Agbiz is concerned that current socio-economic policy will condemn South Africa to a GDP growth rate of around 2 to 3 percent per annum over the next couple of years. This is totally inadequate, said Schalk Pienaar, chairman of Agbiz at the organisation’s biennial conference in Somerset West last week.

“Given South Africa’s structural economic problems and the state’s increasing participation in the economy, the question arises whether South Africa’s economy will grow sufficiently to meet the needs and demands of the country. In World Economic Forum (WEF) terms, can South Africa graduate from a basic efficiency-driven economy to an innovation-driven economy? South Africa’s continuous slide in the WEF’s Annual Global Competitiveness Index over the past number of years raises alarm bells,” Pienaar said.

Pienaar added that he could not understand “that the government is hell-bent on exercising control over so many aspects of our daily lives and the business environment in particular. Why is it not possible for South Africa to follow so many shining examples of spectacular economic growth that occurred elsewhere on the planet? These governments created level playing fields, as well as climates conducive for the private sector, to unleash its potential and thereby contributing hugely to reduce poverty and unemployment. These countries also succeeded in raising productivity and increasing wealth for its citizens.”

However, Pienaar said that the private sector should also play its part to increase productivity. He urged the private sector to invest in the training of staff and to increase their skills levels. “We do not spend nearly enough resources on research and development, as is the case in the countries we compete with. We, as the private sector, must support our industry bodies much more than we actually do. While Agbiz is well represented with regard to South African agribusiness, too many other industry bodies are struggling to survive. This is not good because it negatively affects their potential to effectively engage government in the interests of private enterprise.”

“I am, however, encouraged by positive noises coming from policy makers recently, but we need action and we need it now. We need to realise that the most powerful agent of change and transformation is something much more basic than a mere technique. It is a change of heart,” Pienaar said.