And what a year it has been. Except for a few exceptions, by and large the global economy continued to stutter, the scourge of terrorism continued to manifest itself in a growing number of countries, more desperate Asians and Africans risked life and limb in an effort to take refuge in richer and presumably safer – or more stable – European countries, with the latter development leaving resentment and xenophobia in its wake among the locals.
It has been a year in which terrorism against innocent civilians has been on the march, starting with bombings at the airport in Brussels, Belgium on 22 March which claimed 32 lives and left more than 300 people injured. On Bastille Day, 14 July, a terrorist in a truck killed 84 people in the picturesque, holiday resort town of Nice in the south of France, leaving hundreds of others injured and shell-shocked. A few days later, in a period of just over a week, Germany experienced a series of horror attacks in Berlin, Wurzburg, Ansbach and Reutlingen.
Around the same time, two armed men stormed a church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, a suburb of Rouen in northern France on Tuesday July 26, slit the throat of elderly priest Father Jacques Hamel and took four other people hostage. Throughout much of the year, Turkey experienced various terrorist attacks from ISIS, a group bent on turning neighbouring Syria into a Muslim fortress.
Many other deadly terrorist attacks were witnessed, in the course of the year, in other countries like Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Yemen, Baghdad, Iraq and the gay night-club attack in Orlando, Florida, USA.
It has been that kind of year, in which lots of innocent blood has been spilt. On July 15 Oren Dorell wrote in USA Today: “More than halfway through 2016, it’s clear the year will be remembered for the scourge of near-daily terror attacks all over the world – from France to the United States to Iraq and everywhere in between.”
This happened at a time when the world economy was not at its best. For instance, the World Bank recently revised its global economic growth forecast down to 2.4% from the 2.9% initially projected at the beginning of the year. That downward revision was occasioned by “sluggish growth in advanced economies, stubbornly low commodity prices, weak global trade, and diminishing capital flows”, according to the World Bank.
The institution projected a meagre 0,4% growth in commodity-exporting emerging market and developing economies, which “have struggled to adapt to lower prices for oil and other key commodities”. It added that “substantial downside risks” – such as further growth disappointments in advanced economies or key emerging markets and rising policy and geopolitical uncertainties – still had to be factored in.
Inevitably, these global security and economic challenges have led to hardening of attitudes and even anti-foreigner sentiments in different parts of the world. This hardening of attitudes has produced some of the most shocking outcomes in recent political elections and referendums. We have seen the rise of right-wing sentiments or populist parties in some parts of the world.
Perhaps the most shocking political developments of the year were the decision by a slim majority of British voters to support that country’s exit from the European Union in that “Brexit” referendum in June, followed by the November election of billionaire Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America from 20 January 2017. Both developments have major potential implications, which are not as yet fully understood, for the international community.
They seem to signal that, at a time when the world has become much more of a deeply interconnected global village, some in the United Kingdom and the USA, both world super powers at different times in the past, are intent on being more domestically focused. Donald Trump wants to build a wall between Mexico and the US in order to keep illegal Mexicans and other immigrants out of America, while Prime Minister Theresa May and a small majority of her compatriots are working on taking the UK out of the European Union. At the time of writing, some reports indicate that France might be considering a similar referendum on its continuing EU membership.
Here at home, 2016 has been just as dramatic a year. While we should be grateful that we have so far been spared the terrorism that that has been visited upon many a country, nevertheless we have witnessed massive political earthquakes of our own. The Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Public Protector’s “Secure In Comfort” report on the Nkandla saga and the outcome of the 3 August local elections registered by far the highest magnitudes on the country’s political Richter Scale.
While the year started promisingly, with re-appointed Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (who was returned to his post in mid-December 2015 after the inexplicable firing of Nhlanhla Nene) having actively and meaningfully reached out to the business community both in the run-up to and way beyond the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, for a while it looked as though the Government was finally recognizing business as a crucial stakeholder. Minister Gordhan has been outstanding in working with business and labour leaders in averting a mid-year ratings downgrade for South Africa, and has travelled to Western capitals with these stakeholders in an effort to convince ratings agencies that South Africa remained a viable, stable business proposition.
For all his hard work on behalf of our country, he has been hounded ceaselessly by the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Agency, apparently at the behest of his own wayward comrades within the governing party who have been overly eager to capture the National Treasury and to continue uninterrupted with their corrupt activities.
Regardless of the as-yet-unknown ratings agencies’ decisions in December, South Africa still owes Minister Gordhan a huge debt of gratitude and appreciation for his boundless energy and hard work. Of course, he is ably assisted by his deputy, the equally hard-working Mcebisi Jonas and the National Treasury team under the leadership of Director-General Lungisa Fuzile. Long may they continue to serve South Africa with distinction and integrity. Our beautiful country needs more men and women like them in Government and the general public sector in particular, but also in the private sector.
I congratulate Minister Gordhan on becoming the first politician to have been awarded the Sunday Times’s Businessman of the Year Award for 2016. He has been richly deserving of it.
As we bid 2016 farewell, it can only be appropriate that we also pause to register our thanks and appreciation, as a country, to one special lady, Advocate Thulisile Madonsela, who has done such a fantastic job as a Public Protector. Advocate Madonsela came into a position seven years ago that was, for all intents and purposes, yet another job in the public sector and significantly raised the profile of the Office of the Public Protector, demonstrating what a vital institution it is in our democracy. While the men who had gone before her in that position merely plodded along (and chances are that many in the general public can hardly remember who they were), there is a good chance that nobody will forget her tenure as Public Protector.
New Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane has big shoes to fill. We will refrain from judging her prematurely, but so far her first few weeks in the job have not inspired much confidence.
Regrettably, we have not witnessed the same kind of integrity on display from our number 1 citizen, President Jacob Zuma, who has continued to be mired in various controversies throughout the year. It is such a great pity that, instead of being an asset, our Head of State has been South Africa’s biggest liability over the past few years. The number of people who continue to respect him and take him seriously as a leader has reduced considerably over the years – and now includes many within his own organisation. It remains to be seen if he will finish his terms either as ANC president in December next year or as Head of State in 2019.
Yes, 2016 has been a difficult year, just like 2015 before it. However, that is no reason for us to throw our hands up in the air in frustration and to be tempted to give up. Instead, we – as individuals and as companies – have to soldier on. We have to continue to work hard and to hope for a better tomorrow. As Robert H. Schuller said some years ago: “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
Let’s hope for a much better 2017.
Companies that have excelled in the course of the year will be recognized in May next year. Companies that believe that they have excelled in 2016 are encouraged to enter for the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence.
Criteria for the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence are available on www.seifsaawards.co.za. Please get your entries ready now. Any work done in the 2016 calendar year is eligible for the 2017 SEIFSA Awards for Excellence. Winners in each category will be announced at a function to take place in May next year.
Kaizer M. Nyatsumba
Chief Executive Officer