Raymond Parsons 1997


Raymond Whitmore Parsons was educated at Worcester Boys' High School where he received the first of a number of distinguished awards, his school's Maskew Miller prize for History.  He studied Economics at the Universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Copenhagen and obtained  BCom and MA degrees.   He started his career  as a lecturer in Economics and Economic History at the University of Stellenbosch before moving on to the University of the Witwatersrand.

Raymond Parsons first worked as economist for the Federated Chamber of Industries before being appointed as the Deputy Director and later as Chief Executive of the Association of Chambers of Commerce.  In 1990 ASSOCOM merged with the Federated Chamber of Industries and he became the first Director-General of the newly formed ‘flagship’ of employer bodies in South Africa, the South African Chamber of Business, more commonly known as SACOB.   In this capacity he represents the entire South African business community, a constituency comprising some 50 000 small and large businesses throughout the country.   Although he now operates on the broad economic front, he still maintains his ties with academia by holding an honorary chair in Economic Policy at the University of Pretoria. 

Raymond Parsons is determined about ensuring that the voice of SACOB is heard in national policy-making councils and has highlighted three vital areas for the organisation in the immediate future.   First, he wants SACOB to constantly examine its role in the public policy arena.   Second, he is anxious to promote meaningful coalitions of interest which extend beyond the business community.   And, finally, he sees SACOB as providing the essential support base upon which small and large business will rely in a changing society and competitive global environment.

His approach at SACOB is perhaps best summed up in his own description of the organisation:   "... the Chamber [is] not a 'country club for the elite' - but ... a major business organisation relevant to the economic interests of South Africa."  He emphasises that South Africa needs a strong economy to underpin its new democracy.   However,  a strong economy is not born overnight from economic miracles.   On the contrary, as he clearly spells out:  "we have to invest time, energy and other resources which will make a difference to the lives of people.  Economic success stories start with an appropriate policy mix, a will to implement, and thereafter sheer hard work."

Typically, Raymond Parsons’ views are not limited to the rhetorical level.   They are clearly manifested and given practical effect in the strategic policy decisions and transformative actions which have characterised his leadership over the years.

Earlier national structures in which he participated, such as the National Regional Development Advisory Council, the State President's Economic Advisory Council and the National Economic Forum have since been replaced by the National Economic Development and Labour Council, better known as NEDLAC.  This tripartite organisation brings together organised business, organised labour and government, and is viewed as indispensable for the improved economic performance of the country.   It is noteworthy that all  constituents of organised business have acknowledged his leadership and experience by selecting  him to play the pivotal role as overall business co-ordinator within NEDLAC.

Die belangrike funksie wat die Nasionale Ekonomiese Ontwikkelings- en Arbeidsraad  vervul in die ekonomiese transformasie van Suid-Afrika kan nie betwyfel word nie.  Raymond Parsons onderskryf die mening dat die vlak van vertroue dié belangrikste enkele faktor is wat 'n nasie se welstand en sy vermoë om in die wêreldekonomie mee te ding, bepaal.  Hy neem deel aan NEDLAC op die basis dat die Raad op vertroue gebou moet word en dat NEDLAC self die vertroue moet bou wat nodig is om betekenisvolle onderhandeling te bewerkstellig.  Hy glo vas dat dit van nasionale belang is dat die sakesektor in Suid-Afrika hoër moet mik, die werklikhede van die wêreld moet beklemtoon en brûe moet bou.   Daarom waarsku hy teen die georganiseerde sakesektor as "'n elitistiese buiteklub" en beklemtoon hy voortdurend die noodsaak dat die georganiseerde sakesektor betekenisvolle koalisies buite die sakegemeenskap moet bevorder .

Dit is nie net deur sy deelname aan NEDLAC dat hy die georganiseerde sakesektor uitlei buite die enge grense van eiebelang nie.  Hy huldig die mening dat die sakesektor se bydrae tot die ontwikkeling van Suid-Afrika nie by die fabriekshek kan stop nie.  Maatskappye is geleë binne gemeenskappe, en dit is op gemeenskapsvlak waar ontwikkeling plaasvind.    Sakeleiers word daarom aangespoor om hul kreatiwiteit en entrepreneurskap nie net toe te pas op hul sakeondernemings nie, maar ook op die gemeenskappe waarin die ondernemings gevestig is.

Weereens omskep hy woorde in dade.  Sy lidmaatskap van die paneel wat ondersoek instel na swart behuisingsprobleme in Soweto en die Bevolkingsontwikkelingsraad getuig van sy aktiewe betrokkenheid by ontwikkelingswerk.   As direkteur van die Kleinsake-Ontwikkelingskorporasie, voorsitter van die Ithuba-trust, medevoorsitter van die Ubuntu-trust en lid van die Mediaraad speel hy ‘n leidinggewende rol in die demokratiese ontwikkeling en bemagtiging van sakevernuf in Suid-Afrika.   Dat hy homself nie spaar in sy pogings om hierdie doelstellings te bereik nie, blyk verder uit sy lidmaatskap van die direksie van ‘Business Against Crime’, die Bestuursraad van die Arbitrasiestigting van Suid-Afrika en die Bestuursraad van die SA Federasie van Staal- en Ingenieursbedrywe.  

Vir sy ontwikkelingswerk in hierdie wyer kringe is Raymond Parsons reeds vereer met ‘n toekenning van die  Gemeenskapsgesondheids Vereniging van Suidelike Afrika in erkenning vir sy uitstaande en volgehoue gemeenskapsdiens.    En in 1993 ontvang hy  die Orde vir Voortreflike Diens van die Staatspresident vir uitstaande diens in belang van die algemene publiek.

The high esteem in which he is held by his peers  is not tied to the position he holds but extends to the person he is.   He is recognised as having an unusual combination of skills and  is described as "... possessing acute political antennae” and “an unerring sense of political developments and what's on the priority list at any time."    The late Dr Gerhard de Kock, an earlier recipient of an honorary doctorate at this University, said of Raymond Parsons that he is an economist and analyst of world class, [who]  can explain complicated matters in simple language so that everyone can understand.     His razor-sharp intellect is recognised beyond the borders of South Africa.  A Danish professor once remarked:  "When I argue with Raymond Parsons, I feel as though I am taking my life in my hands."   A former colleague remembers him as a person who can page through a lengthy report and know precisely what is in it, noticing at the same time the spelling mistakes and remembering exactly where they are!

Raymond Parsons is not only a renowned economist and dynamic business leader.   As spokesperson of organised business in South Africa he has also established himself as an excellent communicator and formidable debater.   His views appear regularly in widely-read publications such as Financial Mail, Finance Week, Business Day and Leadership, they are heard on radio and television  and are read in academic journals such as the South African Journal of Economics.

As a proponent of a market-oriented economic system Raymond Parsons does not shrink from forcefully stating the standpoint of organised business.   He was a sharp critic of the former government’s interventionist economic policies, and continues to engage constructively with government and organised labour in order to find a common understanding of what is required for the South African economy to lead the African continent and to compete successfully on a global basis.   His rare qualities of forthrightness and openness ensure that his economic integrity remains unsullied by the political order of the day.

Mr Chancellor, the University of Port Elizabeth is committed to providing teaching, research and community services which are internationally competitive, relevant to national goals and locally sensitive.  In accepting the challenge of change, UPE  has committed itself not only to broad institutional transformation,  but also to transformation on ground-level in its daily academic activities and service functions.    Raymond Parsons shows a similar commitment - we find in him a personification of excellence, coupled with an acute awareness of the realities and needs of a society which is undergoing both the painful and exhilarating experiences of transformation.

In recognition of his exemplary commitment to, and widely acclaimed leadership role in, the economic transformation of South African society, I therefore have the honour of requesting you to confer the degree of Doctor Commercii, honoris causa, on RAYMOND WHITMORE KNIGHTON PARSONS.