‘Some forces are hellbent to derail the democratic project’

The counter-revolution theme in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech to subvert political and economic progress was being brewed in some political quarters, he said when he addressed the Black Business Council‘s (BBC) gala dinner at the Radisson Hotel in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg, on Tuesday night.

But this, the president said, would not subvert the government’s commitment to advance the interests of the black empowerment project.

Ramaphosa said this after the conclusion of a two-day BBC summit that started on Monday, in which a variety of stakeholders, including the BBC’s partners, supporters, and sponsors, converged to chart “a new path forward towards black economic empowerment [BEE]” and develop strategies to help empower black businesses en route to economic freedom.

Ramaphosa, drawing from former president Thabo Mbeki’s speech at the Freedom Park in Tshwane earlier on Tuesday, said he agreed with Mbeki’s assertion that there were forces who were hellbent to hamper progress and derail the freedom and democratic project the country presently enjoyed — and this for political ends.

National dialogue

“Former president Mbeki earlier in the day talked about the counter-revolutionaries who are committed to countering the progress being made,” Ramaphosa said.

“He is right. These people are hellbent to defeat progress and harm the cause of economic development.

“But we must work together and harness the spirit of 1994 that sought to forge solidarity and progress. It is easy to point fingers and criticise.”

Ramaphosa, anticipating a decisive victory after the May 29 general elections, said: “As we set up the seventh administration, I am confident that we can set our country on a better path of progress.”

The president pointed out that the new administration, after the May 29 elections, would set up a national dialogue where all stakeholders would gather under one roof to carve a new socio-economic path for the country.

He was all praise for the progress made by the BBC in tackling issues of BEE, encouraging the black business organisation to forge ahead and to continue to play an impactful role, and working with the government, to ensure that the role of BEE is achieved.

We inherited a country in a mess

“We want to work with the BBC to radically change the trajectory of this country’s economy. We need to raise our horizons for new economies, including a green economy.

“I salute you for your solidarity, and as the government, we are committed to working together to achieve more,” Ramaphosa said to cheering ululations from the audience.

He summarised the achievements of the government over the previous 30 years by saying: “When the democratic government took over in 1994, the nation was in an economic mess with rising foreign debt.

“We inherited an economy that was in a mess; while we have made good progress, we are light years away before we can say we have fully achieved black economic development.”

He added that during the intervening years, good progress has been made with the country producing captains of industries and senior executives, CEOs, and industrialists, something that was unheard of before the new democratic order of 1994.

“We have made progress, but we can do more when we collaborate and work together, Ramaphosa said.

He said it would be people who are blind to lived reality not to see that, despite huge economic challenges stacked against the country, including youth unemployment, poverty, and corruption, great progress has been achieved.

18-million people have jobs

In 1994, the president said, only 8-million South Africans were employed. That figure has doubled to 18-million today, and the country currently boasts 1 700 black-owned firms.

He said Africa’s trade was expanding, with South Africa making inroads into markets on the continent and boasting a population size of more than 1.8-billion.

“The business landscape has fundamentally transformed, and the BBC should play an important role in working with the government to achieve black economic freedom for the country.”

On the same occasion, the BBC conferred Game Changer awards to professor Puleng Lenka-Bula of Unisa, social commentator and businessman Khaya Sithole, athlete Caster Semenya, TV news anchor Noxolo Grootboom, businessman Greg Nott, and former director-general Lionel October.

Princess Mthombeni scooped the presidential award.

Volkswagen SA pumps R4bn

Also, at the same venue, in an earlier presentation, Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel said he welcomed the R4-billion injection into the economy by Volkswagen South Africa.

Patel said the injection would enable more jobs to be created and more revenue to accrue to the fiscus, adding that the investment would be used to add new models to the production plant in Kariega, Eastern Cape.

“The investment will add new models to the production plant, and a brand new SUV built off the Polo model will become the sole producer of Polo models in the world, a move that will give the country added export capacity,” said Patel.

“This move the government welcomes and will help to alleviate the unemployment rate.” 

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