Bheki Sibiya, the founding CEO of Business Unity SA (BUSA) had this to say about the organisation when we visited with him towards the end of 2011: “I am in serious pains because I understand the purpose of its formation. We now wonder about whether we as a chamber should continue supporting it. As a country though we are better off with a floundering BUSA than not having one at all. Somewhere along the line organized business got it wrong. We have to fix it!” It is now more than a year later and the question begs: “Has Nomaxabiso Majokweni the current BUSA CEO fixed it?”
Her task is a difficult one indeed. How does one create unity amongst the business community where diversity of aspirations reigns supreme; where agendas are still heavily biased towards and influenced by our racially divided past; where, considering the bigger picture, business is constantly on the back foot as far as the tripartheid relationship between government, labour and business is concerned?
Majokweni took over as leader of BUSA in 2011 during the dramatic event where some of black business representation, including BMF, split off from its ranks because of disillusionment that clearly hinged on the issue of race. So the scene was set for a rough ride.
Does she have the experience and attributes to “fix” things? She has extensive government background, an important partner to business. As Department for Trade and Industries Trade attaché in the USA, she learnt about the thinking of government regarding policy making, trade and investment, relationships with WTO, UN and much more. She served in this position during the period when SA re-entered the global community from 1996 to 2002. She also had to visit with large business overseas to “move them from knowing nothing about SA, generally, let alone as a business destination, to wanting to investigate possibilities”, she says. So she may have worked for government but rubbed shoulders with business and what drives investment and different industries. She was also the COO of Blue IQ where she acquired the skill to manage stakeholder relations, during projects like Gautrain. Managing stakeholder relations is a handy skill to have in her current role. So on face value she seems to have been prepared for the task at hand.
As far as the purpose of the formation of BUSA is concerned, which Sibiya refers to, Majokweni is of the view that they are not at one regarding this, which is of course a critical starting point and plays to the dramatic division in 2011. The formation of such an organisation should be “about bringing business together for a stronger and non-fragmented voice on cross-cutting business macro issues” believes Majokweni. But, perhaps, at the heart of the divisions in 2011 lay a belief that the purpose of BUSA’s formation was merely to bring black and white business together, as seen by representation and structures at the time. This belief and legacy was carried on, probably unintentionally so is Majokweni’s view.
In walks the new CEO with a desire and vision for a BUSA “that will be dynamic enough to represent business in SA, the basis of its vision to not revolve around black business and white business.” This has been her mantra. The larger picture and vision is therefore for BUSA to contribute towards the economic transformation of SA. The smaller picture is the racial issues from the past. As she explains: “In this process we will work on the black and white issues, but that is not why we are there.”
With this approach the structures can follow in that there need not be any window dressing as far as positions are concerned, for example. BUSA is now managing to work with the Black Business Council (BBC) on issues, although they remain two separate entities and the relationship may at times threaten to pull BUSA back to the ‘smaller’ picture.
She believes the kinds of leaders we need in SA are individuals that “have the maturity to rise above their subjective influences and interests to look at the interests of SA.” It seems a shortage of this attitude may be hampering the efficacy of NEDLAC, which should still be an important platform where “government comes together with organised business, organised labour and organised community groupings on a national level to discuss and try to reach consensus on issues of social and economic policy” (NEDLAC site).
Many of the conversations are one sided in that it is about something business should or should not implement, yet labour is able to poke holes at concepts, like for example youth employment. Majokweni explains: “Take youth employment. Labour is not going to employ youth, so the debate becomes one sided in that business does the employing. Even when we talk about what needs to be in place for business to expand and absorb employment, you just have to do it. The discussion just goes nowhere.”
She believes in NEDLAC business is at a disadvantage with Cosatu and ANC (which is government), being in a tripartheid relationship to start with. This positions business on the back foot and means they are the odd one out seeing as some of the main issues would already have been discussed between labour and government in other forums. Of course the situation places a burden on business to be even more united and confident in order to balance the input, influence and outcomes.
Majokweni understands that the agendas of partners are different, but she also believes that for some reason there does not seem to be a clear and higher, national vision that matters more to stakeholders than their own interests. And our past seem to have entrenched in our belief system that labour was the oppressed and business the oppressor, and this is not necessarily changing fast enough. To complicate it all, there are of course egos involved that seem to hijack so many worthwhile agendas. She believes:
“We need to move to that space where we are excited about and make things work for South Africa.”
It appears that for NEDLAC and even BUSA to remain and become more relevant and effective the bigger picture mentality needs to be revived or even introduced. And is this not what the National Development Plan (NDP) is about?
Ellis Mnyandu the Editor of this paper visited Turkey recently and met with an organisation that is the equivalent of BUSA there. There was no polarisation within their ranks and on the back of their unity they are formulating a proactive and energetic agenda that really makes a difference. While here in SA we continue to be marred by our past and slowed down by a preoccupation with race issues.
The picture Majokweni paints is a bleak one, but she is willing to tell it as it is so that the reality becomes clear and stakeholders do less of what creates the bleak picture. Of course other red flags do not assist, like the recent trade data indicating a huge trade deficit of 25 billion. It seems we cannot continue with business as usual if we want to turn things around. Perhaps something drastic has to change if we want the economy to function better.
What is BUSA doing to improve this picture? Over and above the constant struggle against obstacles to effective movement forward, there is good happening and even some progress on projects like enterprise development and investing in education. The aim is also to be more proactively involved in influencing policy formulation through creative ideas and even challenging some approaches. BUSA recently met with the President and his Cabinet in which they were asked to identify constraints to growth. But BUSA’s approach will also be to proactively propose solutions that businesses are prepared to implement towards the activation of the NDP. Majokweni has already received a number of proposals from business on what they can and want to do in this regard.
BUSA also has key priority programmes that attempts to gear itself towards core needs in SA, like for example manufacturing, tourism, mining and other economic development programmes.
BRICS will be in SA soon and so will business representatives from the four countries. At this forum it is crucial that Business SA present a united front, as will other countries. As Majokweni says: “This thing of having more than one business organisation is not unique to SA, but when they conquer the world they set aside their differences and look at such opportunities from a united platform.” To achieve this in SA remains very challenging.
Majokweni hopes that her legacy will be that she changed the focus of organised business to one that is premised on growing business, with a united front that contributes towards the economic transformation of SA. In other words the focus is for the country rather than small individual interests. She adds: “A second thing I would want to be remembered for is that business became an equal partner at NEDLAC, that we lifted the profile of business to that level.”
The short answer to my earlier question of whether Nomaxabiso Majokweni has fixed BUSA is of course ‘no, not yet’. While there seems to be some movement in the right direction, urgency levels will have to pick up exponentially if the challenges our society faces are to be matched. And somehow the passion for SA’s future and the big picture, even the NDP will have to take centre stage if a vision of an economic transformation is going to be realised.
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