The seventh Directors Event, billed as the largest Boardroom meeting is South Africa, was held on 11 June 2021 in partnership with BCX and in association with the Institute of Directors in South Africa.  The event is an opportunity for leaders in the private and public sectors to come together to debate, brainstorm and recommend solutions to steer the country in a Covid-19 world.

During the meeting and panel discussions recurring themes included the need for accountable, transparent and bold leadership; a call for better collaboration and co-operation between the public and private sectors, and the need for reform in re-imagining the future for South Africa.

Change has become our new normal. To survive requires adapting while thriving, which requires us to start thinking differently, said Sunday Times editor S’thembiso Msomi. The public and private sectors need to actively – and creatively – engage to plot a new course for our country, one that leaves no one behind.

Jonas Bogoshi, CEO of BCX, the headline sponsor of the event, pointed out that business is one of the few areas that people still trust to have competence and credibility. However, this increased trust in business leaders comes with certain expectations.

He called on business leaders to step in where government has struggled to solve societal problems. For the sake of SA’s future the response from business leaders cannot be timid or half-hearted but instead needs to be swift and determined, said Bogoshi.

During the keynote address, Herman Warren, The Economist Corporate Network’s director for Africa pointed out that Sub-Saharan Africa will have the weakest recovery amongst the sub-regions of the global economy. A faster and more sustainable economic recovery will not be assured until – and unless – we tackle the Covid-19 virus.

For leaders, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of getting the basic rights and addressing the hard things, consistently. He called on leaders to be proactive and make changes within their sphere of influence and responsibility, whilst holding themselves to a higher standard and in a constructive fashion expect no less from others including suppliers, staff, politicians and other stakeholders. Plan for further curve balls, he urged, adding that pre-crisis actions matter the most.

During her delivery of the Chairman’s Report, Auditor-General (AG) of South Africa, Tsakani Maluleke said there is an urgent need to strengthen SA’s democracy and build confidence. To achieve this requires that leaders are both conscious and conscientious in re-imagining their role to ensure that they are accountable and transparent.

The pandemic has highlighted inequality and growing unemployment against a backdrop of weak government capabilities. She called on South Africans to work collectively and cohesively to urgently design and implement solutions that are both effective and sustainable. At a minimum, those trusted with leadership positions must meet their responsibilities given that the only way to inspire confidence, strengthen our democracy and deliver lasting value and benefits to citizens is for leaders to be accountable, responsible and practice effective oversight.

The powers of the office of the AG were strengthened in 2019 when amendments to the Public Audit Act enabled the AG to not only report on audit outcomes, but also to enforce accountability. This means that the AG’s office can now step in when accounting officers from public institutions fail to enforce accountability.

Financial and procurement irregularities continue to occur at public institutions. In the last cycle of audit reports, the AG identified 75 material irregularities valued at losses of R6.9 billion on aggregate.

The first panel discussion, moderated by Bruce Whitfield, focused on how to re-invigorate the economy amidst an ongoing pandemic. Panellists included CEO of the Tourism Business Council, Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa; Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa; Zwelakhe Gila, an energy specialist and co-founder of Chommie Co; and Professor Mills Soko, professor in International Business & Strategy at Wits Business School.

Tourism is struggling to make a comeback after being one of the worst hit sectors during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic it made a valuable contribution to the economy with every 12 tourists to South Africa creating one job opportunity. Issues such as the provision of e-visas need to be addressed in order to position the sector to recover post the pandemic.

The agricultural sector, on the other hand, weathered the pandemic significantly more successfully. However, although the sector expects further growth this year it won’t be an economic panacea. In the same way that the tourism sector requires a holistic response from government, so too does the agricultural sector so that it can continue to make a positive contribution to the country’s economic recovery.

Given the high cost of load shedding to the economy, government’s announcement that businesses are now permitted to self-generate up to 100MW without a license is encouraging and a good start. However, we need a fundamental shift in policy thinking and bold and visionary leadership that can make big decisions and help us define the new normal. For SA to recover economically requires, amongst others, employment at scale, more public-private partnerships and the growth of a local manufacturing capability.

The second panel discussion, moderated by Nozipho Tshabalala, focused on SA’s skills and unemployment crisis and the extent to which technology can potentially turn our fortunes around. Panellists included Professor Jonathan Jansen, distinguished professor of Education at Stellenbosch University; Ann Bernstein, CEO of the Centre for Development and Enterprise South Africa; Seliki Tlhabane, chief director for MST and Curriculum Enhancement at the Department of Basic Education; Riaz Moola, CEO of HyperionDev; and Vikela Rankin, the founder of Value Ed and Elevate, and Hope Lukoto, Chief of Human Resources at BCX.

SA urgently needs to fix a flawed education system and create affordable access to quality education. Where necessary we need to import teaching skills and provide basic school infrastructure through public private partnerships. Technology can’t be ignored and needs to be integrated into the curriculum as we prepare learners for working in a 4IR world.

The final panel discussion, moderated by Andile Khumalo, put the focus on how we can better manage our healthcare resources in SA. Panellists included Dr Nicholas Crisp, deputy director general: National Health Insurance at the National Department of Health; Dr Memela Makiwane, chairperson of the Council for Medical Schemes; Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of The South African Medical Association; and Simon Hlungwani, president of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (DENOSA).

Panellists agreed that SA’s healthcare system is in a less than optimal state characterised by insufficient capacity, a shortage of healthcare skills, poor planning and crumbling infrastructure. The fact that its foundations are flawed requires a massive revolution so that resources are more equitably split. This, ultimately, is what the National Health Insurance hopes to achieve.

The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered valuable learnings and highlighted the need for better management of limited resources, the restoration of trust between the public and private sectors and the importance of having fit for purpose people employed by the sector. The creation of a more resilient healthcare system will require partnership and collaboration between the public and private sectors.

Panellists agreed that all citizens need to be encouraged to get registered for the vaccine and to get vaccinated given that a healthy population is critical for our economic recovery.

To watch the recorded web-conference, click here.