It was vintage Gwede Mantashe alright. “If you fire people on your feet, you will spend 50 days at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA),” the ANC secretary-general said in reply to SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) members’ concerns about the administrative hurdles they face when appearing before the statutory mediation and conciliation body.
He told business people that on his farm, where he employs five people, he always ensured he had meaningful engagement with staff to avoid confusion that would leave him at the mercy of the CCMA.
Mantashe, with the chairman of the ANC’s committee for economic policy transformation, Enoch Godongwana, were paying Sacci a visit to enlighten business on the party’s take on a variety of issues of mutual interest, job creation being the pace setter.
Mantashe’s best announcement of the day was that the ANC’s next cabinet – it is taken for granted that it will be the party in power – would include a minister for small and medium-sized enterprises.
For such an important announcement, it hardly created a ripple let alone the ululation Mantashe, the election campaigner, would have expected it to elicit.
He could have been forewarned by the complaints from organised business that the labour regulations were too rigid and that small businesses struggled with the administrative hurdles that required them to keep the laws according to the ruling ANC government.
There was talk of the minister of labour being given too much power under the present statutory regime, but Mantashe hardly blinked. Instead he took a trip down memory lane about how easily he was fired from his mining post all those years back and found himself in Joburg a mere two hours after being given the boot.
Mantashe was unapologetic about anything, least of all the government’s stance on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has had a lot of tree huggers and environmentalists frothing at the mouth.
“We are going to do fracking on the Karoo even though some people are not going to like that,” he said, pointing out that energy was among the catalyst sectors whose success was important in mobilising other spheres of the economy to growth.
But Mantashe, being who he is, would not leave well enough alone as far as controversial statements go.
“I have told some Afrikaners that we liberated them; our freedom liberated them to do better on the JSE,” he quipped on the growth of Afrikaner interests in the local bourse over the past 20 years.
At the risk of repeating the obvious, it was vintage Mantashe alright.
The SA Sugar Association is celebrating the sweet increase in the dollar-based reference price of sugar from $358 (R3 735) a ton to $566 a ton. However, others – like the sugar importers – are left with a sour taste.
Although the importers could not say exactly how many jobs would be lost should the import duty increase, they are adamant that they will lose business. Their loss, they say, will filter right through to the small biscuit and juice maker.
Consumers will pay the price at the tills through the purchase of confectionery, beer and other food products.
It might not happen now, as most of the importers, in anticipation of the import duty, increased stocks of sugar. According to the International Trade Administration Commission of SA (Itac), the high imports will erode the domestic sugar industry.
Some of the factors it looked at were the domestic sugar industry’s considerable levels of production, employment and investment. The industry is worth R12 billion and employs about 79 000, 11 percent of the total agricultural workforce.
But, as small as they are, importers have businesses to run, wages to pay and families to feed. One importer, who asked for his name not to be published, said he would have to fire about 20 staff members as he considered closing down. He said he would not be able to afford the R1 320 a ton additional fee on the imported sugar price.
Itac received objections from the Beverage Association of SA, the SA Chocolate and Sweets Manufacturers Association, Pioneer Foods, Heinz Foods South Africa and the SA Fruit Juice Association among others. These industries might have to approach sugar producers such as Tongaat-Hulett, TSB and Illovo for their stock. Sometimes, we take the bitter with the sweet.
Edited by Banele Ginindza. Contributions from Banele Ginindza and Nompumelelo Magwaza.