PPC divides black business

2014-11-09 20:00

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Black business groupings are divided on who to back ahead of a crucial vote to either keep or vote off the current board of cement producer PPC early next month.

On Friday, PPC set the date of a special general meeting for December 8 to vote on an overhaul of the board led by Bheki Sibiya – a victory for former CEO Ketso Gordhan and shareholders Foord Asset Management and Visio Capital, which had been demanding the meeting since October 9.

PPC’s announcement contained a list of nine people these shareholders had nominated for a proposed new board. It included Gordhan, who resigned in September and changed his mind, but the board refused to take him back.

He has been lobbying shareholders in a campaign to get his job back, and Foord and Visio thereafter called for the meeting to replace a board they felt lacked cement industry expertise.

Unless they can convince larger shareholders to back them, it is doubtful they can win as, collectively, they have 10.36% of the vote. The Public Investment Corporation, which holds about 11%, said it would not support “the removal of an entire board”.

The Black Management Forum (BMF) has come out in support of Sibiya’s board, while the Black Business Council (BBC) is more circumspect, and the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) said it tried to mediate between Gordhan and the board.

The BMF’s managing director, Themba Dlamini, said forum president Bonang Mohale had talks with Sibiya, leading to a statement supporting Sibiya’s board this week.

In that statement, Dlamini said the BMF was concerned about the “undermining” of the black majority-led board, which it saw as the most transformed. The names proposed by the shareholders to replace the current board would reverse these “transformation gains”.

But Dlamini admitted the BMF only got one side of the story. “There has not been any engagement with Ketso,” he said. “However, the [executive committee] of the BMF felt it was important to raise the matter.”

The BBC also sought a meeting with Sibiya to understand what was going on, according to its secretary-general, Xolani Qubeka, but it was declined.

One group that reached out to both parties, by its account, is Nafcoc. Its president, Lawrence Mavundla, said Sibiya was receptive, while Gordhan “spurned its efforts to preserve the pride of black captains of industry, not to meddle with PPC issues”.

“Nafcoc would not express a preference of the two leaders, except to note the cordial countenance Sibiya accorded us in a mediation attempt in this regard.”

Gordhan said he was never approached by Nafcoc as mediators. “The only mediation before my resignation was by Michael Katz, as confirmed by the company.”

Qubeka said “corporate wars” were not simple. “The danger facing members of the public as outsiders on this matter is whether what we read reflects the absolute truth of what has transpired at PPC,” he said. “Our departure point, therefore, has nothing to do with a position either for or against Mr Gordhan – who, by the way, has impeccable leadership management credentials – on the one hand, and the board of directors on the other.”

He said the board was considered highly capable, competent and progressive until the public spat with Gordhan.

The board this week released the circumstances behind Gordhan’s resignation, including claims that he had petty reasons for wanting to fire finance chief Tryphosa Ramano, and that he had resigned and rescinded before.

Qubeka said the BBC was worried that Ramano’s name was being dragged through the mud.

Mavundla said the PPC board had every right to reveal the circumstances behind Gordhan’s resignation.

“We cannot castigate the board for insisting on accepting the initial expression of resignation,” he said.

“It boils down to issues of trust and goodwill, which an intention to resign tampers with, unfortunately.”

Both the BMF and Nafcoc are hopeful of an internal resolution. “Nafcoc would encourage that a conciliation and mediation process be engaged. And we would happily assist the process that would heal the rift and ensure that PPC remains one of the hallmarks of excellence of black leadership in the mainstream of our national economy,” Mavundla said.

Qubeka said his organisation would wait for the results of the special meeting before commenting.

No Comment

Gordhan would not comment on his earlier claims that a development finance institution had pulled out of a multimillion-rand investment because Gordhan was no longer with the group. Sibiya said this was not true.

He has written confirmation from the funder, which neither he nor Gordhan named, that the potential deal is still on the cards

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