South Africa – holding its head high in business and sport

The French philosopher, Blaise Pascal once said, “the supreme accomplishment of life is to blur the distinction between work and play.” Trade missions can do that and on this mission, having spent some time on safari and with the prospect of two days of international cricket, for me the distinction is already somewhat blurred. But there is a more general point; the relationship between sport and business is a close one. The law being my business, requires many of the skills, qualities and abilities which make for a good sportsman – a highly competitive approach, determination, courage, passion to succeed and a desire to win (not at all cost, but fairly) as well as the ability to recover from failure and bounce back.

Privilege

The most significant common factor is that, in my experience, it is not only sportsmen who see their work as pleasure, but likewise, the best businessmen regard their work as pleasurable. We should remember that many of us are very fortunate because we have the privilege of enjoying what we do. It is a sad fact that so many people in our society do not do that and through force of circumstance are burdened by their work. In many ways, the goal of democracy is to free people so that they can enjoy the rewards of their efforts in such a way as to enhance the quality of their lives. During my life I have had a great deal of contact with South African sportsmen, lawyers and businessmen. Most of them have been outstanding examples of the ability to combine business with pleasure. At university I played with and against South Africans. They were aggressive and committed with a strong sense of fair play. I was glad when they were on my side. Likewise, South African lawyers are tenacious, competitive and talented. In the UK we have been fortunate indeed to have the likes of Sydney Kentridge, coming to London to practise law in his 70s and who stood like a colossus among advocates.

Resilient

London and Johannesburg are two great cities, ideally located to do business with each other. Since 2000 there has been a free trade agreement between their respective countries or trade blocs which puts South Africa in a strong position as an EU trading partner. That, as I understand it, was in recognition of South Africa’s potential trading prowess and its resilient character as a trading nation. The recent socio-economic legislation (Black Economic Empowerment – BEE) has I know been criticised for being overly bureaucratic and prescriptive. But in my view it should not be perceived as a deterrent to good trading relations between London and Johannesburg. On the contrary, it seems to me it is enabling legislation designed to enhance the economic interests of both cities and their citizens as a whole. No one would dispute that fairness and equality of opportunity are not laudable objectives. It is the means by which they are to be achieved that creates the controversy and difficulty. However, I see nothing inconsistent with the achievement of those goals in the BEE.

Talent

South Africa is going through a transitional period and as is always the case in periods of transition, there will be teething problems. But from what I have seen already on this mission, the ultimate outcome cannot be in dispute. The talent of black and white people in South Africa will combine together to form a new South Africa which will hold its head high both in business and sport. The trading and commercial links between London and Johannesburg go back a long way. They were interrupted for a period of time but they are now strong. The sporting traditions shared by both cities form a common bond as they do throughout South Africa. Let them long continue. Both cities can learn from each other.

Partnership

I read with interest in the South African newspapers that earlier this week the Mayor of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, announced that a joint partnership between the city and the private sector had been agreed in order to implement the “Corridors of Freedom project.” This was a proposal to increase the density of the population against the main transport corridors into the city of Johannesburg by building new homes along the main transport links into the city. This was intended to allow people to live much closer to their work and to encourage new housing to accommodate Johannesburg’s growing population. It seems to me that the new Mayor of London (whoever that might be) could take a leaf out of Mayor Tau’s strategy and adopt a similar approach to the provision of much needed accommodation. We hope that this trade mission will be a great success, strengthening the ties between London, Johannesburg and Cape Town. We are grateful to the MCC for working with us and for the support of JP Morgan for hosting this reception. Over the years, they have done a great deal for sport as well as business and, in so doing I hope, blurred the distinction between work and play.


 

Robert Griffiths QC

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