BMF walkout from Busa 'personal'

Jimmy Manyi, the government spokesperson and Black Management Forum (BMF) president, is staying well clear of the public row over the BMF’s withdrawal from Business Unity South Africa (Busa).

But his personal battle with one of the candidates for the position of Busa chief executive and his anger over Busa’s rejection of the controversial labour market laws he championed appear to be at the heart of the fight.

Three senior black business figures who have direct knowledge of the manoeuvring that led up to the BMF walkout told the Mail & Guardian that Manyi wanted to ensure that Busa vice-president Mthunzi Mdwaba would not get the top Busa job.

The BMF said that the vice-presidents of Busa were involved in drawing up the specifications for the vacant chief executive position and, therefore, for them to run as candidates was a conflict of interests.

But sources close to Mdwaba said that Manyi was waging a “personal vendetta” against Mdwaba to prevent him from becoming chief executive.

The BMF would not comment on the allegation, but a 10-page press statement explaining its withdrawal bore it out.

“Black business also argues that it is undesirable and bad practice for vice-presidents, who for all intents and purposes are superior to the CEO, to make themselves available for the CEO position,” the statement said.

Mdwaba is the only Busa vice-president known to have thrown his hat into the ring for the position and is one of 22 candidates for the job.

According to the three sources with detailed knowledge of the dispute between the BMF and Busa, the “personal vendetta” was central to the BMF’s withdrawal from Busa.

In favour of the regulation
Another major sticking point, according to them, was that the organisation favoured the regulation, rather than an outright ban, of labour brokers.

The move to ban them is part of the labour amendments drafted while Manyi was the director general of the labour department.

But some Busa member organisations said that Busa was not guilt-free and that it had ignored calls by some of its black business members to call a meeting to discuss what they viewed as flaws in the appointment process of the chief executive.

They said that Mdwaba was in­volved in drawing up the requirements for the vacant position and that that made his candidacy problematic.

Some of them also felt that it was “unfortunate” that the BMF had acted on its own by withdrawing from Busa and said that the BMF, one of 61 member organisations, could not demand the exclusive right to nominate candidates for the chief executive’s position.

The dispute boiled over at a BMF board meeting on June 25, where it was decided to withdraw from Busa.

The BMF’s statement detailed its reasons for withdrawing, which revolved around the voice of black business being “outnumbered and suppressed” in Busa.

“Over the years, it has become evident that, indeed, there was no shared agenda on transformation,” the statement said, and singled out Busa’s position on labour amendments and the process for the appointment of the chief executive as problematic.

‘Unfortunate withdrawal’
Bheki Sibiya, the chief executive of the Chamber of Mines and a former Busa chief executive, said this week that, although Mdwaba had been involved in drawing up the requirements for the position, it did not give him any particular advantage.

Sibiya said the “arrogance” of BMF’s demands and subsequent withdrawal were unfortunate, but the BMF represented less than 5% of Busa’s membership and financial contribution so it was not a crisis.

Sibiya said Busa still had to get council approval for its choice of candidate for chief executive.

“We are not going to just rubber-stamp any appointment,” he said. “We are not going to accept an inappropriate candidate.”

On labour law reform, Sibiya said that the BMF had not applied its mind properly.

“Busa supports regulation of labour brokers, not a ban,” he said. “We need flexibility and labour brokers bring flexibility.”

A senior leader of Busa, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said that, since Mdwaba beat Manyi for the Busa vice-president position several years ago, there had been rivalry between the two. Manyi had tried to get Mdwaba disqualified from that race too, and had also threatened to withdraw BMF from Busa after he lost the race for vice-president.

Mdwaba also replaced Manyi as president of the Confederation of Black Business Organisations. Manyi had been asked to step down because of a conflict of interests with his job in government.

The source said the BMF had first tried to rule Mdwaba out of the running for Busa chief executive by arguing that a woman should fill the vacancy.

“When that suggestion was dismissed, it came up with the conflict due to the drafting of specifications argument.”

Contested terrain
Another of Busa’s senior leaders who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity said that the BMF had jumped the gun and was acting as if Mdwaba already had the job, when he was only one of the candidates.

“Why does it assume that this job is Mthunzi’s?” asked the source.

Hlengani Mathebula, the chairman of the Black Business Caucus and the Black Business Executive Circle (BBEC) said that Busa had been contested terrain since 2003.

The caucus was expected to convene an urgent meeting later this week to discuss the dispute.

Mathebula said it was unfortunate that the BMF had pulled out of Busa but Busa was in that position because if its own making. “Two months have gone by since we said to Busa, ‘We as black business want to talk to you’, and it still hasn’t called a meeting.”

Mathebula said that describing the matter as a personal issue between Mthunzi and Manyi was problematic. The BBEC was not objecting to any of the candidates but to the procedure for recruiting a new chief executive.

This week, Busa put out a statement that said it was “unfortunate and unnecessary that the BMF decided to withdraw from Busa and that it remained open to all constituents, including the BMF”.

The M&G contacted Manyi by phone this week but he said he was out of the country and referred the newspaper to the deputy president of the BMF, Tembakazi Mnyaka.

Asked about the relationship between Manyi and Mdwaba, Mnyaka said that it had nothing to do with the BMF’s withdrawal from Busa.

Mdwaba said he did not want to become involved in any damaging exchange but would rather allow his credentials to speak for themselves.

“Should Busa selectors think I am a suitable candidate to lead Busa for the next few years, I have no doubt in my mind that I will do the business community, both black and white, proud,” he said.

Lloyd Gedye

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