Mabuza takes Busa top job

2012-07-28 10:25

The new president of Business Unity South Africa is well aware of the challenges he faces, including healing the Black Business Council rift

Jabu Mabuza, the new Business Unity South Africa (Busa) president, says many of the congratulatory messages he has received since his election to head the business association have come with the rider
“good luck”.

It is easy to see why. Being Busa president is as prestigious as it is tough, to say nothing about it being “only” a two-year term.

The ballot box had hardly been put away when the election of Mabuza’s predecessor, Futhi Mthoba, was declared by mainly black business and professional associations as a blow to transformation.

During Mthoba’s tenure, Busa endured public infighting and accusations that the organisation was indifferent to the particular needs of black business organisations.

Divisions also arose over the process of appointing its chief executive.

The acrimony culminated in most historically black constituent formations quitting Busa to set up the Black Business Council (BBC).

Enter Jabu Mabuza, the former taxi driver who rose to become a renowned activist in the interests of black business through the Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services and the South African Black Taxis Association during and after apartheid, and chief executive of the hotel and gaming company Tsogo Sun.

This background explains why Mabuza sees no dichotomy between the existence of the BBC and having a united business front.

Some commentators and business personalities saw the BBC walkout as detrimental to efforts to entrench business unity between the established, mainly white, and emerging, mainly black, entrepreneurs.

“I cannot wish the topic away. If anything they (BBC) remind us about where we should be,” he says.

He says there can be no denying there are matters peculiar to black business and that only a black business organisation can articulate them.

“You could say the same thing about the Chamber of Mines,” he says.

He does, however, believe that when it comes to other issues affecting business in general, business must stand together and together pay attention to issues that affect business in general, while recognising the historical realities and peculiarities that make formations like the BBC inevitable.

One of the first orders of business for him, he says, would be to define whether “this organisation is about business, or about unity of business and whether it is about, or just in, South Africa”.

He says: “There is a big difference here. If it is about South Africa we need to ask if we are properly located in our South Africanness and whether we own South Africa’s assets and liabilities.

“Business must play its role in articulating what issues and challenges need to be tackled and along with civil society and government find a way of addressing them.

“All of us must assume our responsibilities.”

Mabuza says Busa and black business organisations have an important role in helping to continuously define what empowerment means.

This includes presenting a united front on how economic empowerment is defined and practised, and what business says at multilateral formations like the National Economic Development and Labour Council.

“Busa cannot afford to be indifferent about BEE. It is in business’ best interest to clearly define the character, goals and milestones to the transition of ownership and management of the economy.

“Black business organisations must define what BEE is and what it is not. We have allowed other people to interpret what BEE is.

“The same people who call us the ‘usual suspects’ are the ones who say we want Jabu to be part of the deal,” he says.

This is the reason black business formations ought to define the terms of their empowerment and how such empowerment impacts on the broader black society.

“Black people suffered as a collective but now we have mortgaged our society’s struggle for individual gain. Black business must be able to measure and evaluate . . .”

Mabuza does not necessarily think his past involvement in pioneering black business formations gives him a head start in pulling BBC back into the Busa fold.

“I know that they will agree to take my call and to meet. Whether they will agree with what I have to say is another matter.”

Two years can be long time. “I hope that at the end of the term, I will have made some meaningful contribution in areas I choose to participate in,” he says.

It should be an interesting ride with Mabuza at the wheel of the troubled organisation.

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