CFO Summit unpacks how CFOs can lead with impact in South Africa

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Top CFOs Isaac Malevu, Martin van der Walt, Maureen Manyama and Johan Geel explain how the right investments and partnerships can mean sustainable growth for South Africa during challenging times.

During the first CFO Summit of the year, which took place on 22 February, finance executives found out that their people, businesses and the entire country is looking to them to be the drivers of change South Africa needs.

IDC CFO and 2023 Public Sector CFO of the Year Isaac Malevu, Sibanye Stillwater Gold head of finance Martin van der Walt, Wits University CFO Maureen Manyama and Afgri CFO Johan Geel revealed how they are answering the call in their organisations – and for society – in a panel discussion.

“Everyone is looking toward the CFO to ensure a strong commitment towards governance, transparency and financial sustainability,” said Isaac.

There’s no denying how hard it is to be a leader in South Africa, considering the many challenges the country faces. Leaders have to think of innovative and unique solutions to achieve success for their businesses while still taking care of their people. “You have to commit to integrity and inspire confidence during scary and uncertain times,” Isaac explained, adding that this is especially true for leaders in the public sector at the moment.

Martin said that it’s not easy to be a leader in mining either. “Every decision we make as leaders has a ripple effect, whether it’s on the operations of the business or on the lives of the people.”


Enablers of change

Martin explained that mines don't have infinite resources, and so there comes a point where they have to try to extend the life of the mine as much as possible, or find a different operation to send employees to within the Sibanye Stillwater group. “We’ve also helped to give everyone in the organisation financial acumen to help with their personal financial management during these challenging times.”

The mine also has a larger responsibility to the community in which it operates, said Martin. “We have rehabilitation requirements, because our tailings can have a big impact on the community’s water supply and soil health if it’s not managed well. We’ve also provided R400 million worth in loans to 500 companies in the community, creating 5,000 jobs.”

He explained that, in doing this, they have turned the small mining towns to small economies.

The IDC is also focusing on enabling small business growth, hoping to address the unemployment rate as well. “We have to make sure what we have we invest,” Isaac said.

“As CFOs, it’s our job to ensure money goes where it needs to. We are the enablers of the economy and business.”

Echoing his fellow panel members' sentiments from earlier, Johan said assisting farmers can also be a very intensive industry. “You can’t just give people land and expect a successful crop tomorrow. You have to provide the farmers with the right tools, tell them when to plant and what to plant, and then train them how to work with the equipment.”

It can also come at a very high cost. “A tractor costs between R4 million and R7 million, and a big farm needs plenty of these,” Johan added.

He explained that the industry remains strong, though, achieving seven percent growth year-on-year. “We’ve recently created 434 permanent jobs in one community through farming initiatives.”


Partnering for growth

Johan explained that achieving this growth isn’t impossible in South Africa, but that it needs to be sustainable, allowing for job creation and tax contribution, in order for the country to be prosperous. The only way to achieve sustainable growth is through strategic partnerships, he added.

“The public sector can’t work on its own anymore. Private sector needs to be able to partner with the government to help find solutions that will benefit all South Africans.”

Martin explained that Sibanye Stillwater Gold has been leveraging their partnership with Eskom to not only reduce the mine’s carbon emissions but help free up capacity for the power utility so the government can become more energy efficient. “Ninety percent of our carbon dioxide emissions come from the use of Eskom for power. We’ve committed to becoming carbon neutral, and are hoping to have 600MW of renewable energy by 2026.”

The IDC has also recently invested R40 billion into renewable energy projects, Isaac added.

Maureen explained that another area where partnerships can help the country is in the education sector. “Despite half of the total CSI expenditure (R11.8 billion) in South Africa for 2023 going to education, the funding to the sector is still not enough.

“The university recently received R1 million to use as we see fit, and we decided to help some of our CA and CTA students graduate, but there is still a R600,000 student debt because people aren’t able to service their accounts given the current economic circumstances.”

The government has also recently cut education subsidies, making it more difficult for students to get access to funding. “CFOs and businesses need to invest even more,” Maureen urged. “Adopt a student, for example, and help them finish their studies.”

She explained how she supported a BCom student’s during their qualification. Last year the student qualified as a CA(SA), and Maureen hasn’t even met the student yet. “We met on facebook, and I’ve been following her career ever since. It has been the most rewarding feeling,” she said. Attendees roared into spontaneous applause, commending her for her contribution.

Just like the private, public and education sectors need to support each other, leaders need to hold each other accountable to make responsible decisions, Martin said.

“We have to have the courage to stand up and speak up when we see something wrong, and to acknowledge when we are wrong,” Johan added.

“We have to be purpose-driven, and lead with impact,” Isaac concluded.

 

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