagnation and political crisis of the late 1980s. Industrialisation based on mining and heavy industry had progressively run out of steam during the 1980s, with the conglomerates unable to develop competitive manufacturing outside these sectors. A major, if not overarching, objective was to free up capital “trapped” by exchange-control regulations and deploy the substantial holdings they had accrued offshore. A beguilingly simple proposition emerged in the early 1990s, head and shoulders above piles of research, avian-themed scenarios and policy proposals on the direction of the postapartheid economy. As publicly articulated by the SA Foundation, which represented the 50 largest business groups, a private investment boom would ensue if SA implemented policies that instilled “business confidence”. The foundation subsequently morphed into Business Leadership SA. The major policy reforms identified were tight inflation and budget control, removal of capital controls, increased openness to foreign competition and investors and labour market deregulation. The last apartheid finance minister, the conservative, yet canny Derek Keys, played an instrumental role in shepherding senior ANC economic office bearers towards embracing orthodox economic policy reforms. Most of the foundation’s policy proposals were embodied in the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy framework and largely implemented, with the major exception of de jure labour market deregulation. However, the conglomerates realised very clearly that these policies required political legitimacy. One potential source of legitimacy was decisively rejected by the conglomerates, namely the option of forging a modus vivendi with labour to broaden and deepen industrialisation from the apartheid model of mining and heavy industry. Even Keys felt this refusal to come to terms with labour was mistaken. For Keys, “[B]usiness having got a Constitution which guaranteed property rights and a market-friendly approach … veered off into a sort of laissez-faire position where they expected government to discipline labour and resented every aspect in the economy which didn’t allow them to operate like Victorian capitalists.” Echoing the accommodation of Afrikaner by English capital spawned in the 1960s, the conglomerates sought legitimacy in narrow transfers to a handful of politically connected black individuals, albeit underpinned by high levels of debt. The phenomenon of black economic empowerment (BEE), thus, emerged out of the corporate sector before becoming entrenched in government policy and taking on forms unanticipated by and ultimately beyond corporate control.