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Business Leadership SA seeks talks with Jacob Zuma

| Economic factors

Leaders want new terms of engagement as trust between business leaders and the government has broken down irretrievably

Business Leadership SA (BLSA) had requested a meeting with President Jacob Zuma to establish new terms of engagement as the trust between business leaders and the government had broken down irretrievably, the organisation said on Monday.

BLSA represents most of the listed companies on the JSE.

Deputy chairman Bonang Mohale said a youth employment initiative, a joint project between business and government to create 1-million internships and a R1.5bn fund for investment into small and medium enterprises was "in danger of being undone by a simple act of a sitting president".

The stinging attack from business came on the eve of new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s departure to join his counterparts and central bank governors at the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington DC.

Next week Gigaba will head a delegation to meet investors in Boston and New York and will also engage ratings agency Moody’s, which has SA on review for a credit rating downgrade. S&P downgraded SA to junk status on April 3 citing political tension and its possible impact on fiscal policy. Fitch Ratings gave similar reasons four days later.

Gigaba met with domestic investors following his appointment but has evidently failed to reassure businessmen. BLSA took out full-page adverts in the weekend papers expressing its disappointment over the recent cabinet reshuffle, which saw Pravin Gordhan fired as finance minister and which had plunged the country into "a political and economic low point of our young democracy".

Mohale said on Monday the association had met with the ANC’s top six leaders last Thursday for an honest and open meeting behind closed doors but declined to disclose any details.

"We are a business organisation, we are nonpartisan, we have no desire to get involved in partisan politics let alone in factional fights." Their job was to make sure SA was "open for business, that our whole time, energy and effort is devoted towards addressing the stubbornly high levels of unemployment, which then leads to increasing levels of poverty and increasing levels of inequality".

"How do you join the new minister of finance and his deputy on road shows until and unless this relationship has been reset, (and) we’ve agreed on new terms of engagement and new terms of reference.

"We can’t work hard and then you kick us in the teeth and then we continue to work hard and you poke a finger into our eye and then we continue to work hard and then you snub us in the manner that you did," Mohale said.

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