His­tory les­son

‘…we all choose the way in which we or­gan­ise our so­ci­ety and how we’re gov­erned. It’s got noth­ing to do with race’

Finweek English Edition - - Openers -

SOUTH AFRICA’S eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment has ben­e­fited im­mensely over the gen­er­a­tions from the power and pro­duc­tiv­ity of sev­eral dy­nas­ties – in the past mostly white but now re­flect­ing the re­al­i­ties of our so­ci­ety with the emer­gence of fledg­ling dy­nas­ties such as that of Tokyo Sexwale and Pa­trice Mot­sepe.

Few lit­er­ate South Africans will not be aware of the role played in our com­mer­cial his­tory by fam­i­lies such as the Op­pen­heimers in min­ing, fi­nance and in­dus­try, the Ru­perts in to­bacco, bank­ing, min­ing and lux­ury goods, the Ack­er­mans in re­tail­ing, the Lub­n­ers in man­u­fac­tur­ing, the Ven­ters in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, the Grindrods in ship­ping, and so forth.

Some have been more ac­tive than oth­ers in pub­lic life. For ex­am­ple, the late Harry Op­pen­heimer’s son, Ni­cholas, prefers a far lower pro­file than that en­joyed by his il­lus­tri­ous par­ent. It re­mains to be seen how Jonathan, fourth gen­er­a­tion in that dy­nasty and liv­ing in Bri­tain, han­dles his her­itage.

The late An­ton Ru­pert was, like Harry Op­pen­heimer, a well-read in­tel­lec­tual with a taste for the arts and a busi­ness mind like a sur­geon’s scalpel. His ad­dresses were al­ways of the cere­bral, un­der­stated style. But he didn’t mince his words when he warned us decades ago that un­less our neigh­bours are well fed and housed we would never en­joy peace in the re­gion.

To­day his son, Jo­hann, strides the stage of world busi­ness as the cre­ator of the world’s sec­ond largest lux­ury goods em­pire and the cre­ator, as was his fa­ther, of mas­sive wealth for share­hold­ers. He’s not as sub­tle as was his fa­ther – thus bet­ter suited, per­haps, for the fast-paced rhythms of 21st Cen­tury in­ter­na­tional com­merce. Those who deal with him know he drives straight to the point at hand. And nowhere was that bet­ter il­lus­trated than in an ad­dress filled with in­sights and prac­ti­cal­ity that Jo­hann Ru­pert de­liv­ered last month at the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria in hon­our of his fa­ther.

A huge rugby fan, he took a not so gen­tle swipe at Luke Wat­son, the player who has claimed the game in SA is be­ing run by “Dutch­men” and that he wished to vomit on his Spring­bok jer­sey, thus earn­ing him the so­bri­quet from sports­writers of “Puke” Wat­son.

Ru­pert told his au­di­ence that – as a “Dutch­man” and one who wrote his own speeches – he asked for for­give­ness for any gram­mat­i­cal er­rors. He then twit­ted the me­dia for para­phras­ing and us­ing ex­tracts from quotes out of con­text, thereby cre­at­ing wrong im­pres­sions.

In ref­er­ence to crit­i­cism of the late rugby gi­ant, Doc Craven, by those op­posed to the re­ten­tion of the Spring­bok brand, Ru­pert pointed out that Craven didn’t say (as al­leged) that a black would never play for SA. Putting the record straight, Ru­pert gave the cor­rect Craven quote: “For as long as this (Na­tion­al­ist) gov­ern­ment is in charge there will never be a black player play­ing for South Africa.”

In his ad­dress, Ru­pert ranged from sub­Sa­ha­ran life ex­pectan­cies to in­fant mor­tal­ity rates, the preva­lence of HIV, un­em­ploy­ment, the rule of the Na­tional Party, the flood of im­mi­grants and other ar­eas of in­ter­est to all South Africans.

Your age­ing cor­re­spon­dent was pleased to read Ru­pert echoed an ar­gu­ment I put for­ward in the dark days of apartheid, when I ar­gued in the Sun­day Times in the Six­ties that we didn’t have, as our Nat mas­ters claimed, a mar­ket sys­tem, that how could we have a mar­ket sys­tem when we didn’t al­low the vast bulk of the pop­u­la­tion to par­tic­i­pate, when we de­nied folks the right to own a home where they chose, to marry whom they wished, to send their kids to the school of their choice, to com­pete on equal terms in the job mar­ket, and so on.

Ru­pert force­fully made the point that “there are no democ­ra­cies that do not have free mar­ket economies”. He pro­vided five bases for a suc­cess­ful, free so­ci­ety. They are: 1. Un­lim­ited and free trans­fer­abil­ity of

prop­erty. 2. Pro­tec­tion of pri­vate prop­erty. 3. Own­er­ship in­cen­tives for cap­i­tal

for­ma­tion. 4. Strong and con­vert­ible cur­ren­cies. 5. Flex­i­ble labour mar­kets and en­trepreneur­ship. There are, he added, “no democ­ra­cies that don’t have free mar­ket economies”. Adding the caveat: “There are still free mar­ket sys­tems that are not true democ­ra­cies.” China and Chile were ex­am­ples he pro­vided.

He asked why was it that, while 150 years ago liv­ing stan­dards world­wide were roughly uni­form, to­day there are vast dif­fer­ences be­tween, ob­vi­ously, de­vel­oped and un­de­vel­oped na­tions. Why have some pros­pered and oth­ers de­clined? “Africa,” he told his au­di­ence, “has gone back­wards.” How­ever, he has­tened to add: “It’s got noth­ing to do with us be­ing African or black. For­get this old racist line of eth­nic­ity.”

If the eth­nic ar­gu­ment held any wa­ter, Ru­pert im­plied, why is that “sim­i­larly ed­u­cated peo­ple with the same eth­nic back­ground end up ex­pe­ri­enc­ing such dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of life?”

Here he re­ferred to East and West Ger­many, to Mao’s China com­pared to Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore and Tai­wan. He asked why it is the av­er­age South Korean is 6cm taller than his north­ern coun­ter­part?

His con­clu­sion was that the “truth seems to be found in the choices made by so­ci­eties as to the eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem un­der which they choose to live. In other words, we all choose the way in which we or­gan­ise our so­ci­ety and how we are gov­erned. It’s got noth­ing to do with race.”

While he sup­ports em­ploy­ment eq­uity, Ru­pert warned against a “pol­icy of ad­vance­ment at the ex­pense of any form of com­pe­tence” and cited “in­sti­tu­tions where ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers were ‘en­cour­aged’ to leave – Eskom, the Land Bank, SA Air­ways – I can go and on.”

Let’s hope he does. We des­per­ately need busi­ness leaders of Ru­pert’s cal­i­bre to speak out against mind­less race-based poli­cies that are crip­pling us.

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