Thieves at the Dinner Table
Chapter 1: Beginnings
When I sat down in front of my computer, setting out to tell the story of South Africa’s competition institutions and confronted by a blank screen headed ‘Chapter 1’, the only opening sentence that came to mind – and this after chairing the Competition Tribunal for 10 years and writing many thousands of words on the subject of competition – was that which opens so many junior school essays: ‘It was a dark and stormy night …’ But, strange to tell, this may well be an appropriate opening for the story that I want to recount. At the time that this tale begins, darkness or, at least, secretiveness and a profound lack of accountability did indeed mark the workings of the South African business sector. Storminess did not characterise inter-corporate relations – indeed the marked absence of storminess or, conversely, the perceived cosiness that characterised these relations was precisely the problem that the new competition policy was expected to confront. However, a definite element of inclemency was provided by the nature of the interface between a new government and an old business establishment whose relationship, certainly at that time, may euphemistically be described as one of mutual suspicion, marked by fairly regular bouts of considerable turbulence. In the eye of that particular storm was the stated intention of the new government and its allies in the trade union movement to introduce a robust competition policy, centred on a new antitrust statute. I vividly recall a conference on competition policy held sometime in 1994
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