Black business to consult on BMF move

2011-07-09 09:00

Black business organisations on Thursday said that they would start a two-month consultation process with their members to decide whether to follow the BMF lead in leaving Business Unity south Africa (Busa).

“Black business organisations agreed that the issues were not BMF specific and affected all of them as black business organisations,” said black business caucus chairperson Hlengani Mathebula.

Organised black business agrees that the voice of established white business dominates business advocacy grouping Busa, but is divided on whether walking out of the organisation is wise.

The Black Management Forum (BMF), led by radical transformation advocate and Cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi, this week announced it was walking out of Busa, citing a legion of grievances against the outfit (see sidebar).

Now the BMF plans to call for a black business summit next month in Limpopo.

Business analysts are concerned that a mass walkout by black organisations could hurt the country’s business image abroad.

Some black business organisations think that the BMF acted prematurely by withdrawing from Busa without consulting with them first.

There are 14 black business organisations that are currently affiliated to Busa.

Mxolisi Zwane, the president of the Foundation for African Businesses and Consumer Services (Fabcos), said: “BMF’s reason, that white interests are dominating Busa, are valid. The issue of transformation must be addressed properly and there needs to be openness if we want to see change.”

He said Fabcos has not considered withdrawing from Busa and the chamber’s council had yet to make a decision.
“I am not sure if we want to go alone and isolate ourselves. We will look at the pros and cons of whatever decision we take going forward,” said Zwane.

Lwazi Bam, the president of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants, said the association will discuss the BMF’s decision at a meeting on Tuesday.

Bam said: “We view this as a significant step which could have an impact that is wider than business organisations. We need to ensure that whatever decision we take has considered the broader impact on society.”

Motse Mfuleni, Black Information Technology Forum secretary-general, accused the BMF of “anointing itself as the representative of black business”.

He said: “It is very childish of the BMF to withdraw from Busa because it is a democratic organisation. Any organisation that wants to put its views across at Busa should lobby and persuade other bodies instead of just upping and leaving when things don’t go its way.

“What example is the BMF setting? Does this mean that black managers should leave companies if they think that their voices are not heard?”

Bafana Ndendwa, the chairman of the Black Business Caucus in the Built Environment, said the organisation has not discussed the issue.

“My view is that the BMF made an error of judgment by pulling out of Busa by itself before consulting with other black business and professional formations,” said Ndendwa.

He questioned the BMF’s motive for calling a conference for black business after the forum had left Busa. “Why did the BMF not call for this conference before withdrawing?”

Ndendwa, however, agreed with the BMF that established white business groups dominated Busa.

He said: “It is worrisome that Busa is being dominated by Business Leadership SA (BLSA). At the recent presentation on the growth plan Busa made at Nedlac, Busa was represented by the BLSA chairman and members Bobby Godsell, Nolitha Fakude and Lorraine Lotter, respectively.”

Lawrence Mavundla, National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) president, said the organisation will meet with the BMF to discuss the decision. Nafcoc is also no longer a member of Busa.

The BMF and Busa have been at loggerheads over the appointment of the organisation’s chief executive to replace Jerry Vilakazi, after he left in May.

Describing the relation between Busa and Nafcoc as cordial, Mavundla said the chamber had pulled out of Busa in 2009 as it thought the organisation was suppressing their views.

Nafcoc and the BMF were the founding members of Busa and the chamber would try to persuade the BMF to fight to regain control of Busa.

Professor Owen Skae, the director of Rhodes Business School, said: “This is very concerning and the consequences are not to be underestimated.

“Some people felt that through good dialogue and discussion, the BMF’s concerns could be resolved.

“Does this mean that other parties will follow suit? That is certainly on the cards.

“There is a general concern that the BMF walkout will lead to the politicisation of business and that, in turn, will mean that the economic agenda is adversely impacted, as pockets of voices appear.

“These voices will ultimately serve localised interests, maybe along racial lines, rather than addressing together how to redress wealth imbalances, the skills shortage, entrepreneurship and ultimately raising our overall levels of competitiveness,” said Skae.

Brett Cousins, chief executive of business school Regenesys, said that the BMF’s resignation was a step backwards for the country.

“SA is promoting itself as a First World country but the split is sending out a message that white and black business cannot work together, just as in apartheid days,” he said.

Cousins added the split would leave both the BMF and Busa worse off because the organisations needed each other.

“The BMF drives transformation for black professionals and business, while the government mainly listens to Busa on business matters,” he said, adding that the organisations were mutually dependant.

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