THE African National Congress (ANC) wants an "open, honest and candid" relationship with business, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Monday.
The party has had a somewhat rocky relationship with business over the past year.
The ANC reacted harshly to a First National Bank (FNB) advertising campaign last month, accusing it of undermining democracy and the government. FNB apologised to the party after a meeting and withdrew the allegedly offensive content.
Last year, the party was embroiled in a similar spat with Nedbank chairman Reuel Khoza, after he criticised the party leadership in the bank’s annual report.
In the past few weeks, Anglo American Platinum was at the receiving end of the ANC’s wrath after it announced its now shelved plans to cut about 14,000 jobs.
On Sunday, President Jacob Zuma met business leaders after reportedly being told that the private sector felt that the state was not consulting it on key economic issues and decisions.
Mr Mantashe said the party wanted a "candid" relationship with business, but the sector too could not "cry foul" when the party responded to criticism. "The private sector must have a right to criticise us, but it can’t be described as outbursts or bullying when we express our view on that criticism," he said on Monday.
"We don’t want people to sweet-talk us, they must tell us what they think of us and they must not have too thin a skin when we respond to some of these issues."
The ANC had met the Chamber of Mines five times in the run-up to its Mangaung conference to elicit its input on economic policy.
It also enjoyed a "warm" relationship with Agri South Africa because of the engagements with them. "That’s how trust develops, but if you think that you are going to stand on the mountain and throw stones and you are staying in glass houses when we throw stones back you cry my glasses are broken, then there’s a mistake," he said.
Mr Mantashe was speaking after a lekgotla of party and state leaders held in Centurion last week.
The meeting took far-reaching decisions on the economy and youth unemployment.
Mr Mantashe said youth unemployment was a societal problem and everyone had a role to play in addressing it — including the private sector. The state was playing its role by employing a range of methods to absorb and train unemployed young people — details of further initiatives would be announced in Mr Zuma’s state of the nation address on February 14.
Youth employment incentives may include a wage subsidy, which would be available to "anyone" able to absorb unemployed young people into the labour market.
Mr Mantashe said the ANC and its labour ally, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) had held an urgent meeting on the incentives and there was "no conflict" between the two over the issue.
Cosatu has apparently backtracked on its opposition to the subsidy. "There is general agreement on the approach … there is no blood on the floor," Mr Mantashe said.
An agreement on the issue was set to be signed "within days" in the National Economic Development and Labour Council.
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