Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) was launched in October 2003 where Black Business Council, a body representing virtually all Black Business Groupings and Business South Africa its counter-part representing established (white) business ceased to exist to give effect to a united business formation, BUSA.
BUSA was meant to be an organisation representing the interest of businesses, business people, employers and professional persons in South Africa. The BMF in particular was so committed to this process that it deployed its former President Bheki Sibiya to be the 1st CEO of BUSA. BMF populated the various committees and made lots of input and pronouncements among opposing voices to seek to achieve unity.
In order to maintain the momentum of unity the BMF again deployed the 2nd CEO Jerry Vilakazi. Sadly after all these attempts BUSA refuses to embrace Transformation.
BUSA has dismally failed to work towards its vision which states thus “BUSA aims to be a unified and fully representative organisation that contributes to a vibrant transforming and growing economy in South Africa”.
The contention of this paper is that all that has happened in the past seven years since the formation of BUSA has been the entrenching of established (white) businesses with the “permission” and legitimisation by black business. All attempts to raise the voice of black business have been thwarted.
BUSA FAILED TO ACHIEVE ITS STATED OBJECTIVES
To date BUSA does not have anything to show for its commitment or demonstrable track record towards the achievement of the stated BUSA Transformation objectives some of which are listed below:
a) promoting broad- based black economic empowerment by:
i. designing strategies and programmes aimed and broad based black economic empowerment, having regard to existing report studies and initiatives – FAILED
ii. engaging Government, corporate South Africa and other stakeholders on issues of broad-based Black Economic Empowerment; – FAILED
iii. influencing appropriate legislation to create an enabling environment; -FAILED
iv. promoting transformation both within organised business, as well as at enterprise level; – FAILED
b) advancing and promoting initiatives aimed at job creation and the alleviation of poverty; – FAILED
This paper contends that in fact BUSA has worked directly against its own stated objectives and has become the biggest stumbling block on a whole range of transformation issues. Some of the embarrassing positions on transformation issues by BUSA include the following: 2
1. LABOUR LAW REFORMS
Contained in these reforms are specific corrective measures to advance the aims and objectives of the Employment Equity Act which principally seeks to achieve equitable representation across all levels.
The fervent opposition of these amendments by BUSA can only mean that BUSA is happy with the disproportionate and over representation of white managers in the top echelons of organisations in the country.
Opposition by BUSA to amendments of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act where the amendments seek to criminalise the transgression of the law is worrisome given the abusive apartheid past that we come from, that these reforms seek to eradicate.
The continued BUSA support of the current dispensation of labour brokers which have a documented track record of extreme labour abuses has tested the soul of black business to the limit. Black Executives representing formations of the historically disadvantaged find themselves in untenable situations of being part of an organisation that seeks to protect and promote oppressive and exploitative practices against their own relatives and communities where they come from. The soul of black business can never co-exist with the exploitative practices of the labour brokers.
2. PROCUREMENT POLICY
Whereas black business notes the attempts by the government to align Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act (PPPFA) and BBBEE Codes of Good Practice, black business still calls for the total eradication of the PPPFA because even in the alignment framework, BBBEE has simply been co-opted into a fundamentally flawed PPPFA Framework. Inputs by black business into BUSA on this important matter are not evident in the final position of BUSA. Again this begs the question on the value that BUSA attaches to inputs by black business.
3. WELL-RESOURCED ESTABLISHED “WHITE BUSINESS” CONTINUE TO DICTATE POLICY IN BUSA
This paper argues very strongly that the modus operandi in BUSA favours the well-resourced yet untransformed established white businesses to dictate policy direction in BUSA. The practice is that policy papers crafted by established business indeed get circulated to all member organisations including black business.
However, if the truth be told the lack of capacity by black business simply means that whatever discussion paper is circulated gets confirmed with little or no alteration by black business. Whereas established business has dedicated researchers, analysts and economists dedicated to BUSA business matters, black business on the other hand does not have such.
BUSA keeps making empty promises about capacitating black business but these promises are simply just lip service and to date have not yielded any tangible outcome. The direct involvement of black business people in their enterprises leaves them without any additional capacity to attend the numerous BUSA meetings which come thick and fast. Similarly, some of the black executives and managers from black business constituencies who are not in corporate affairs or similar roles do not get released by the same established business where they work to provide representation of black business constituencies of BUSA.
Bosses in the established white business fail to appreciate the socio economic role that some of the black managers not in corporate affairs need to play in places like BUSA. Once again BUSA dismally failed to persuade its member organisation to provide this necessary support so that at least the employed managers can represent black business interests during working hours.
Even a simple accommodation of having evening meetings to accommodate black business could not be acceded to, resulting in poor attendance by black business in day meetings.
4. SUPPRESSION OF BLACK BUSINESS VIEWS IN NEDLAC
Another disconcerting matter has been the blatant disregard of the voice of black business by BUSA in Nedlac.
If one were to draw a parallel that the labour movement in Nedlac is not monolithic in that whereas it is united as labour but the various nuances of COSATU, NACTU and FEDUSA are accommodated. Similarly with government the nuances from National Treasury, Department of Labour etc. are also accommodated. However, it is only BUSA that pretends that business is a homogeneous and monolithic voice.
The tragedy of this artificial “united voice of businesses” is that an important constituency comprised of black professionals (professional firms, managers and young professionals) and small to medium size business (traditional NAFCOC constituency) is totally blacked out. This marginalisation of the black business voice is often carried out in a formal way where the views are normally relegated to something called a minority report. This is no different from a board member who registers his/her dissent formally but is still bound by the decision of the board. Black business runs a risk of being appropriately labelled as “sell-outs” for continuing to tolerate this situation.
5. STRUCTURAL DISEMPOWERMENT OF BLACK BUSINESS AND WINDOW DRESSING
If transformation was simply measured by bean counting of number of black people at the top echelons of organisations then indeed many organisations in South Africa BUSA included would claim to be transformed. This paper warns against such a simplistic approach. Yes indeed, we do want to see more black faces but fundamentally the structure and the manner in which things are done must reflect a mind-set different from what the apartheid regime visited on the people of this country.
The President of BUSA is black african and a woman nogal;
Of the four Vice Presidents, three are black and fifty percent women. So to the uninitiated BUSA can make a claim that it is transformed based on the black leadership as listed above. The truth of the matter though is that the 4 “blocks that the Vice Presidents lead are made up as follows;
The unisectoral block (34 member organisations) under the leadership of Vice President Mthunzi Mdwaba is 99.9% white with only one black organisation, (Nafu).
The chamber block (6 chambers) under the leadership of Vice President Ms V Klein is about 80% white with the virtual absence of NAFCOC and FABCOS in BUSA the whiteness rises close to 100%.
The corporate sector block (one rep) under the leadership of Vice President Michael Spicer whose constituency is the top fifty listed entities is overwhelmingly white as everyone knows.
The professional block (9 organisations) under the leadership of Vice President Brenda Madumise is where structures like BMF, BLA, ABASA, SABTACO, BBEC, ABSIP etc. reside, is the only real black block.
The picture depicted above paints a fundamental flaw in the structuring of BUSA in that in BUSA AGM, the nine or so organisations supposedly representing the black voice which are sometimes not always united on an issue have to contend with more than 40 established white organisations who are generally always united against transformation and sometimes assisted by some black organisations.
So even in your best day where all black member organisations are in good standing and are unanimous on an issue they could NEVER win any democratic voting and in fact when this unfair dispensation is protested it is seen as being spoiler or sour grapes etc.
To add salt into the injury, a cursory look at the four main standing committees of BUSA the picture below emerges
Social policy committee (SOCPOL) where largely all labour law related matters are discussed this committee is chaired by a white person Dr Elize Strydom
Trade policy (TRADEPOL) this is the committee that deals with various bilateral trade matters with other countries is chaired by a white person Ms Angela Dick
Economic policy (ECONPOL) this is the committee that deals with a whole range of economic policy positions is chaired by a white person Mr Dennis Dykes
Transformation policy (TRANSPOL) this is the committee that deals with largely BBBEE is chaired by a black person Mr Sandile Zungu
All Chairpersons of standing committees are automatic members in the BUSA MANCO. This means the voice of the supposedly black majority Vice Presidents is now neutralised by these three white standing committee chairs. The net effect of all of this is that at a cosmetic level BUSA appears black but at a substantive level BUSA is lily white and continues to resist transformation. At this point we must thank the forthright and strategic leadership that Patrice Motsepe provided with the support from Jerry Vilakazi for sustaining this patient from collapsing in the ICU.
6. THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK
The picture painted above is what black business has been enduring over the years and seeking to transform BUSA throughout this period. The approach that black business took in the beginning was that ‘let’s not throw stones from outside, let’s get in and be part of the solution”. Clearly transforming BUSA from within has failed with organisations such as NAFCOC already operating on their own outside the BUSA fold.
The recent disconnect between BUSA and black business over the appointment process of the CEO clearly demonstrated the BUSA arrogance and total disregard of the black voice. Black business have argued that it is unethical and a violation of Governance for a person to be intricately involved in drawing up job specs and later make himself available for the same job. Furthermore, black business also argues that it is undesirable and a bad practice for Vice Presidents who for all intends and purposes are superiors to the CEO position to make themselves available for the CEO position.
The argument here is that if this was to be allowed it must be preceded by a cooling off period so that Vice President don’t get tempted to make the life of the CEO miserable simply because they are targeting his/her job. A request by black business to raise this matter in a council meeting has been reneged on by the BUSA leadership and instead BUSA steamed through with the appointment process to the total mal-alignment of black business. Once again BUSA has reminded black business that its voice doesn’t matter.
7. REVERSAL OF GAINS IN STRATEGIC POSITIONING
The Black Business Council, BBC used to be a body that government used to consult because of the constituency that this body represented. With the formation of BUSA the black business voice has now been suffocated under the umbrella of BUSA. As intended beneficiaries of BEE why it is that government can pronounce the review of BEE codes without the discussion with black business.
The answer is simple; government accepts that when they have spoken to BUSA they have spoken to all. Can you blame them?
On the other hand, the white farmers have continued to organise themselves as a key strategic stakeholder on land and agricultural matters despite the fact that there is the so called business unity.
Before the formation of BUSA structured like NAFCOC and FABCOS had a direct representation in Nedlac as part of the business constituency.
On specialised matters like Employment Equity Act, the BMF was accorded a special status because of its depth in understanding of the subject matter and also because of the constituency that it represents. Today the voice of all the black business structures is totally absent at Nedlac.
Participation of black business in BUSA was an exercise not for political correctness but rather a constructive platform to bring about inclusivity in the influence of policy direction. The BMF has done all in its power to raise these matters very sharply with the leadership of BUSA over the years but sadly this plea continues to fall on deaf ears.
This paper contends that the seven years of black business participation in BUSA has played a significant role in legitimising largely reactionary positions of BUSA. This situation has now become untenable as we do our soul searching. Attempts to transform BUSA from within have failed dismally. The time has come for plan B to be activated. Black business cannot continue to fool South Africa and participate in a mirage that is not genuine. It is against its background that BMF board meeting of 25 June 2011 with the powers vested in it by the BMF Constitution took a decision to withdraw its participation from BUSA.
The BMF board strongly believe that the peculiarities of black business in general and black professionals in particular still need a dedicated attention and articulation outside the over engulfing and untransformed BUSA environment.
At this point the parable of a seed sower becomes useful where it is said that until the environment is fertile and nurturing the seed will die. The BMF must jump out before it loses its brand as a vanguard of transformation.
The board resolved that provincial chairs should share this information with the members prior to a public announcement which should happen no later than end of July 2011. In addition, this information must also be shared with the rest of the Black Business fraternity.
9. KEY MESSAGE
a. BUSA has failed to unite business in the country- Black business continues to be marginalised and not integrated and mainstreamed into the economy.
b. BUSA has failed to make an impact on its own transformation objectives and in fact it could be argued it has been working against them.
c. Participation by black business in BUSA resulted in unintended consequences of reversal of the transformation gains.
d. The so called business unity in the form of BUSA is a fake
e. Transforming BUSA from within has been tried and has failed spectacularly.
f. Black Business must re-constitute itself to benefit its constituency until conditions are met for a meaningful unity.
Issued by the BMF, July 4 2011