Early this year, my younger brother called me and said he had a new proposition he wanted to discuss with me. As you can imagine, I was obviously excited, impatiently eager to hear his new proposition. My thoughts ran from starting a business to buying a new car. The moment came. We met.
He said they were planning to start a trade union and become part of the new federation, the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), and they wanted me to help them draft a constitution.
Struggling to contain my disappointment, I said: "Um... but there are many trade unions already, why not join one of them?" I can't remember what he said, but I reluctantly promised to help them draft a constitution, secretly hoping they would just forget about their union idea as the days dissolved into weeks.
This anecdote captures the toxic spirit of our nation today, and shows why we will never reduce our massive levels of unemployment. Trade unions are fashionable, while businesses are villains.
In her book "The Case for Business In Developing Economies", Ann Bernstein shows that despite accounting for all the wealth of nations, all employment, all innovations to solve community problems, businesses are villains for just being businesses. They must constantly feel guilty and apologise for being businesses, yet we need businesses first before we can have trade unions.
President Ramaphosa shows no hint of irony when he tells investors in Davos that South Africa is open for business, while businesses are made to carry a sense of guilt for which they must pay an eternal price — in kind and in money — thanks to his henchmen. You often see this through their daily language: businesses must do more; businesses must put people before profits. Such rank madness. But it gets worse, because businesses have also swallowed these absurdities.
We demonise those who build businesses and create employment, while we reward those who only complain and organise strikes.
As you are half-through this piece, you doubtless have already condemned me as an anti-trade union business sycophant. Hold your fire. You are in error. My purpose is to drive the simple truth that employers are not enemies of workers, and the rich are not enemies of the poor. But because union leaders and communists everywhere need to create enemies in order to mobilise workers and the poor, they would have us believe otherwise.
In one of his talks at the Centre for Development and Enterprise, Professor Ricardo Hausmann has said that "South Africa's problems don't come from the firms that exist, but from the firms that do not exist." These are the millions of businesses that we should be creating in order to create millions of work opportunities for the 9-million people who can't find work and help raise the wages of workers through an explosion of employment choices.
But what is our policy? Our policy is "white monopoly capital" and "radical economic transformation", a subterfuge to demonise the already small number of businesses we have.
Today if you ask any young man what he would prefer, between a government job and a business opportunity, he won't even think twice before lurching towards a government job, because that is a natural choice for an average South African.
Look at our national heroes. Notwithstanding that he has never created a job for just one person or even himself, Mr Vavi would most likely get a statue in his honour, rather than a man like Richard Maponya. That's because we demonise those who build businesses and create employment, while we reward those who only complain and organise strikes.
To reduce poverty and unemployment, South Africa must be open for business in language and in truth. We must celebrate our businesses and entrepreneurs, and do more to multiply them. We must wire into our collective mind that employers are not enemies of workers, the rich are not enemies of the poor, and that we need more business owners than government employees and trade union members.
On that note, when is our employers' day, by the way?