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Impact of the National Elections on the Business Sector – Where is SA Headed?

At the meeting were (from left) Professor Cecile Gerwel Proches, GSB&L; Professor Purshottama Reddy; Mr Zakhele Ndlovu; Mr Neville Matjie; Professor Collete Muller; Ms Melanie Veness; and Mr Ebrahim Patel.

Impact of the National Elections on the Business Sector – Where is SA Headed?

KwaZulu-Natal business leaders and academics weighed in on issues affecting local and national business sectors ahead of – and after – the 2024 elections at a breakfast meeting in Durban.

The gathering was part of UKZN’s strategic goal of mutual community engagement which is also embedded in the College of Law and Management Studies’ strategic plan. The event was one of the many activities being undertaken by the Graduate School of Business and Leadership (GSB&L) in line with its vision of producing well informed graduates through the involvement of practitioners and experts in business management and leadership fields.

Themed: The 2024 General Elections in South Africa – Its Impact on Business: Where Are We Going? the discussion aimed to answer the question of what the government would do differently this time around to meet the expectations of the business sector.

Facilitating the debate, Professor Purshottama Reddy, a public governance expert at the GSB&L, said that the time before and after the elections were destined to be watershed moments in the country.

The panel included Mr Zakhele Ndlovu, a political science lecturer at UKZN and an independent political analyst; Mr Neville Matjie, Advisor to the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal and Former Chief Executive Officer: Trade and Investment, KZN; Ms Melanie Veness, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg and Midlands Chamber of Business and Mr Ebrahim Patel, founder and former president of the Minara Chamber of Commerce.

Welcoming participants, Acting Dean and Head of UKZN’s GSB&L, Professor Collette Muller, said the gathering was being held against a background of anticipation and reflection in the light of the elections and the impact they could have on the business landscape.

‘The upcoming elections present an opportunity for policymakers and business leaders to collaborate in fostering an environment conducive to sustainable economic growth, job creation and inclusive development. Aligning strategies and initiatives with the evolving priorities and aspirations of our communities and stakeholders is critical.

‘As we ponder today’s discussions, let us also take the opportunity to leverage our collective expertise, insights and experiences to proactively shape and contribute to a thriving business ecosystem,’ said Muller.

Ndlovu said businesses needed assurance. ‘The effect of the 2021 looting is still evident on small and big businesses as well as the economy, increasing unemployment and making it difficult for businesses to recover from losses – and still to this day the culprits behind the crime have not been brought to book. All this begs the question: What business person or investor would want to invest their money in such a country?’

Ndlovu went on to plead with the business sector to put pressure on the government, saying it was time they were held accountable for the current state of the country, especially in the business world.

Matjie said the results of the elections had the potential to bring a lot of change and with that a lot of uneasiness. ‘Businesses need to be ready and willing to adapt as they can be very influential in the decision-making processes and the development of new policies to move the country and business sector forward.’

Veness called for a safer and securer environment for investment and for more support for the Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa in light of the high failure rate of those businesses.

She said corruption needed to be rooted out as she believed it was the cause of so many of the problems in the country.

Patel mentioned there had recently been some positive economic indicators with the rand remaining stable, despite all the economic challenges South Africa was facing.

Patel pointed out that in order for growth in the business sector, the railway network and logistics system needed to be fixed and called for a massive overhaul of the public transport system to enable workers get to and from work safely and at a lower cost.

Speakers all shared concerns on the issues of lawlessness, crime and corruption calling for swift intervention in order for the South African business sector to thrive.

The session ended with an interactive Q&A session.

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Hesper Cele