The first point to make is that businesspeople are also citizens with political rights and responsibilities. As part of the broader community, they are affected by constraints within the public service. They assume civil responsibility because, for the most part, they believe they can make a difference. However, many businesspeople try to use their financial muscles to insulate themselves from the issues faced by ordinary people. Those who choose to get out of their cocoons and participate in politics can be special. Most are motivated by a real will to do good.

In the case of Herman Mashaba, we have an entrepreneur who emerged from a poor background to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in South Africa. He now wants to give back. The fact that he wants to give, and not take, implies that he is likely to be a better politician. It also makes him vastly different from the current crop of African National Congress (ANC) leaders who come to politics with the attitude that South Africa owes them something.

Businesspeople who become politicians can bring fresh energy into public service. They come from an ecosystem that is driven by the urgency to provide measurable results. Politicians often weave these concepts into their speeches to sound clever, but for businesspeople, they are a matter of life and death. Businesses that run without a sense of urgency to provide measurable results fail. Businesspeople can also bring an ethos defined by shareholder expectations. They demand transparency and accountability. For many captains of industry and entrepreneurs, these demands become a natural way of doing things. Accountability then becomes a habit. They know that every cent counts. This contrasts with the god complex adopted by some politicians who think they have a divine right to rule. You can see this in the way the ANC has handled its scandals. Instead of being humbled, it has responded with arrogance.

Businesspeople also bring private-sector networks that politicians are unlikely to have. In fact, the ANC resents business. It tends to think that business owes it something instead of viewing it as a partner for development. Someone like Mashaba can bridge the gap between the government and the private sector. He speaks the language of captains of industry. This could help end the current investment hiatus caused by the ANC’s chaotic leadership. The ANC does not care about accountability and the consequences of its actions. All some of its members care about is lining their pockets.


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