Sygnia chief executive Magda Wierzycka has warned that South Africa could snake down a low road, where corruption becomes the only way to do business – if business and society don’t stand up and stop it.
“We are living through times where we already have a parallel security state used to rig elections, intimidate, and murder. KwaZulu Natal is already a war zone politically,” said Wierzycka, who addressed the Cape Town Press Club at the weekend.
She painted a scenario where corruption “becomes a way of doing businesses – we have already seen international companies such as KPMG, McKinsey, SAP, Bell Pottinger, implicated. There are many more (companies) which are engaging in dubious practices for profit.”
Wierzycka said South Africa’s media was already “intimidated and starved of finance – already all government advertising has been withdrawn and redirected to Gupta-owned media channels”. She did not name them, but ANN7, now run by former government communicator Jimmy Manyi, and The New Age, are the two significant channels. “We have also seen paid-for thuggery of Black First Land First and MKMVA. This can escalate.”
The consequence of the demolition of the media “is that civil rights organisations are starved of finance. This can degenerate into prosecutions of activists.”
She said we could see court judgments simply being ignored. She drew attention to the Social Welfare Minister Bathabile Dlamini and social grant (CPS) disaster, the ongoing saga of prosecution of President Jacob Zuma, and the fact that he violated the constitution and his oath of office “and yet manages to skip and dance from one courtroom to another”.
Wierzycka, who has rocketed on to the national political stage as a business person ready to speak out about corruption in business – particularly big business – noted that former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendation of a commission of inquiry has stalled.
Government Employees Pension Fund money – managed by the Public Investment Commission (PIC) – could be further used to prop-up State-Owned Enterprises “while money is stolen through rigged tenders and diversion of money flows”.
State-owned enterprises already could not raise any external funding and were dependent on the PIC, she pointed out. “Using pension fund money to pay off SOE debts means that pensioners will eventually suffer.”
One could see a further descent on the prosecution front. “Cases are not prosecuted and stay in limbo with the Hawks and the NPA (national prosecutions authority) having been reduced to toothless tigers.”
Then the state finds itself with no revenue to pay social grants “and eventually pensions”. Mechanisms to do so collapse completely. South Africa already had a close run with the provision of social pensions earlier this year.
Wierzycka pointed out that the overall consequence of this is that racial tensions were fueled. “Government continues to use white monopoly capital and other slogans to detract attention from their own inattention to the plight of all South Africans. “Remember these target rural areas – not you and me.”
If South Africa continued down this track, savings would be worthless and corporate profits would fall. “2019 may well not be free and fair,” she warned.
Corruption needed to be rooted out. Business had a key role in preventing this low road scenario from panning out.
“Business can withhold funding from SOEs and governments implicated in corruption. We are starting to finally see that with lenders threatening not to roll over debt unless boards of Eskom and Denel are replaced by the end of December.”
It is essential that business could support and protect whistleblowers. “It can cease to do business with companies which are implicated in corrupt practices.”
“It can supply funding to civil rights organisations and NGOs fighting corruption. It can advertise in newspapers and investigative journalism – we need a free press to expose corrupt practices.”
But above all South Africa’s business community must “become visible in its leadership of the fight against corruption”, she said.