Every organisation of consequence has in its history key moments that were shaped and influenced by individuals. During July and August, the black business community celebrates the lives and contributions of two men, the “Black Management Forum Twins” who had an enormous impact on the economy and people.
Don Mkhwanazi and Lot Ndlovu earned “The BMF Twins” moniker from a speech that was delivered in Durban a few years ago by former BMF deputy-president Cecilia Khuzwayo when she described their contribution to the organisation and, indeed, the country. She argued that these two had left an indelible mark through their twin characters, their thinking and views on the future. They were always adequately prepared for meetings, causing leaders and members to think deeply about the direction and influence of the BMF.
As an aside, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that their ascension to leadership in the BMF was because of positive support by the late Sebolelo Mohajane, who thrust them to lead and encouraged them to drive the organisation’s agenda forward. The BMF has always had powerful women whose contribution is seen through others!
Two sides of the same coin
Affectionately known as “Bra Don” and “Bra Lot”, together they took the organisation to task in the mid to late 1980s and argued that it needed to respond to the sociopolitical environment, because the BMF, by its very existence, was a creation of that same environment. They persuaded the organisation to take a clear stand against the apartheid state and begin an onslaught against corporate racism. With their peers they articulated political views under the cloak of corporate colours, mesmerising business with their unwavering thoughts and convictions.
The South African business and leadership landscape had created fertile conditions for the advent of black resistance through black lobby groups. This resistance was a deliberate attempt to drive economic transformation so that economic freedom plus political freedom would equate to total liberation. Along with Dr Reuel Khoza, they were inspired by the leadership of Frederick Douglass and how black thinkers in the United States responded to suppression.
In the words of Khoza: “Lot Ndlovu is St Paul of the BMF cause and Black Economic Empowerment, and Don Mkhwanazi is St Peter of the BMF cause and Black Economic Empowerment.” This statement, of biblical proportions, sums up the esteem in which they were held for their significant contribution made to South Africa. In 1994, under the leadership of Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, the men received special awards from the BMF for their outstanding role in the pursuit of economic transformation. President Cyril Ramaphosa, posthumously, awarded them the Order of the Baobab in Silver, for their role in economic transformation in South Africa. The twins, therefore, are official South African icons.
Even in their passing, they remain together on the BMF yearly calendar. In July the organisation hosts the annual Don Mkhwanazi Lecture and in August it hosts the Annual Lot Ndlovu Lecture.
As we have entered this season of remembrance, we must reflect on their legacy and contribution, and carve out our collective purpose for this time.
It is therefore incumbent on us to ask, what would The Twins say about the state of transformation today? What would they do in response to the growing trust deficit between the government and the people? What would they say about the dearth of leadership in the country?
They would probably warn against transformation fatigue, where the battle to overhaul the economic system gives way to “natural selection”. They would speak clearly and directly about the lack of commitment by the private sector to drive transformation as a strategic board imperative, where the survival of the economy depends on it. They would challenge the government to strengthen its resolve and political will to implement and resource the transformation project. They would clearly outline that transformation is not the rearranging of tables and chairs on the ship, but rather the rebuilding of the ship. And that transformation is a system itself, not intended to be grafted onto an existing one, but uprooting old order thinking. In other words, transformation ought to be the core business of government and business, where the thinking from top leadership is driven by transformation imperatives. They would also desire for all black lobby groups to realign their mandates and resources, to refresh the thinking of what is needed in this time. They would clearly articulate the need to focus on creating a critical mass of managers and leaders, and a critical mass of black owners in the economy.
The work of growing the economy and creating a new society still eludes us. Mkhwanazi and Ndlovu have set a high standard for leadership and commitment, our duty is to use them as mirrors of continuous reflection in our time. They shine among other bright stars such as Eric Mafuna, Martin Sebesho, Don Ncube, George Negota, Wiseman Nkuhlu, Reuel Khoza and many others of their generation.
As we celebrate them for the next two months, we take a leaf out of their book that black managers and leaders can build successful businesses and create an environment that is suitable for the growth and development of our people.