‘There is still time to fix the country’

Former SA Post Office CEO Mark Barnes addressing the Cape Town Press Club.

Crossing the divide between economic and political power is what South Africa needs to help turn the country around.

This was the message from former SA Post Office CEO Mark Barnes when he addressed the Cape Town Press Club, at the Kelvin Grove Club, on Thursday July 21.

Mr Barnes said he believed the country could be “fixed” before it reached a state of collapse.

“Economic and political power needs to come together, but both sides believe that they are ‘right’ and have inferiority complexes. The centres for economic and political power are far apart in South Africa, and the ability for politicians to cross that divide is absent.”

Mutual trust and a common goal was what the parties needed, he said, to help build a vibrant and thriving economy.

“We need to transfer knowledge, skills, acumen and expertise so we can create and contribute to the country’s economic growth. We need to recognise that we need each other and focus on social development and not social rescuing” he said.

Mr Barnes said one of the first steps President Cyril Ramaphosa had to take was to appoint the top-100 people to fix the country; starting with 10 he could turn things around, he said.

Secondly, he said, the president should not stand for re-election and should fire all those in the cabinet who were not performing. There was still time, but it would require people to stand down from their positions of power.

“We have appointed popularity and not ability. It is incumbent upon the president to surround himself with the most competent people in the country.”

The country had created an element of a new elite in the past 30 years, and the problem with elite clubs was that they were not looking for more members but operated on exclusivity, he said.

“We need to create the prospect of personal economic dignity for all – there has to be a way for people to reach this without having to turn to corruption. You cannot solve corruption without having an alternative way for people to get out of poverty.”

Speaking about his time at the post office, Mr Barnes said government’s micromanaging had left him unable to make good on his plans to ensure the organisation’s financial viability, although getting the government to allow the post office to pay out social grants had given it a huge financial boost.

“Offering financial services was a core opportunity for the post office who is an organ of state, but we could not get access to the national payment system. I left because government took away one of my key growth areas.”

Mr Barnes was appointed CEO in 2016 but resigned in 2019 when the government rejected his plan to integrate the SA Post Office and Postbank.