Black business organisations had not turned their backs completely on Business Unity South Africa (Busa) and were willing to remain part of it if it met their demands, spokesperson for the newly formed Black Business Council (BBC) Sandile Zungu said on Thursday.
Organisations under the Confederation of Black Business Organisations decided to suspend their membership of Busa at a black business summit in Johannesburg this week. The hive-off and launch of the BBC appeared to fly in the face of President Jacob Zuma’s call in a speech at the conference for business unity.
The Black Management Forum (BMF) withdrew from Busa two months ago, citing lack of transformation.
Zungu said the BBC would serve as a platform for black business people to organise and strengthen themselves to participate in Busa from a position of greater power. The BBC had not defied Zuma’s call, he said. In fact, leaders of black business organisations had met him immediately after the BMF pulled out of Busa to explain the move.
“He [Zuma] made it very clear to us that unity of business is of paramount importance to his administration and the people of South Africa. We are clear that our unity as black business should not be at the expense of business unity,” Zungu said.
But it was important to strengthen black business. “Weak black business means weak business and a poor quality of dialogue on the economic front. We are saying strengthen black business so that it contributes well to organised business. Our responsibility must go beyond making rands and cents.”
It is widely believed that the BMF influenced the business organisations’ decision to suspend their membership of Busa. But Zungu defended the BMF, saying “they played a pivotal role in taking us to this position. But black business is independent. We were definitely not forced into this position.”
The seemingly strained relations between Busa and the government on policy matters also contributed to the stance of black business groupings.
“The level of trust between Busa and other social organisations and government is not at an optimal level,” Zungu said. “The way it has responded to the government’s policy initiatives caused a lot of disquiet.”
In particular, Busa’s branding of proposed labour reforms as “the antithesis to employment creation” did not go down well with organised black business.
Tembakazi Mnyaka, BMF deputy president, said that the forum felt “vindicated” by the organisations’ decision to pressurise Busa to transform. “You saw how unity worked well when black business rallied around the BMF when we pulled out of Busa. When it was just the BMF doing that, Busa thought they could walk all over us,” she said.
Busa’s chief executive officer, Nomaxabiso Majokweni, said the organisation was prepared to engage black business on the issues raised around “economic transformation, business unity and the functioning of Busa as a whole”.