Magda Wierzycka, CEO of Sygnia Asset Management, says the policy of prescribed assets, enabling government essentially to expropriate pensions and savings to fund its expenditure, isn’t on the table.

Yet this is a policy that President Cyril Ramaphosa unambiguously put on the table in a parliamentary Q&A session a year ago. Since then, prominent ministers have expressed support for it, including Pravin Gordhan and Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni. Where exactly on the table prescribed assets might be is unclear. That it is on the table is crystal clear.

There is no getting away from the stark reality that South Africa’s fiscal cupboard is bare, and that government is in a desperate scramble for resources and assets. Having squandered what thirteen years ago was a budget surplus, and having allowed government debt to balloon to crisis levels, the ANC has homed in on the destruction of property rights as a mechanism for wealth extraction.

South Africans have seen a continuous onslaught on the right to securely own what they have worked hard to earn. This is perhaps most prominent in the full-scale attempts to amend section 25 of the Constitution. But asset prescription has thus far managed to avoid rousing quite the same level of opposition. Perhaps this is because land packs an emotive, political punch, while pensions and savings hardly make for a glamourous casus belli. However, if property rights can be butchered for the vaunted pursuit of land ownership, private savings are at least equally vulnerable to a cash-strapped government tempted by a large pension pot. If property rights are to be defended, expropriation of land and prescribed assets are both policies that must be defeated.

Biggest spender, biggest looter

State capture has only ever been the symptom of a deeply corrupt system based on the ideological funnelling of massive state expenditure into the patronage network of the ANC. The ideology that government must be the biggest spender inevitably gave way to government becoming the biggest looter. To her credit, Ms Wierzycka was a vocal critic of government failings when President Jacob Zuma occupied the Union Buildings.

Yet, in a decade of steadily mounting government expenditure, corporate South Africa has remained silent on one bad policy after another. This silence bordered, in some cases, on indulgence and appeasement. One way or another, South Africa has landed itself in a place where it seems that both government and corporate South Africa have failed – one to implement constructive policies, the other to call out policies that have wreaked immense damage on the economy, to the detriment of ordinary South Africans who work hard to earn an income, and play by the rules to provide for their retirement.

Highest levels of scrutiny

These collective failures of policy and responsible corporate citizenship demand the highest levels of scrutiny. This is the foundational motivation of the IRR’s campaign to #SaveSavings and #ProtectPensions, based on the mandate of thousands of members who are clients of corporate SA, the tenets of constitutional democracy, and the ethical and even legal responsibility of transparent corporate governance.

But it speaks volumes that, in response to the IRR’s scrutiny, some corporate citizens seem more willing to cast aspersions than give answers.

It is vital for all South Africans to oppose the ANC government and its destructive ideology, manifest in threats to property rights, whether through prescribed assets or compensation-free expropriation. South Africa needs the help of corporate citizens in mobilising against this. But big business, with some important exceptions, has for too long been silent, at least partly out of fear of state retaliation.

The time has now come, however, for big business to enter publicly into the fray. It is not enough to talk to ministers behind closed doors. Corporate South Africa needs to add its voice to the outcry against prescribed assets and other proposed takings from ordinary South Africans. It makes very little sense to wait until the government has fully formulated and spelt out its plans.

The threat to property rights is already evident and big business needs to take the initiative – on behalf of all South Africans as well as its own customers and clients – in strongly and publicly opposing prescribed assets, expropriation without compensation, and any other attempt to siphon off the hard-earned assets of ordinary people into the ANC’s ever hungry patronage machine.

Several positions

Ms. Wierzycka herself has held several positions on prescribed assets. She has called it a ‘(mostly) terrible idea’, a better option than an IMF bailout, a blunt instrument, a mechanism to fund bankrupt SOEs, and something that will divert funding away from job-creating investments. It is far from out of order to ask where she and others in her position stand on prescribed assets.

The money and assets managed by corporates like Sygnia Asset Management are neither theirs to give away nor government’s to demand. At the end of the day, it’s the money of ordinary South Africans on the line. On property rights, too many have been silent for too long, preferring the fence to the fray. But if sitting on the fence is uncomfortable, get off it.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I wonder where this kind of activism ends? Should we now expect a range of similar letters to business on other controversial political policies? (I can imagine sets of some uncomfortable question from the left for instance) Forcing them to publicly chose sides or be painted as “complicit”? How is this different than say BDS and other campaigns from the left? IRR and its DF friends writers have been critical of BLM, environmental campaigning and other SJW campaigns from the left putting pressure on business to adopt political positions. Do we really want business active in politics of this nature?

    I have warned before, watch how many “classic liberals” become just like the SJW, Marxist and libtards they criticise…then again many in leadership roles our liberal institutions has grown up on the destructive culture wars and “politicisation of everything” social media activism…

    • Your “fears” and “warnings” are far fetched. Business has to be in the business of politics. If not we may as well give in to the Marxists and communists you appear to hate.

      • Really so what is the problem with BLF; BDS; environmental activism, social media / tech giants “algorithm curation” / censorship; and a host of other similiar campaigns from the left putting political pressure on businesses through name / shame? Justified in fighting the alt-right, rightwing extremist and neo-liberalism?

    • i’m a Quaker which means that I know experientially that the unseeable Spirit is always there to guide me, if I am able to tune into the message.

      In my struggles with trying to understand the thinking of people espousing left leaning politics what I’ve come to understand is that the basic error in their thinking is that they ignore the reality of individual consciousness and the responsibility for choosing how you act that automatically goes with it, preferring instead to replace it with a notional collective consciousness, which does not exist. From this foundational error in perception flow all the other errors.

      • Exactly. That “collective consciousness” is germinated by the sponsors and propagated by the mainstream media who take in those unable or unwilling to think rationally. The uneducated and over-educated consist largely of the hoodwinked and hoodwinkers. We can’t call our system a functioning democracy if people can’t or won’t observe and think rationally for themselves.

  2. Big Business/large Corporate seem to fail understanding the way the ANC negotiates. They need to learn from the unions. Look how successful the Taxi Association has been, also how SADTU uses pressure in order to be heard. The ANC only responds to fierce opposition, as long as SA business continues to pussyfoot with the ANC they will remain on the backfoot with the ANC demanding more. Business has to present bold, vocal opposition to ANC policy, when they start standing together Government does not have a choice but to listen – when you know there is a tiger in the bush, you don’t treat it like a squirrel.

    • The notion that big business doesn’t lobby government is a bit silly. But, let’s say big business enters politics guns blazing – why should political actors not respond in kind? Where does it leave this notion of the “free market” and private enterprise?

  3. I agree with what I have read. Big business must be more aggressive. They must stand up for what is right.
    We want South AFrica to move forward, to grow for the benefit of all and the Government need lessons in how the economy works. They must do what will benefit the country.

  4. Big business has always had a say in politics. After all they were instrumental in getting the Apartheid government to see the folly of its ways.
    Helgard, Right wing extremism is not the threat. It’s out in the open and a miniscule movement compared to the insidious pretending-to-be-doing-good-but-massively-perilous left wing extremism hidden under the cloak of the new religion of critical race theory and its sycophants. They are the real danger.

    Lastly, who can trust a word that Ms Wierzycka says?

  5. I personally don’t agree that Big Business should stay silent in the face of adverse government behavior. These are my strong feelings and I think it is their duty to engage government when they see the country being ruined. But we should also allow others their point of view and if they prefer to stay silent or sit on the fence, its their prerogative to get a sore derriere.

  6. When you replace ANC and their leaders with Big Business and their leaders there is not much of a difference. The one is vulgar in the way they enrich themelves where the other one is very suttle in how they go about their enrichment.
    Just like government is not doing anything for you the same goes for Big Business.

  7. But why attack Ms Wierzycka specifically and not the other and larger financial houses – Old Mutual, etc.? And the financial services industry is only a small part of “big business” – since when did this lady become the face of “big business”?

    • Magda Wierzycka became the face of big business’ complicity in the disaster ANC inflicted upon SA the moment she decided to get political, praise and involve herself in Ramaphosa’s bravo sierra Thuma Mina campaign and when she tried to make it look like this country is not the hellhole it has become.

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