On Monday, the Black Management Forum formally left Business Unity South Africa. BMF’s official version is because the “voice of black business was being marginalised”. Read between the lines, and it’s not nearly that simple. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The BMF wrote a 10-page tome explaining why it withdrew from Busa. It’s angry. It says Busa was formed to represent the interests of “businesses, business people, employers and professional people”. So far so good.
But then it gets political. It then says that as part of a bid to promote unity, “it deployed its former president Bheki Sibiya to be the first CEO of Busa.” Note the word “deployed”. Already we are in a political domain. It repeats the word when it explains that the CEO who recently stepped down, Jerry Vilikazi, also came from the organisation.
And therein lies the rub. What’s really happened here is the BMF wanted to appoint yet another CEO. It wanted its own way again. Bear in mind, it wanted to appoint the boss of an organisation that is much bigger than itself. This is not like the National Union of Mineworkers wanting to appoint the general-secretary of Cosatu. It’s more like two prefects trying to appoint the headmaster. Busa is supposed to represent business, the word is in its name. And yet the BMF, which doesn’t represent business, but “black managers” wanted to effectively take over Busa. Again.
Things were drawing to head when, it seems, the BMF, through its president, Jimmy Manyi (you’ll see his name again in this piece) effectively told Busa it would make the CEO decision for everyone else. Then there was a letter from the BMF, saying that if it didn’t get its way, it would withdraw from Busa. Well, it didn’t get its way and so it’s walked away, in a huge huff.
Bear in mind, that Busa’s managing council had decided unanimously it would continue to search for a new CEO, effectively telling the BMF where to get off. (So the BMF was the odd person out, and decided to take its ball and go and play with someone else.) BMF says it will search for other “like-minded organisations”, and then look towards creating another umbrella group. It also says Busa was structured in such a way that “black” business could never win on the important issues.
One of the big reasons cited in the BMF statement is that Busa opposed government’s attempts to ban labour brokers. “The soul of black business can never co-exist with the exploitive[sic] practices of the labour brokers” reads the statement. Hello! Isn’t the point of a business organisation to help business? Banning labour brokers raises costs of production, which business doesn’t like, and thus you’d expect its lobby group to have a problem with that. The BMF simply just doesn’t seem to get it. Busa is for bosses. If you want to ban labour brokers, join Cosatu.
There is a big ideological problem here. We at the Daily Maverick, proud capitalists that we are, believe society and its role players, need to debate issues, in public. This means you have different sides to an argument. The BMF seems to believe bosses are not allowed a voice, they cannot speak, cannot argue their case. It’s a fundamental problem with its failure to understand democracy. If you go one way on an issue within an organisation, and you are the only person to vote that way, you can’t just leave when you lose. The point of democracy can sometimes be about learning how to lose. And how to not throw a tantrum.
On Talk Radio 702’s “The Money Show” on Monday evening deputy president of the BMF, Thembakazi Mnyaki, sounded horrified when asked what Jimmy Manyi’s role had been in all of this. She suggested that I was trying to personalise the issue. The fact is, this has his fingerprints all over it. It’s about how everything must be moving in one direction, about how only he and his people know what the right thing is. This is the kind of behaviour one expects from an organisation headed by a man who’s answer to tough questions as government spokesman is to simply say “trust me”. With all that that phrase implies for our recent history.
The point is, the BMF waddles like a political organisation and quacks like a political organisation. It opens its mouth on political issues. It hits out at people like Bobby Godsell during the Eskom/Jacob Maroga farce, based, as far as we can tell, only on the race of the people concerned and the fact that Maroga was a BMF member. It jumped in with both feet when Manyi put his foot in it regarding that pesky “overconcentration of coloureds remark”. One wonders if there was much discussion with its coloured members on that.
At the beginning of this year we suggested that if the Black Management Forum were to leave Busa, we would be pleased. They have left, and we are pleased. The main reason is that Busa is about to get involved with some serious negotiations with government regarding the economy in general and labour laws in particular. We had asked before why business was being so quiet on big issues like mine nationalisation, and whether it was because the BMF was part of Busa. Because Manyi was negotiating on both sides.
Then the capitalists finally started to hit back, making a powerful case against nationalisation. It seems this move, to stand firm against the BMF could be part of a come-back by the voice of business. It should certainly make finding consensus in Busa easier. It will allow the organisation to be the voice of business, and not hampered by a pressure group for managers of a particular hue. It could actually allow Busa to take on a whole new life. And this country is in a desperate need of the powerful voice of reason. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter
Read more: BMF Statement