South Africa needs more black corporate guerillas

Corporate transformation in South Africa remains one of the greatest challenges in unlocking the true potential of our human capital and economy. Business is central to sustaining society and at the heart of business is management control. The Black Management Forum has been focused on developing and advocating for the creation of a critical mass of black managers and leaders who will use their talent to lead complex business environments and strive for economic inclusion that can lead to economic growth.

Corporate guerrillas 

The Black Management Forum has been a home to many progressive ideas and concepts, and corporate guerrillas is but another concept that was coined by the late Don Mkhwanazi. This concept was a response to the sociopolitical discourse on the role of black managers in the struggle for political freedom. Raging debates went on to ascertain whether black managers were indeed struggling for the emancipation of black people and how the relationship between black managers, black workers and white leaders intersected. 

Black managers were seen as sellouts who represent their white bosses, but unknown to them was the abuse suffered under white leadership in business. Among some workplace atrocities, white bosses would force black managers to behave like tea ladies and endeavour to break their confidence. 

Corporate guerrillas are black managers and leaders who drive the agenda of corporate or workplace transformation and struggle for the use of black talent in business. 

Key issues

The Commission for Employment Equity has released its 21st report, which again highlights the statistics on progress in equitable movement in the workplace. This year’s report is no different in its findings, where we continue to see the presence of white men still dominating top echelons of leadership. White people have 64.7%, 52.5%, 32.1% and 17.6%, in the top, senior, middle and junior management levels, respectively. African people have 15.8%, 24.7%, 46.7% and 63.7%, in the top, senior, middle and junior management levels, respectively. In the senior and top management levels African people remain grossly under-represented and under-used. There is some presence from junior to middle management levels for African people, though not where it needs to be. But the report has deeper issues that need to be brought to book.

The report also highlights that white and Indian people in the senior and top management levels are geared up for success through promotion, recruitment and training. This mindset of setting up whites and Indian people for success is unacceptable and continues to hinder the advancement of African people in leadership in business. This also is the remnant of old order thinking that was dominant in the 1980s that African people cannot be entrusted with key positions of responsibility in business. 

Third, the report highlights that the situation in the private sector is more dire. African people at junior, middle, senior and top management levels have 54.5%, 21.4%, 18% and 12.7% representation, respectively. African people remain outside of key management levels in the private sector forcing them to move to other business types in the top four management levels. The private sector is the core of the economy having the ability to produce more that 70% of all GDP, therefore, these numbers clearly expose the lack of corporate transformation and the entrenchment of white leadership. 

Fourth, the report highlights that the department of employment and labour together with the Commission for Employment Equity have been working with different sectors about setting sector targets for employment equity. The consultations form part of the Employment Equity Amendment Bill, which is suggesting that the minister should be given powers to set sector targets and promulgate section 53 of the Act, which will allow the government to issue a certificate of compliance. It is critical for all black lobby groups to support these two key suggestions and be as bold as the corporate guerrillas of the 1980s in advocating for them to be enacted by parliament. In addition to this, businesses should score higher on the broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecard for management control. Currently, management control is not part of the top three priorities of B-BBEE, which are ownership, skills development and enterprise and supplier development. Skills development affects management control directly, but management control has not been given prominence, yet management control is the heart of business.         

Conclusion

The business landscape needs more corporate guerrillas who will stand firm for the development and advancement of African people in business and who will articulate their views on the lack of African leadership development, and create space for this talent to emerge and shine. Through the Employment Equity Amendment Bill transformation can be radically advanced, but apart from the legislation amendments, the power of corporate guerrillas remains in the hands of individual African leaders and all the black lobby groups. No business will survive if they do not transform, and this lack of meaningful transformation will undermine our democratic order

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Monde Ndlovu
Monde Ndlovu is head of advocacy and thought leadership at the Black Management Forum

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