Collective action gets best results
Loyal dissent little more than a venting exercise
BUSINESS DOESN’T SPEAK with one voice about how it should approach Government about crime. Should it, and would it make a difference if it did?
Business Against Crime (BAC) CEO Siphiwe Nzimande accepts that it’s normal for businesses to adopt different positions on issues. Business Leadership South Africa’s Michael Spicer, who also sits on President Thabo Mbeki’s Big Business Working Group (BBWG), agrees.
But, both believe that history has proved “collective action” by business gets the best results.
BAC was set up to be that collective voice for business to interact with Government on crime, says Nzimande.
BAC and the BBWG are involved in setting up an ambitious plan to rope in retired CEOs to help overhaul the criminal justice system. Each CEO will adopt or has adopted an area of the criminal justice or policing system so these can be re-evaluated and re-organised.
He adds: “I have sympathy for FNB (it planned, paid for and withdrew a R10m advertising campaign urging President Mbeki to do more about crime). They were looking for assurances.” Is BAC getting those assurances? “Yes, we are,” says Nzimande, who reiterates that crime and its causes are complex – not something that’s going to be solved overnight.
While the Institute for Security Studies blames Government for poor leadership on this issue, it agrees that business intervention/help to reduce crime means tackling complex social welfare and Government service delivery issues as well.
But, what happens when not everyone agrees that the practical, relatively behindthe-scenes and long-term strategy that BAC and BBWG have committed to is enough? Business leaders such as Remgro’s Johann Rupert say the crime situation warrants a vocal “loyal dissent” from business to spur Government into realising the extent of the problem and taking appropriate action.
Aside from this rift pointing to interesting internal business politics, it begs the question about whether it gives Government a divide-and-rule foothold that will allow it to keep big business at bay on crime?
Idasa political analyst Steven Friedman dismisses this notion, saying that: “One of the great myths about business and politics is that if business spoke with one voice everything would change. This is not realistic and it’s not true. Why should business speak with one voice about anything?”
A source in the President’s office agrees, saying that screaming at Government won’t have the desired effect.
“The FNB advertising campaign is definitely not the way to get results,” says the same source, who asked not to be drawn into this issue by name.
Friedman says: “If you take the view that Government would like to do something about crime but doesn’t know what and then you shout at them, three things will happen. Government will yell back like Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula did when he said those who whinge about crime should leave the country. It’ll get defensive, as Mbeki has already done. It’ll do some high-profile PR exercises.”
But, would a public and unified display of “loyal dissent” by business on this and other social issues really be little more than a venting exercise? “Yes,” says Friedman. “So what?” asks political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi. He says that, in a democracy, there’s nothing wrong with shouting at the President.
BBWG members agreed that corporate citizens have a right to yell at Government but not if doing so would jeopardise prom- ising and working plans that are in place. While the jury is out on what the BBWG project will achieve, this group stands by its argument that if you expect to have a fundamental effect on an issue such as crime, then making the people you are trying to influence angry and frustrated isn’t wise. In other words, if every business pulled together to feed into the BBWG and BAC plan, results would be seen more quickly.
Whether one advertising campaign by one corporate citizen would’ve ruined the BAC/BBWG’s long-term effort to overhaul the criminal justice system is up for debate. Would Government have been that petulant? The pros and cons of everyone having to tread on eggshells to get Government to listen are debatable.
Businessmen and analysts
differ. Siphiwe Nzimande,