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Kaizer Nyatsumba MEI 2018 Opening Address

By Kaizer M. Nyatsumba, Chief Executive, SEIFSA

Date: 12 September 2019

Thank you, Melissa, for that fantastic introduction.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we meet at a most inauspicious time for our beautiful country. Unlike a year ago when there was so much hope of a New Dawn in the air, when the Commission into State Capture had just begun its public hearings and so much was expected to come of the President’s inaugural Investment Conference, we meet today at a time when our country is engulfed with bad news and our leadership has been exposed to be weak and so far unequal to the gargantuan task ahead.

Everywhere we look, leadership has taken cover and, as I had occasion to write in a poem more than two decades ago, “the sanguinary are in control”. We have become the rape and misogyny capital of the world, where just having been born female is enough to mark one out for all kinds of abuse. Our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters live in palpable fear of being molested and murdered with what looks like absolute impunity, while our leadership limply throws its hands into the air, mouths yet more empty condemnations and makes more unconvincing promises and undertakings.

Our streets have been taken over by angry, vile and unemployed men who rape, murder and pillage with gay abandon, comfortable in the knowledge that they will get away with it because our police are either on the take or useless and our law-enforcement agencies are impuissant. With unspeakable savagery, they lay into men and women whose only sin is that they are from another African country; torch trucks on the country’s roads for no reason other than that those who drive them across our towns, cities and borders are employed and are unknown to them; and target construction sites in our industrial areas to demand – by brute force – a stake in other people’s businesses, to which they will add not an iota of value.

Our borders exist in name only, with anybody who so desires free to walk in and out of them any time, in the process worsening our unemployment crisis and seriously inflaming passions among the indigent who do not know where their next meal will come from and for whom the only asset they have in abundance is time. Our borders are porous, our police are useless – I guess I have earned the right to say so: my brother was murdered in 2009 and, more than a decade later, nobody has yet been arrested – and our Department of Home Affairs and the National Defence Force are laughing stocks.

All this goes on while our political mandarins are either conspicuous through their silence or, when they dare surface to make some pronouncements, either make the same mealy-mouthed excuses for their failure to do the jobs for which they were elected or threaten – yet again – fire and brimstone, fully knowing that their words are not worthy of the pieces of paper or the Notepads from which they read them.

To our utter dismay, it would seem that our beautiful country is on auto pilot. Its leaders have either gone to ground or are too pre-occupied with their internecine conflicts and sundry machinations. It is as if we are left to our own devices.

Is it any wonder, then, that our economy has continued to flounder so badly and that our State-owned companies are in such a pitiable state? I don’t think so.

Far be it from me, Ladies and Gentlemen, to depress you right at the beginning of our Fifth Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. That is not at all my intention. I point these things out because it would be irresponsible of us, as business and labour leaders, to stick our necks in the sand and pretend that everything is hunky-dory. In my view, we all have a duty, individually and collectively, not only to face our current reality squarely in the face, but also to do something about it. We are not as helpless as we may sometimes believe ourselves to be.

We are far more powerful beyond measure. We must, each one of us, speak out robustly against the many ills confronting our country, and join hands with those who are similarly concerned and are keen to get involved in various efforts to reverse the very evident decay confronting us. We need to stop romanticising about a non-existent nirvana and face up to the challenge that ours is a sick country that is dangerously close to tipping over – unless we fold our shirt sleeves and put shoulder to the wheel.

The responsibility to save South Africa belongs to us all. In any society, this is way too important a task to leave to politicians alone. It is even worse in our case, where a growing number of politicians are exposed in various forms almost on a weekly basis to be self-serving individuals who worry only about themselves, their families and their political parties, with the country coming stone last. We need to reach out across the racial, political, class, gender and whatever other divides to work with all who profess to love South Africa and want to see it prosper.

That is the context in which we hold this Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba. We believe that South Africa can – and will – be saved, if we all work together as a team. We believe, as I often point out, that, however much the men and women of goodwill and integrity in government may be willing to do so, the Government cannot execute this mammoth task alone. Obviously, with business not pulling the levers of legislative power, business also cannot do it alone. Instead, we need a strong partnership involving, in the first instance, Government, Business and Labour, followed by the general community.

Regrettably, it is sad to observe that, even during this period of a supposed New Dawn, we still have some people in Government behaving as if they were some demi-gods, rather than Servants of the People who elected them into office in the first place. It is a great pity, for instance, that among the nine members of the Ramaphosa Government invited to address this conference and interact with you, the Shareholders of this Beautiful Republic, all but two contrived to come up with various excuses for their absence. Even with one of the largest Cabinets in the world, in which every Minister has a Deputy, those who showed disdain to the metals and engineering sector by spurning our invitation would not even dispatch their Deputies or Directors-General to address this conference.

Sadly, both we and others who organise similar industry conferences have come to know that some among our Cabinet Ministers prefer events where theirs will be the only voices to be heard, without any other stakeholders to challenge them or hold them to account. Some would even go as far as to seek to control a conference’s agenda by insisting that members of political parties other than their own should not be invited.

We at SEIFSA have doggedly resisted such pressure – and will continue to do so. We are a Federation representing important stakeholders in our economy, and have no appetite whatsoever for any political gimmickry or games. We invite to our conferences any individual that we deem to have the experience, insights, wisdom and the power to contribute meaningfully to discussions of any issues being considered.

As always, Ladies and Gentlemen,   we look forward to a fruitful, robust engagement with our speakers in the course of the next two days.

As you may recall, during the Indaba last year, we asked you to consider adopting resolutions on some of the important issues that came under discussion. To refresh your memory, those resolutions saw delegates:

  1. Expressing disappointment at the failure of some Cabinet Ministers to attend important sessions of the conference to which they were invited;
  2. Calling on the Government to enforce designation of local content more rigorously in production processes across all value chains and expressing disappointment at the awarding of tenders to foreign companies by some State-owned enterprises when there is capacity for local businesses to manufacture the same products;
  3. Calling on the Government to include the local manufacturing industry in decision making regarding foreign and domestic investments to promote beneficiation and job creation;
  4. Calling on the Government to prioritize local businesses in all investment and construction projects, including Black Economic Empowerment partners, to comply with South African rules to address racial disparities;
  5. Calling on the Government to find a way of extending to the mid- and downstream group of industries in the metals and engineering sector the support available to primary steel producers; and
  6. Calling on the Government to reconsider the introduction of a carbon tax in the country, at a time when business is already struggling.

These resolutions have formed the basis of SEIFSA’s lobbying activities during the course of the last year. Regrettably, we have all lost the fight on the carbon tax, thanks in no small measure to the parlous state of the fiscus.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we at SEIFSA believe very firmly that, however difficult things may be at the moment, there continues to be a future for Manufacturing in South Africa and our region, and we believe that that future also includes a thriving Metals and Engineering Sector. However, for the sector to realize its full potential, it behoves all of us – in business, Government and labour – to get all hands on deck.

Thank you very much, yet again, for your attendance. Let us have a fruitful engagement that will be seen by future generations to have been vital for the continued survival of our Sector.

Thanks, too, to our host, the IDC, and all our Sponsors and Media Partners.

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