Business Report May 23, 2006
By Jabulani Skhakhane
Double standards are bad enough. Xenophobia is even worse. Combine the two and we get a classic South African way of doing things.
Take, for example, the latest anti-Chinese rant, this time by the construction industry, which has had its nose put out of joint by the entry of Chinese companies into the local market.
Claims range from Chinese maltreatment of workers to failing to use local labour and concerns about quality. Of course, despite the fact that we do not hear of charges being laid with the authorities, these claims are becoming accepted as true without a critical examination of the issues.
We are used to the clothing, textile and footwear industries banging on about Chinese imports putting them out of business. Explosives manufacturer AECI has also had a go about the importation of shock tubes used in mining.
The underlying complaint in all these industries, however, is that Chinese firms are able to tender for South African work or supply goods far cheaper than their local rivals.
There is no doubt that the Chinese aggressively pursue new markets. There is also no doubt that when they set their minds to competing in an industry, they tend to do very well. And there is clearly no doubt that the fact that they do things cheaper and more efficiently has had a deleterious impact on businesses around the globe, even though consumers have benefited.
However, although the Chinese are not alone in their global ambitions - the Americans and Europeans have big horizons too - they do it better and hence get singled out for abuse.
But here's the rub. South African businesses, including construction companies, want to go into world markets and leverage their competitive advantage to boost profits. When residents in target countries try to block their advances (see, for example, the reaction of Swedish shareholders to Old Mutual's purchase of Skandia), our businesses cry foul.
But when the bigger kids come to play in our playground, we complain about bullies.
The benefits of globalisation forSouth Africa have outweighed the costs and it is time that we grew up and faced the facts: we must get better at doing what we do or get out of the game.