South Africa’s current socio-economic realities, coupled with the results of the Zondo Commission’s report on state capture, are telling characteristics of a ‘failed state’ – one that can only be pulled back from the precipice by decisive action and single-minded focus.

This is the word from Professor Bonang Mohale, chancellor of the University of the Free State, speaking at the most recent Think Big webinar series, hosted by PSG Konsult and facilitated by Bruce Whitfield.

“When we take a step back to examine the evidence and what the Zondo Commission’s findings mean for broader society, we see that inequality is widening, racism is at an all-time high, black graduates are roaming the street unemployed, our public education and hospital sectors are in states of disrepair and the general climate in the country is one of lawlessness,” says Mohale, who also holds several board positions including chairmanship of Bidvest Group.

According to Mohale, before we consider whether South Africa is ‘recoverable’, we need to come to recognise the magnitude of the problem and acknowledge that as a country, we find ourselves at an all-important turning point.

Mohale stresses the link between socioeconomic reform and the forthcoming reactions of the independent judiciary, given the evidence at hand. Ultimately, he argues that we should not underestimate the centrality of justice to economic recovery.

The responsibility to set a precedent of swift, decisive action now rests on the shoulders of the independent judiciary.

Mohale is a strong advocate for the need to adopt a national charter against corruption, as well as an independent public procurement anti-corruption agency that will include a council, a litigation unit, an inspectorate, a tribunal and a special court of appeal. This is aligned with Justice Raymond Zondo’s most recent recommendations put forward by the report on state capture.

When the loop has been closed on state capture and the guilty have been brought to book, he says an opportunity will emerge for businesses to take the reins and realise its role in promoting job creation so that the self-respect and self-worth of so many struggling South Africans can be restored.

Mohale explains that: “The business sector is not an isolated entity, it is in fact at the epicenter of creating the markets of the future. Our real market should be the 1,3-billion people in Africa who stand to benefit from instruments such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Until the broader African community reaps these rewards, South Africa will never stand true to the precepts laid out in the constitution.”

Business, however, requires regulatory and policy certainty. Here, the vaccine rollout serves as a good example of a missed opportunity on behalf of government to allow the private sector to bring its economic strength and authority to the table.

These are the kinds of issues that are at the centre of socio-economic reform. They are the issues that will need to be addressed quickly and decisively if South Africa is to curb the mass exodus of skilled workers and talent from the country in search of better prospects.

After all, as Mohale asserts, “people are the business, not brick-and-mortar establishments or products and services. Our challenge therefore as a country, is not only an economic one but one concerning human resources and social justice.”