/ 6 September 2009

Manyi set to do battle

There is a new sheriff in town and he has already come out with guns blazing.

This week Mzwanele Jimmy Manyi took the reigns at the Department of Labour as its new director general and in an interview with the Mail & Guardian he made it clear that he was not going to kowtow to corporate South Africa.

As the head of the Black Management Forum and the chairperson of the Commission for Employment Equity (CEE), Manyi has earned a reputation as a firebrand and a critic of the corporate world’s apparent reluctance to transform.

When the M&G asked him whether he would tone down his style he said: “If people want to call me confrontational, so be it, it’s not going to change. I think my style is honest.

“I don’t call a spade a spoon. I will continue to let people know exactly where they stand with me.”

Manyi insisted that his new post would not deter his advocacy for employment equity. “I must confess it is my personal passion and I would be lying if I said that it would take a back seat. It won’t.”

He laid down a warning to corporate South Africa stating that, although it may take him a few months to familiarise himself with his new job, companies should use the time to get their employment equity plans in order. He has proposed legislation amendments that will increase the penalties for non-compliance with the Employment Equity Act.

At the launch of the CEE’s latest report last week, Manyi said penalties of less than R1-million were too low and suggested companies should be fined 10% of their annual turnover.

“I would like to see a shareholder of a company that would not want to fire a CEO after they have paid out 10% of turnover as a fine,” he said.

But he plans to take his challenge to corporate South Africa even further. “We will be attending AGMs of companies [to] raise these issues directly with the shareholders.”

He added that there was also a proposal for government to invoke section53 of the Employment Equity Act, in which the state can refuse to do business with non-compliant companies.

Trade union Solidarity criticised the report claiming that the methodology used was flawed. But Manyi said critics did not understand the data sample used. “This data has been carefully selected and I will happily engage with people who have understood the report,” he said. “But now we have people talking about something they don’t understand.”

According to Manyi, the report shows that 60% to 70% of all skilled professionals in South Africa are black, but when it comes to middle management and higher, the ratio is almost reversed.

“It is very clear that there are qualified people in these companies and they are just not being given an opportunity,” he said. “If you look at Barloworld as an example, it took Brian Molefe to go there and point out to them that they had a guy called Isaac Shongwe working there. This guy is an Oxford graduate and he had been working there for many years.”

Manyi was referring to an incident in 2007 when Public Investment Corporation boss Molefe challenged Barlo­world about their transformation record at their AGM.

Shongwe was then appointed as the new chief executive of Barloworld Logistics Africa and was appointed to the board of the group.

Manyi also said companies tended to restructure when they appointed black professionals to key positions, with the end result being that the powers associated with the black professional’s new position were watered down.

He said affirmative action would have to come to an end eventually, but this would only be possible when all race groups were represented equitably across corporate South Africa.