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Reflecting on my first term as President of the RMI and the goals we set out to accomplish with the RMI staff and office-bearers, I am confident the RMI and its associations are firmly on track to reach their full potential as leaders of business in South Africa’s automotive industry.
I am especially pleased with the greater participation of younger members in local and national structures, who will be the future leaders of the RMI. We have exciting work ahead of us to equip our future leaders and the RMI staff to achieve all of the strategic objectives approved by the RMI Board.
Lessons learnt and experience gained over the past two years in the broader context of the role politics play in the economy, and the behaviour of business both locally and internationally, make it a daunting task to have a vision that would remain exhilarating and inspiring.
In South Africa, the future is profoundly uncertain and unsettling from a business perspective when the focus remains on politics alone. The great Martin Luther King Jnr believed there are two types of laws that govern the world: those of a higher authority and those made by man. His historic, ‘I have a dream’ speech, inspired the biggest civil rights changes in American history, and not a, ‘I have a plan’ speech which we so frequently hear from politicians the world over. From time immemorial, businesses failed and will fail, and the reason for this is usually permutations of ‘undercapitalised, wrong people, and bad market conditions’. With exceptions, these reasons may be valid, but the question always remains – who governed these failed businesses and how were they governed. Are the man-made laws in our country good for business or can we improve on them? This question must be answered in 2018.
There is a fundamental belief one cannot strengthen oneself and grow as a business amid all the challenges we face in South Africa. We need to do away with that perception if we wish to share in an exhilarating and inspiring vision. Even though tangible progress can be reported in some areas, most of the challenges we faced in 2015 still remain, so the vision I have for 2018 is to begin to collectively devise and present a cohesive strategy to government, requesting economic solutions and support for our industry – an industry that employs most of the workers in the automotive value chain.
Unfair business practices, corruption and anti-competitive behaviour are alive and well and certainly stifling healthy economic growth in this sector. Can the pay practices in our Industry address the basic needs of families and provide the education children require to grow the future economy of our country? If not, how do we improve on it?
There are many challenges: The high cost of business compliance across our subsectors; the known and unknown skills shortages; the hurricane of Industry 4.0 (the digital transformation of industrial markets); the overly expensive cost of training, and lack of available funding for Private and Public Decentralised Trade Testing Facilities and Technical Training Centres; the high percentage of low literacy and numeracy levels of school leavers; the oversupply of graduates for obsolete jobs; failure to raise and support innovative entrepreneurs; the exorbitant cost of imported equipment and associated technologies, and lack of access to technology where volumes of work are low; lack of technical support and under development in rural areas; serious social issues consistently impacting negatively on productivity in the workplace, and the lack of financial support to develop and empower all classifications of business. All of these issues must be analysed and documented, and solution-driven proposals must be presented to government to grow and sustain current and future RMI member businesses.
Even though the challenges are complex and extensively more than I have mentioned, every business does have an important role to play to find short-, medium- and long-term solutions. We must begin at our own doorstep, in our own communities to bring back a sense of unity where people of all races can stand together to eradicate poverty and all of the well-known associated social problems. If we are not involved in creating a better future for our country, we should not complain about the consequences thereof.
Importantly, RMI member businesses must lead by example. To belong to the RMI is to belong to a family of businesses well equipped to leave a trusted and prosperous legacy. This year we celebrate 110 years of being the authoritative voice for business in the motor industry. Now, more than ever before, we need to strengthen this voice to speak out on behalf of our members. To achieve this we must be the consumer’s first and only choice to do business with.
South Africa without a doubt is still a land of great opportunity but, sadly, products, knowledge and skills are imported even if we have a wealth of unemployed young people and natural resources to help ourselves. I have a dream for the RMI to provide a world-class service, and for all thought leaders to embrace the changes we need to make to increase substantially the contribution of the automotive industry to the GDP of our country.
In 2018, believe that in belonging is better business. It is a year in which we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.