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This is what we stand for

12 July 2021

Our CEO, Werner Kapp shares his thoughts on what we as an organisation stand for, our values, our respect for the South African Constitution and the communities in which we live.

This Friday past, at the end of a tumultuous week in South Africa’s history, I was inevitably asked two existential questions by many of my compatriots:

  • Why are you still here? You can work anywhere on the globe, why choose to stay here?

  • Considering the moral dichotomies in South Africa, what is it that you, and Dimension Data, stand for?

As a new week begins, we are faced with scenes of violence and looting escalating across our country; and we are in the grip of the third wave of Covid-19 which has us saying goodbye to friends, family and influential business people and politicians in our country on a weekly basis. This can easily lead to a sense of despair and resignation.

The situation can seem hopeless, and the question of “what do we do now?”, and “where do we go from here?”, reverberates across the country and in the battlefield of one’s own mind.

However, I was given strength and a renewed sense of purpose in the early hours of this morning, by Proverbs 24 Verse 10, which reads: “If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!”

So, here’s my response to the questions above:

  1. Why am I still here? Simple. Firstly, I am a son of this magnificent soil. I have no desire to live elsewhere. With all due respect to those of other soils, the bright lights of New York, London or Paris, do not compare with the rise of the African sun on the continent’s southernmost tip. Nor do their cosmopolitan cultures compare with our rare blend of ubuntu and braai. Secondly, I was raised to be part of the solution, not the problem.

  2. What is it that I, and the company that I am privileged to lead - one that operates in 13 countries on the continent, most of whom have the same socio-political and economic dynamics of my home country – stand for? 

Again, this is a simple answer for me. Living and conducting business ethically in this modern world of seemingly, generally accepted moral ambiguity, requires a reminder and recommitment to age old values that I certainly did not come up with but subscribe to deeply. These values are: 

  • The right to free and fair trade, i.e. doing business fairly and providing meaningful solutions to our clients

  • The right to a fair wage for an honest day’s work

  • A workplace free of unfair discrimination

  • Equality in front of the law

  • Contributing our fair share - to the fiscus through corporate tax, and the economy through meaningful employment

  • Making a meaningful contribution to society through our corporate social investment programmes that are a direct result of being a profitable enterprise.

So, what do we do now and where do we go to from here? 

Firstly, all the practical applications of the values I described above can only be realised if we are a profitable, growing organisation. For this to be possible, we need to operate in a country that takes a clear stance with respect to its values. For those of you familiar with the Constitution of South Africa, you will have noticed that the values I subscribe to are consistent with those inscribed in great detail in this founding document of our democracy. 

The values of this country are clear. They now need to be enforced.

Freedom of Association should never come at the expense of damage to property and loss of life. Freedom of Expression and the right to protest comes with corresponding obligations to one’s fellow citizens. Inciting violence and hate is not justifiable, under any circumstances.  

Secondly, the above applies to all of us as citizens and employees. We cannot call out government’s COVID-19 response while simultaneously discussing plans with our friends about ways to circumvent travel bans so we can have a nice school holiday out of Gauteng.  

We cannot criticise government’s approach to vaccinations, whilst not adhering to the practice of social distancing and wearing face masks at all times.

South Africa is a beautiful country, endowed with many gifts that are the envy of many. It is also true that our country has many problems and all of us have to own our part in creating these problems, either actively or through silence and inaction.

For us to move forward, solve these problems, and leave a lasting legacy to future generations, we do need to be bold and call them out. It is only by naming these problems that we can address them meaningfully:

  • Growing levels of inequality

  • High unemployment levels, especially youth unemployment

  • The continuing exclusion of a significant portion of our society from meaningful economic participation

  • High levels of corruption and the role of some businesses in this.

If we all lead by living these values practically at home, at work, and in our society, we can be key building blocks in enabling our country to move forward. Besides personally applying my values, I will also be engaging, through Business Leadership South Africa, his excellency our President, Cyril Ramaphosa, on these issues in a special council meeting on Thursday. Public private partnerships have the power to enable socioeconomic development which may lead to quelling the fires in our streets. I want to give the President the assurance that we will keep our end of the constitutional bargain if he keeps his.

My call to all of you is to be true to your own and our company values by daily practical application. This is how we lead in a world of moral ambiguity. This is how we move forward as a company, and a country. This is how we recommit to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be. One that will make our founding fathers, our parents, and the loved ones we have already sacrificed to COVID-19, proud.

Stay safe and stay home.

Werner Kapp

Chief Executive Officer, Dimension Data