Unionist-turned-CEO Johnny Copelyn laments the anarchy and greed that is setting SA back (and harming his business)

The boss of the JSE’s biggest black owned investment group — with interests spanning a multitude of business sectors — says SA is “not a place for sissies”.

Writing in the latest Hosken Consolidated Investments (HCI) annual report, CEO Johnny Copelyn, an influential trade unionist in the 1980s, starkly outlined the challenges of doing business in SA.

Though he believes SA may be starting to see the beginning of a fragile upturn, his commentary on SA’s socioeconomic realities might well startle less resilient investors.

HCI is one of the pioneering empowerment companies that came to the JSE in the mid-1990s Unlike other early empowerment initiatives, HCI has endured and now has a market capitalisation of more than R9bn with a portfolio that includes controlling positions in gaming group Tsogo Sun and broadcast group eMedia, as well as stakes in transport, resource, industrial and property companies.

HCI is heavily geared to a recovery in the local economy, and its share price has suffered in the stagnant business conditions — declining about 25% over the past three years.

Notwithstanding prospects for an economic recovery, Copelyn bemoaned the mire into which he said SA has descended in recent years. “It will take many years to bring the country back into any semblance of normality as a result of the wanton theft of public funds, the collapse of confidence in the civil service and the level of lawlessness across the whole country ,” he wrote.

“Crazy populist pressure on the state to embark on the most inappropriate economic policies, like expropriating land without compensation and hobbling the independence of the Reserve Bank, are unquestionably going to inhibit confidence in the country.”

Copelyn also slammed efforts by a faction of the ANC to undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa by suggesting he is failing to uphold the party line on such policies. “It will force us all to be more assertive to avoid the retreat of the government from doing what has to be done.”

The HCI boss was named at the weekend as one of the large contributors to Ramaphosa’s campaign to secure the ANC leadership two years ago.

Copelyn wrote that if a few of SA’s primary rogues were incarcerated, a lot more confidence would return to the country.

He said “lawlessness” had caused endless disruptions to HCI’s coal business, and community-based groups tried to force HCI to employ people of their choice “even though there are no vacancies to fill”.

Traditional authorities demanded the company pay tributes and benefits “on the basis that we are exploiting their ‘traditional domain’”.

Copelyn said the breakdown in law and order was illustrated by the endless stream of armed robberies on HCI’s Golden Arrow buses, the burning of buses, and labour strikes, demanding double-digit increases, that turned violent.

He said it was critical for South Africans to prevail against these forces. “This is a moment where good people need to heed the call to action. We can rebuild what has been destroyed by opportunists and the scars on our backs can make us more determined, rather than naively trusting, as we may once have been.”

He said HCI fully intended to play a role in this resurrection. “We are a product of the post-apartheid dispensation in our country. We do not want to pretend otherwise. It is our special responsibility to demonstrate ourselves as an exemplary BEE entity.”

Copelyn pointed out that HCI had built new businesses rather than just ridden on other people’s coattails. “We create new jobs, build new hotels, office blocks, shopping centres, warehousing, studios, and convert dilapidated and often vandalised buildings into refurbished inner-city residences.

We look after our businesses and constantly reinvest in them to preserve and modernise them.

“In short, we run our businesses on the basis that they should be here for the long term.”

Copelyn said HCI acquired and built assets honestly. “There are no shortcuts and no disreputable or corrupt practices in this regard. We may not be invited to the most lucrative opportunities, but we certainly look after, and build on, whatever comes our way.”

The writer holds shares in HCI.

Source: Financial Mail: Marc Hasenfuss hasefussm@tisoblackstar.co.za