Having registered a growth rate of 1,9% in our Gross Domestic Product in 2013, in the first quarter of 2014 our economy shrunk by 0,6%. It was that shrinkage, among other factors, that triggered our first downgrading by Fitch and Standard and Poor’s to just a notch above junk status, and Moody’s followed with a downgrading of its own at the end of the third quarter of the year.

As we approach the end of the year, our country is not in a good space. The economy is woefully underperforming, the crime rate remains doggedly high, unemployment is on the rise, our borders continue to be porous and political schisms continue to widen. There is very little that inspires confidence.

Where once the relationship between business and labour was reasonably healthy, the same cannot be said now as we approach the end of the 2014. Instead, there is a great deal of radicalism on the part of labour, with some trade unions short-sightedly returning to their ideological dogmas and adopting a political and patently anti-business posture.

Here matters are not helped by the fact that many among the poor continue to be on the periphery of our economy and that many in business have yet to embrace transformation fully and realise its benefits. As a result, two dominant camps have emerged: one made up of unions whose primary concern is the welfare of their employed members, and business that largely continues to be vulnerable to legitimate criticism about its lacklustre commitment to transformation.

Then, completing that triangle, is a bloated government which has not showered itself in glory and has fallen far short of earning the confidence not only of the two other social partners, business and labour, but also that of the general population. This is a government that has made some of the most shocking appointments into key positions in the civil service and at some of our State-owned companies, where allegiance to the ruling party or some factions of it appears to have been the ultimate determining factor. This is a government that, instead of going out there to bat for South Africa, has had to keep looking over its shoulders to see if its allies with their different agendas and ideologies were in tow. This is a government that, despite its oft-repeated denunciations of corruption, has convinced nobody that it is, indeed, serious about tackling that scourge and eventually eradicating it from our society.

While the ruling party continues to hold onto its allies with their conflicting interests and ideologies, generally it has failed to forge as strong a partnership with the business community, whose cooperation is critical in job creation and growing the economy. While some Government Ministers, such as Dr Rob Davies at Trade and Industry, can be commended for their accessibility to business and their determination to do what is right for the country, but especially the manufacturing sector, the same cannot be said about some of their colleagues. There have even been times when business appeared to be considered either the enemy or the leper.

Such an attitude can hardly be in the country’s best interest. As one has had occasion to state repeatedly in this column, South Africa cannot realise its full economic potential without the Government, business and labour working cooperatively together as partners. Here one is talking about a real partnership among these three stakeholders, a mature partnership that enables the respective stakeholders to sit down together to have robust discussions, as opposed to the charade that currently takes place within NEDLAC, where the three stakeholder groups get together to read prepared speeches that re-state their respective positions.

In many ways, the five-month-long strike in the platinum sector in the current year was a major turning point in our labour relations dispensation. Not only was it very violent and bequeathed to us the terrible tragedy of “the Marikana massacre”, as that unfortunate incident has now come to be known, but it also created a precedent where long strikes accompanied by violence are seen to yield the desired results by those involved in them. That is why AMCU’s Josephy Mathunjwa is considered something of a legend among some workers.

In addition to a political agenda driven by the majority union in our sector, that strike in the platinum sector and the manner of its conclusion was very much a factor in the negotiations that we went through in the metals and engineering sector this year. Again we bore witness to a violent, month-long strike whose conclusion was not too different from the way that the platinum sector ended.

As we end the year, even our hallowed Parliament has become a joke, with the National Assembly Speaker unable to preside over the institution with a sense of fairness and dignity and to maintain order. As opposition parties finally make their presence felt, in their role to hold the Executive and the ruling party to account, the National Assembly has seen chaos descend upon it and the riot police summoned to enforce the Speaker’s egregious rulings.

So, as we get ready to bid 2014 farewell, we cannot but conclude that it was an annus horribilis for our country. During his Mid-Term Budget Policy Statement, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene revised the year’s GDP down to 1,4% – and it remains to be seen if we will accomplish even that level of growth. We can only hope that 2015 will be a much better year.

But, will it? We can’t say with any certainty. What we do know is that we will still have on the scene the same players who got us into this situation in the first place, which means that the chances of us doing better are slim – if not very slim.

With local government elections due to take place in 2016, regrettably we are likely to see more of the same, with the ruling party closing ranks and seeking to shut out any opposing voice that seeks to make itself heard. With the impending launch of the NUMSA-inspired United Front and the entry of a new union into the metals and engineering sector, in opposition to NUMSA, we are likely to see more energy expended on more political one-upmanship and to experience even more instability on the shop floor.

For now, I guess, we can all rejoice at the fact that we have made it to the end of 2014. Do yourselves a favour and be safe on the country’s roads and have a good rest during the festive season, and return to work in January well rested and ready for the new challenges.

Please remember to enter your company for the SEIFSA Awards for Excellence and to register for the Southern African Metals and Engineering Indaba.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Kaizer M. Nyatsumba
Chief Executive Officer