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Anglo threat to lay off 14 000 calls for necessary debate
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1st March 2013
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By Gwede Mantashe

Anglo American Corporation was formed in South Africa in 1917, with the initial capital of 50% contributed by Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and his family and the remaining 50% contributed by JP Morgan & Company and Newmont Mining Corporation. The latter is where it derives the American connection. Anglo American mined, in the main, South African gold and diamonds and later diversified into related sectors like the manufacturing of explosives.

It is, however, not our objective to trace the Anglo American web that covered almost every sector in the 1970s and 1980s but to establish our claim to it as South Africans. Our claim is that Anglo American was built in South Africa with South African mineral deposits and South African cheap labour. It is for all intents and purposes a South African company. Therefore, there is a reasonable expectation from the people of South Africa that it would be very patriotic. Hence, our disbelief when we are told that Anglo American is a foreign investment.

Companies and the countries where their domicile is are what we call the economy of a particular country. It is for this reason that many countries relate to their major companies as part of the family. For example, at one point when Nestlé was expanding very fast in East Asia and particularly India, it was only gene- rating 2% of its revenue from Switzerland but remained a proud Swiss company. Another example is that of BHP, a proud Australian company. Gencor Mining reconstituted itself into Billiton and had its primary listing in London. When BHP was in trouble, there was a merger with Billiton which ultimately forced the company to move its primary listing to Australia. There are plenty examples to this effect, but we intend showing our appreciation of the national pride some countries have about their companies and the companies about their own countries. The global financial crisis reinforced this argument when governments in developed economies were prepared to bail out what they saw as the family silverware, in their national private companies.

At the moment of our attainment of our freedom, neoliberalism was at its pinnacle in terms of being the most dominant ideology in the world. The one-size-fits-all mindset, driven through the structural adjustment programmes, was forcefully imposed on small and developing economies like South Africa with disastrous consequences. It was during this period that South African companies were allowed to migrate with relative ease to the London Stock Exchange and to a lesser extent the New York Stock Exchange. The question that confronts us is whether the South African economy has bene- fited optimally from this move. We contend that it impacted negatively on our stock exchange.

This leads me to the emerging trend, that of South African companies taking the opportunities anywhere in the world. They globalise and grow their investment as South African companies using our capital. When they mature they see South African mines as risky and then ringfence the South African assets. This seems suspicious and disingenuous, and it needs a discussion by the nation. When we express these views it is not an outburst but a strong view that must be entertained in the public discourse.

The second aspect of this debate is the fact that the country, through the National Devel- opment Plan, has identified high unemployment, poverty and growing inequality as the pre-eminent problems facing society today. In recognising this reality, the various business organisations have pledged support for the National Development Plan. When a company announces, without proper consultation, that it will destroy 14 000 jobs at a go, the question becomes: What is then your support for the National Development Plan? South Africa is confronted with the challenge of preserving the existing jobs and at the same time work towards creating more jobs.

The decision by the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress (ANC) to avail more resources for employment of young people is noble, but unworkable if the private sector believes that it has no role or responsibility. The complex problem of unemployment is not going to be resolved by explaining it away. We must all play our part in finding a solution. Common prosperity is a better option than further stratifying society. It is stratification that makes wealth alienate society in general and the poor in particular.

The question of the relation between the ANC and the business community has been raised sharply. My submission is that the relation is at its best, based on the reality of the ongoing engagement with the business community. The fact that the Chamber of Mines was met five times in the run-up to the 53rd National Conference, taking their views seriously in the formulation of policy, is testimony to the substance of the relations. The engagement with AgriSA regarding the policy on land reform and the warmth that is developing between our two organisations is a result of the ongoing engagement. Good relations do not mean agreement on every issue but being candid and honest in the engagement, even when you disagree. That is the nature of relationship that some of us prefer.

The last point I want to make is that it is not honest to accept that everybody in South Africa has the right to express his/her views and only the ANC has no right to engage. Whenever the ANC does not agree with anybody or expresses a strong view on any matter, it is claimed that it is bullying everybody. South Africans must retain their strength of engaging. Individuals and institutions that live in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones. South Africans are robust and they must keep it as such. It is this strength that makes it possible to engage and find solutions when others cry foul and allege outburst.

We invite all sectors of society to continue engaging the ANC and its government on issues that will impact on our responsibility towards nation building.

Mantashe is the secretary-general of the African National Congress

 

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