Black business in spat over whether Zuma should finish his term

Ndaba Ntsele, who heads the Black Business Council, is under fire for endorsing President Jacob Zuma. (Kevin Sutherland)

Ndaba Ntsele, who heads the Black Business Council, is under fire for endorsing President Jacob Zuma. (Kevin Sutherland)

The stance of the Black Business Council (BBC) that President Jacob Zuma should finish his term in office has divided the organisation, with two of its key affiliates accusing its office bearers of having taken a unilateral decision on the matter.

The Black Management Forum (BMF) and the Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBCBE) told the Mail & Guardian this week they have written to the confederation’s leaders, demanding clarity on its decision to support Zuma publicly without first canvassing the views of its 41 affiliates.

The BBC’s decision was sparked by AngloGold Ashanti chairperson Sipho Pityana urging business organisations to take a stand on the shortcomings of government leadership. Pityana believes Zuma should be removed,  saying he has failed the country as leader.

BBC president Ndaba Ntsele, a vocal Zuma supporter, said the president should finish his term because he had been elected democratically.

But not everybody in the BBC agrees. BBCBE secretary general Gregory Mofokeng said his organisation had requested a special council meeting with the BBC to discuss the matter, ideally before the BBC’s elective conference from September 26 to 29.
Zuma has been invited to deliver the keynote address at the event.

“We want to be taken on board on how the decision [to support Zuma] was arrived at. The BBC is a confederation. There is a particular manner in which decisions are taken [within the BBC]. It [the decision to support Zuma] was never discussed by [BBC] structures. Even ourselves [BBCBE], we don’t have a position on the matter,” said Mofokeng.

BMF president Mncane Mthunzi said the BBC’s public statement on Zuma took him and everyone in his organisation by surprise: “The [BMF] board recommended we find some clarity [on the BBC’s support for Zuma]. There was no discussion [by BBC structures]. The BMF’s view is that we have no business pronouncing on internal ANC matters. The ANC can engage on the matter. We know there are differing views within the ANC. We are not a political organisation. We have nothing to do with politics of any party. We have never pronounced on the IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party], the DA [Democratic Alliance] or the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] before. Why should we pronounce on the ANC?”

Speaking to the M&G this week, Pityana said: “Far from the unified leadership the BBC is trying to project, many black leaders and organisation are in disagreement.” The BBC’s utterance does not represent the position of black business but that of certain individuals, he said.

BBC chairperson George Sebulela said he was aware that the BMF had asked for a meeting to seek clarity on the Zuma matter. Although he said the BBC office bearers all had the right to convey its decisions publicly, he appeared to distance himself from the council’s pro-Zuma stance.

He said the meeting between the BBC and Zuma was private and that its primary objective was to discuss issues such as recapitalising the National Empowerment Fund and revising the treasury’s Jobs Fund.

“We discussed radical transformation. Any other position is not what I heard in the meeting,” said Sebulela.

He said the Zuma matter was for the ANC to deliberate on. “We will support any decision by the ANC. We are a business organisation. We have no business to discuss who must lead and who must not.”

Sebulela said he had yet to discuss the matter with Ntsele, who first pronounced the BBC’s support for Zuma in an interview with the Sunday Times last week.

“I have not had time to talk to the president [Ntsele]. We are having an office bearers’ meeting next week; maybe I will find time to talk to him there. As responsible leaders, we must be able to discuss that article [in the Sunday Times]. It is not the number one agenda but it will be part of the discussion. We can’t ignore concerns raised by our members. For the mere fact that we got so much attention, it makes sense that we must talk about it,” said Sebulela.

“One thing I’ve learned is that if you are in business you can’t ignore politics, but it does not mean you must be political. You want to ensure that the governing party creates an enabling environment for business to excel … [but] not be involved in politics,” said Sebulela, who is one of the business leaders tipped to replace Ntsele as BBC president.

Other frontrunners for the position are said to be the BBC vice-president responsible for organised business, Sandile Zungu, and BBC international head Danisa Baloyi. Zungu said he had not yet decided whether he would stand for any office.

The names of former BMF leader Jimmy Mzwanele Manyi and Mthunzi have been mentioned for the position of deputy president of the black business umbrella body.

Pityana this week described the BCC stance on Zuma as “self-serving”, saying the council was oblivious to the pain the president was inflicting on South Africa.


Pityana: Put the big freeze on government

ANC stalwart and prominent businessperson Sipho Pityana says one way that business can exert pressure on the government is by boycotting investor roadshows.

Pityana has been embroiled in a public spat with the Black Business Council after he issued a letter calling for business to take a stand on government leadership.

“In my letter I made a simple point that our country is facing a very serious crisis that is affecting it negatively. I said that, as business, we need to put our heads together to see what the best solution is,” he said.

Business, he suggested, could exert pressure by no longer accompanying government representatives to meetings with investors.

Government, business and labour presented a united front to investors during a roadshow led by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in March, which was credited with boosting investor confidence.

But, Pityana said, it was difficult for business to assure investors that problems are being addressed when that is not the case within the government.

“Everyone can see what is happening in South Africa. Business can say: ‘We don’t want to be part of this mockery any longer … We are not prepared to put our credibility on the line.’”

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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    • Lisa Steyn

      Lisa Steyn

      Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen.
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