Raymond Ackerman. File picture: Tracey Adams

Johannesburg - Raymond Ackerman, the former chairman of Pick n Pay, raised concerns on Tuesday about the political instability crippling the country amid the ongoing saga between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), coupled with the ongoing nationwide student #FeesMustFall protests.

But the 85-year-old businessman said there was hope that the uncertainty would pass.

Ackerman, who purchased the Pick n Pay supermarket group from its founder Jack Goldin and grew it into South Africa’s second-biggest supermarket chain with a R33.2 billion market cap, said the socio-political turmoil mirrored a similar period in the 1980s.

“The problems we are facing now in our universities and around minister Gordhan is exactly the same problem we had experienced in the 1980s. Everyone felt that things were bad then,” Ackerman said.

“I believe if we have the courage to stay positive, we will get through this,” Ackerman told fund managers at the company’s financial results presentation held in Cape Town on Tuesday.

Ackerman’s comments follow the decision by NPA boss Shaun Abrahams to charge Gordhan with fraud for extending the former SA Revenue Services acting commissioner’s contract when it expired. News of the charge caused the rand to drop by as much as 3.4 percent against the dollar last week.

President Jacob Zuma has set up a ministerial task team in response to the crisis in higher education, which his detractors have described as an attempt to avoid dealing with the real crisis.

“I have 14 grandchildren and I am trying to persuade their parents that this (South Africa) is the best place to be. That's what people said in the 1980s. Thank God we stayed,” Ackerman said.

Earlier in the presentation, Ackerman’s son, Gareth Ackerman, who now chairs Pick n Pay, called on policymakers to take the retail industry seriously.

The retail industry was growing and made a major contribution to the economy and to transformation, he said.

“My plea is to the policymakers to understand this and to include retail in their thinking,” Ackerman said.

“Too often retail is not seen as a strategically important sector, which can be a partner in achieving national goals.

“The government does not seem to be concerned about the negative consequences of imposing additional regulatory burdens on small companies, as well as large,” Ackerman said.

This as South Africa’s total gross domestic product last year grew by as little as 1.3 percent, while the county’s retail sales grew at 3.3 percent in real terms.

Ackerman noted that the retail sector was currently facing a full competition inquiry, barely two years after the previous inquiry found nothing to trouble the regulators.

He said the retail sector was grappling with complex and bureaucratic proposals in areas such as packaging waste.

“Retail is also seen as a sector which can be taxed without any negative consequences. We saw this in the last budget with the announcements on a new tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and an increase in the tax on plastic bags. Both issues merit serious debate - debate which weighs up the policy goals, the likelihood of them being achieved and the risk of unintended consequences. Yet both proposals came as a surprise, with no prior discussion, no debate and no consultation,” he said.

“Government must find more efficient and more effective ways of achieving what are often laudable goals. They should work with the grain of business, not against it.”

Pick n Pay’s financial results improved significantly in the first half to August as turnover rose 7.2 percent to R37.4bn.

Pick n Pay shares added 0.89 percent to close at R66.63 yesterday.