Tycoon says Apartheid was bad for business

Apartheid was not good for his businesses Johann Rupert, chairman of the Remgro and Richemont groups, declared on Tuesday.

He was one of the speakers at the FW de Klerk Foundation’s conference on issues related to the South African economy and race.

On 2 February 1990 De Klerk unbanned most terrorist organisations, including the ANC, SACP and the PAC and announced the liberation of Mandela and all leftwing and communist political prisoners.

Almost all rightwing political prisoners are still in prison after 25 years, an indication of De Klerk’s total lack of popularity amongst whites.

Rupert, De Klerk, former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and Lord Renwick were guest speakers at the annual FW de Klerk Foundation conference in Cape Town, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release.

“We had businesses here and overseas and the businesses in foreign countries did much better [during apartheid]. Over there returns were 10% or 12% more than in South Africa,” Rupert said.

Rupert dismissed the notion of wealth redistribution as the panacea for inequality, saying the issue was rather to create the conditions to create wealth.

“Trade unions destroy jobs. Their job is not to create jobs, their job is to protect people who are already employed. They do not represent the interests of the unemployed,” he said.

His remarks were made a week after the Heritage Foundation, a Washington DC thinktank, pointed an accusatory finger at the strong influence of the unions in the economy.

De Klerk told the forum he was convinced that “what we have now is much better than what we had in the past”.

Lord Robin Renwick, the British ambassador to South Africa prior to Mandela’s release, said South Africa would do best by “defending its constitution and the independence of the judiciary”.

Progressive redistribution was not an unrealistic goal, he added, but the question was how it would unfold as perceptions could affect the country.

If there was to be increased state intervention, he said, “then you need to have a state more efficient than we have seen anywhere in the world ever”.

Not even East Germany managed that, he said, quipping: “Karl Marx is dead everywhere, except in South Africa.”

But debate was urgently needed to forge social cohesion, the two former presidents, the Afrikaner tycoon and British diplomat agreed on Tuesday.

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe deplored the fact that South Africans criticised the country’s “black government”, saying it was both a political misnomer because the government was democratically elected and an indicator of division.

“Labelling the government black may say more about their thinking than anything they are trying to express. The result is a misinformed and misleading discourse which often entrenches social stereotypes, fuelling feelings of alienation.

“If there is one space that provides a useful index of race relations in the country it is social media. In the recent past the social-media space has seen torrential racial abuses across the social spectrum openly advocating the biological, historical, economic and social utility of the construct of race as the organising principle in human affairs.

“Most disheartening about this open manifestation of racial hostilities is the debilitating effects on what we are trying to build, a nation united in diversity.”