Johannesburg - Christo Wiese is the second high-profile businessman within a week to urge South Africans to not be so negative.
Addressing the Cape Town Press Club earlier this week, the Pepkor and Shoprite chairman said people “focus on the negative” and noted: “Mainly white South Africans can never get enough of complaining.”
Wiese, who is the controlling shareholder in Shoprite and reputed to be the third-wealthiest person in the country, said even those who had become considerably wealthier under the ANC government complained.
He said that it was the responsibility of all South Africans to try to improve the country’s image and not just that of an organisation such as the old SA Foundation.
“The worst thing is the tendency for South Africans to shoot themselves in both feet.”
Wiese’s remarks on South Africans’ pessimism echoed comments made by Bidvest chief executive Brian Joffe at the release of the company’s results on Monday.
Joffe said: “There’s a lot of negative talk in South Africa, I don’t think things have changed, I think we’re just talking negatively… Negative factors seem to generate more media coverage and discussion than positive factors.”
He acknowledged that a lot of things needed to be fixed, “but if the government is delivering good stuff, then it must be written about”.
On the issue of affirmative action and black economic empowerment, Wiese told the press club that South Africans could not ignore the past.
“Where do we come from? Where are we? Where do we want to go to?”
He said things had become more complicated and “now we have to do things that are both right and wrong”.
What was happening with black economic empowerment and affirmative action was both right and wrong, he said. “But we are dealing with it admirably.”
Wiese said it was important for there to be a “visible and credible process of improvement” to avoid an Arab Spring situation in the country.
He referred to the National Development Plan’s call for a professional civil service and agreed that “we must start employing people on the basis of merit… cadre deployment must come to an end.”
On the challenges facing the retail sector, Wiese said: “It is nothing compared with the difficulties we have dealt with over the decades in retail. In the good times and bad you must remain focused. There is no magic formula, no clever way to say you’re going to escape [difficult times].”
Looking across Africa, where Shoprite has a significant presence in 17 countries, Wiese noted that while he was an Afro-optimist the continent did have an image problem and that it tended still to be associated with wild animals, Oxfam pictures of starving children and corruption.
He said this image ignored the continent’s considerable attractions, such as favourable demographics, extensive mineral resources and excellent agricultural potential.
Wiese noted that for corruption to flourish it needed both a corruptor and a corruptee and in Africa’s case the corruptor was often located in the developed countries. “We are conducting business in 17 African countries and we have never once paid a bribe.”
But he urged African governments to work to reduce the amount of red tape that was limiting the potential for trade between African countries.
Noting that a meagre 15 percent of African trade was intra-continental, he said: “One main reason for this is bureaucratic red tape.” - Business Report