Chairman’s Address to the Annual General Meeting – 2012

My vision for South Africa

My vision for South Africa is a broad one. I want our country to grow and rank among the most peaceful and prosperous on earth.

I am determined, as I always have been, to look past the immediate problems in South Africa to what should be and not what currently is. Personally, I would never have succeeded in business if I had taken existing conditions as a given.


In my business life I acted on the assumption that racial legislation and restrictions that were telling a black man like me what he could not do were an error of judgement on the part of policymakers and that I should not allow them to stop me. In avoiding the consequences of the regulatory environment in which I found myself, I used common sense and persuasion. Today, I see similar errors of judgement on the part of policymakers, this time not affecting me so much personally, but having negative consequences for the future of the good people of this beautiful country of ours.


We have a wonderful mix of good and talented people in South Africa. If we all work together in a co-operative environment with no barriers to interactions with each other, the sky is the limit on what we can achieve. I see our country as growing and thriving in a manner that rivals the greatest successes that have been achieved in the history of mankind. All it will take is our will to succeed; goodwill towards others; positive ideas replacing negative ideas; burying the past and adopting a new focus on bringing about a great future for generations to come.


I decided to throw my weight behind the Free Market Foundation (FMF) because they have for three decades been arguing for the very environment that I believe will make this country great. The FMF was the only organisation I found that was, in the same way as I am, openly and proudly promoting free-market capitalism.


An American entrepreneur, Whole Foods Co-Founder and Co-CEO John Mackey has a philosophy of what he calls “conscious capitalism”. In an interview for the book The Morality of Capitalism, Mackey explains why capitalism is moral.


He says that some people who regard themselves as defenders of capitalism have wrongly “conceded the moral high ground and...allowed the enemies of capitalism to paint it as an exploitative, greedy, selfish system that creates inequality, exploits workers, defrauds consumers, and is wrecking the environment while eroding communities”. The defenders, he says “need to shift away from their obsession with self-interest and begin to see the value that capitalism creates, not merely for investors–although, of course it does that, but the value it creates for all the people who trade with business: it creates value for customers; it creates value for workers; it creates value for suppliers; it creates value for society as a whole; it creates value for governments. I mean, where would our government be without a strong business sector that creates jobs and income and wealth that they can then tax?”


“Capitalism is a source of value. It’s the most amazing vehicle for social co-operation that has ever existed. And that’s the story we need to tell. We need to change the narrative. From an ethical standpoint, we need to change the narrative of capitalism, to show that it’s about creating shared value, not for the few, but for everyone. If people could see that the way I see it, people would love capitalism the way I love it.”


A personal view I share with Mackey is that we have to have core values in our businesses and our lives. These include giving great value to customers; ensuring that employees are happy and giving excellent service; creating wealth through profits and growth without which business and the economy cannot advance; being good citizens in the communities where we do business; doing business with integrity, and viewing the people we do business with as partners in win-win relationships. None of these values can be brought about by government regulation. They are part of doing business and living our lives in a way that makes us feel good. 


What John Mackey spoke about makes absolute sense to me. It is what my experience tells me is right. It is the route to freedom for everyone. In my book, Black Like You, I wrote, “There are many kinds of freedom, but one certain path to freedom is taking responsibility for one’s own life.”


In the FMF we are working to persuade the policy makers to sweep away the barriers that are preventing people from getting jobs; to create the conditions that will allow them to take responsibility for their own lives. The current untenable situation that keeps more than 7 million people unemployed has to go. In my vision for South Africa, there will be a shortage of labour. Employers will be bidding for the services of every single person who wants to work and wants to get ahead. Young people will be encouraged to work hard at their studies and hone their skills either to get better jobs or start their own businesses. Above all, in my vision young people will have hope and believe that for them the sky is the limit. 


We need entrepreneurs. This means that we need people who find ways and means of providing the people around them with what they need and want. Entrepreneurs are people who do things differently to what they have previously been done or use resources for a different purpose to what they have always been used. It is not easy but if you keep your eyes open for opportunities, if you work hard and smart and give people value for money, you will be surprised at what you can achieve. People who are unemployed should, for instance, not sit and wait for jobs to come along. They should think about how they can benefit themselves while serving others. That is what free market capitalism is all about.


There is no area of endeavour where the entrepreneurial spirit is more needed than in education. Schools should be competing with each other for students and young people should be able to choose the schools that will give them the best education. If the system is re-arranged this can be achieved. All that needs to be done is that schools should not be automatically funded. They should be funded according to the number of students they can attract. In order to function properly they will need to be able to offer a choice of subjects that appeal to their customers and compete with each other for the best teachers. Naturally this would require a high level of autonomy. 


The best illustration of my vision is to try and describe what environment all young South Africans should be able to look forward to as they consider what the future holds for them in this great country. They must be able to look forward to:


Peace and prosperity.

A high demand for their labour.

Education that is among the best in the world.

A civil service of which they can be proud.

Courts known everywhere for their wise and just decisions.

Thriving, innovative, and entrepreneurial businesses.

A rand that keeps its value. 

Sustained high economic growth.

Minimal crime and corruption.


In the South Africa of my vision, young people will be safe, they will be smart, they will be confident, and to them their country will be the best place in the world.


FMF Feature Article / 22 August 2012


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