Economist Mike Schussler. Picture: Leon Nicholas

The government had to change the law and make secret ballots compulsory when union members decided to take strike action, economist Mike Schussler said yesterday amid the longest strike in the platinum sector in 33 years.

“They must change the law. Any strike must be done by secret ballot. And every month another ballot [must be] undertaken. And if there is any intimidation, the union leaders and individuals must go to court and jail,” he said after speaking at a breakfast held by business forum Afri-Business, which works with trade union Solidarity.

He said the government should be playing a stronger role in ending illegal strikes.

Addressing a range of issues around expectations on the economy after the election, Schussler said investor confidence in South Africa was waning, shown by the scarcity of foreign direct investment and poor local investment.

People “wanting to take people’s farms”, and the government’s plans to regulate the private security industry, with legislation proposing that locals must own at least 51 percent of any security firm, were reasons for this, he said.

“Although South Africa supposedly has a mixed economy, economic policy is not always clear because there are a lot of people shouting and statements made on many terrains.”

He attributed recent bleak quarterly employment figures from Statistics SA to a lack of certainty, unclear policy positions and strikes.

The strike by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union gripping the platinum belt enters its 13th week today, with no end in sight, as workers are demanding a basic salary of R12 500.

Schussler said it was a worrying sign that the gap between formal sector employment and unemployment was closing – in a country where four out of 10 adults were unemployed.

Ahead of South Africa’s fifth democratic general elections next month, Schussler said the controversy around upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s home in Nkandla were a concern for big business.

“Business needs to believe government is committed to eradicating corruption.”

Earlier, Schussler delivered an alarmist speech to a majority white crowd of Afrikaner businessmen, saying the country had gone from fearing black people and communists under apartheid to fearing whites and capitalists under the ANC government.

He said black South Africans and the ANC government, from the president down, constantly played the “victim card”, blaming apartheid and white people for what went wrong in the economy, and for a lack of transformation in the private sector.

But the actual picture was much rosier, he said, as home ownership by black Africans was high, especially due to the government’s roll-out of RDP houses. South Africa had one of the highest home ownership rates in the world, not far behind Spain and Italy, which was indicative of people’s ownership of capital, he said.

White people owned 43 percent of all homes, while Africans owned 42 percent, he calculated.

However, black Africans make up almost 80 percent of the population, and whites only 8 percent.

Schussler said the racial division of ownership on the JSE was acceptable because the median age of whites was 38, while that of Africans was 21.

Last year, the JSE announced that black South Africans held at least 21 percent of the top 100 companies listed while ownership of 21 percent of the available shares still had to be assessed.

He said the apparent distortion was explained by demographic trends, because by the age of 38 people were likely to have unit trusts, retirement annuities and other investments, which was less likely at 21.