Dr Vincent Maphai: The role of business in manifesting socioeconomic change

21 April 2015 | Opinion

In his talk at Tshikululu’s Serious Social Investment Conference recently, Dr Vincent Maphai drew correlations between the current state of affairs in South Africa and the circumstances that contributed to the shifts that the country saw in 1976.

The recent debate regarding the fall of statues considered symbols of colonial power is likely to have ramifications beyond what can currently be perceived. “The statues are going to change South Africa,” he said.

Times of great change in a country, he suggested, “comes about when ruling parties are in disarray”. It is then that a person or entity comes in to close the gap between the wishes of the people and the wishes of the government.

In the years after 1976, said Maphai, South African businesses invested in South Africa because they had a vested interest in ensuring that sanctions were lifted and that the country regained its footing. He spoke of the resources that businesses put in to develop townships, and the 99-year residential leases that they established and gave to members of the community.

Business’s investment in these homes had a massive effect on the economy, he said: “Corporate entities were investing in something that wasn’t just money down the drain, but had a very positive spin-off, a domino effect. The people who received properties that had a 99-year lease invested in their homes, and become contributors to the economy in other ways.”

When it comes to the role of leadership in business, Maphai stressed the importance for businesses to turn everything it performs out of compliance into a business case. Some of the best companies in terms of broad-based black economic empowerment, he said, “are those that were established before the [B-BBEE] Codes, because they were not drive by compliance, they were driven by a business logic.

“Once business puts its mind to it,” he said, “business can play a very transformative role in society. It has the capacity to move this country forward.” It simply has to rise to this opportunity.

In conclusion, Maphai raised the lack of trust between government and business as a problematic issue, which should be overcome to ensure the country’s future success.