From controversial views on young blacks to tips on how to get rich, billionaire Johann Rupert’s interview with PowerFM on Tuesday night has sparked wide scale criticism on social media and in some business circles.
Rupert, the chairperson of Swiss luxury goods company Richemont, was speaking with Given Mkhari at the station’s annual event – Chairman’s Conversation on Tuesday night.
Here are his top 10 views on the SA economy and what he would do if he were president.
1. People need access to networks
“I think people are good enough to make it on their own if they are given an opportunity and a fair chance,” Rupert said, in a discussion about networks.
Mkhari suggested that there are young, black professionals who are “not looking for a favour” but they don’t have access to the economy.
Rupert responded by saying that if PowerFM got black professionals together, he would get business people together for each of the groups to meet at a networking event.
“I have no problem as long as people understand there are no overnight successes, no tenderpreneurs,” he added.
2. Improve the education system
Rupert went on to raise concerns over the education system. “My biggest concern is, we are not training people properly for a new economy,” he said. “The schooling system is falling behind.”
3. Voters are not fools
“The last time I engaged with government was with President Mbeki,” he said. He said he does not hate former president Jacob Zuma, but he hates what he allowed to happen to the country.
Rupert said a “fireside” chat should be set up, as US President Ronald Reagan did, for government to tell South Africans exactly what is going on.
“All politicians for the last 10 years treated voters like fools. Voters are not fools, they are highly intelligent.”
In these engagements, government and other stakeholders need to agree on how to grow the economy, and create jobs, and how to fix the education system.
4. Corruption stole from the poor
“What really irritates me, the corruption did not steal from us in the room… Corruption stole from the very poor,” Rupert said.
The businessman said that if he were to become president he would call off elections, as is the case in China and Russia, and then quipped that this is why he is not involved in politics.
5. Create investor confidence
Rupert said that as president, he would prioritise investor confidence. When Mkhari probed him on what this would take, Rupert said government needs to “stick to the rules”. He spoke of experiences where he collaborated with government for projects and alleged that halfway, deals would be changed.
Rupert added that creating investor confidence means “not calling people comrades on TV”. In his view, an American fund manager would not take kindly to parliamentarians being called “comrade”.
6. We let Mbeki down
“We let President [Thabo] Mbeki down because he created a perfect scenario for business to invest. But you know what – I think we could not believe our luck, we should have invested more from the private sector during that period… Before foreigners invest, they look at us,” Rupert said about SA’s investment environment.
7. Businesses need to be able to trust government
“We need a little bit of love from the government, and not being told you are white monopoly capitalists,” Rupert said.
Both parties – government and business – need to trust each side.
8. Small and medium enterprises can create jobs
Rupert explained that there is a “misconception” that big businesses can create jobs. He in turn believes big businesses have the responsibility to produce products and to deliver services so well to compete internationally. “If we do and succeed- we can employ people with proper salaries and not slave wages, we can pay taxes,” he said.
“Government can’t create jobs. If governments could create jobs, there would not be any unemployment anywhere,” he said. It is small and medium enterprises which can create jobs but the red tape must be cut.
He called out “thugs” at the SA Revenue Services for withholding VAT returns last year. “Do you have any idea of what happened to small businesses in this country when R20bn [in VAT returns] got withheld? They should all go to jail for just that,” he said.
He emphasised that small to medium sized businesses create jobs worldwide.
9. Not father Christmas for SA
“I’m not father Christmas that can look after the whole country,” Rupert said in response to a question from an audience member about what he is doing to uplift black entrepreneurs.
“I’ve been luckier than I thought I would, I made more money than I thought I would and that I often think I deserve, and my mother taught me to share, and I really give away a lot more money than I spend on our family. Quite frankly, I don’t need lessons in sharing, because I know what I do and luckily the people close to me know what I do,” he said.
10. No peace till proper redistribution of land
“I don’t think we will ever have peace unless there is a proper redistribution. I wouldn’t say land – I would say property,” he said about land redistribution.
“Let’s not fall into the trap of Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Everything looked good on paper but the game is played on grass.”
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