Reuel Khoza made things happen

2015-04-27 10:00

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Reuel Khoza, one of the founding members of the BMF, is leaving his post as chair of Nedbank. Langa Manqele and Mbhazima Makhubele pay tribute to his work

Reuel Khoza steps down as chair of Nedbank next month, leaving a remarkable legacy and the indelible imprint of a man who exemplified black corporate excellence.

He will be a tough act to follow.

Khoza is one of the founding members of the Black Management Forum (BMF), with Eric Mafuna, Don Mkhwanazi, Mike Mohohlo, Don Manaka and many more.

The BMF was established in 1976 after the Durban strikes that were a precursor to the formation of one of the most formidable labour movements in the country and continent, the Cosatu federation.

Khoza and his colleagues saw and experienced apartheid in corporate South Africa first-hand. They resolved to do something about those injustices. They chose to fight.

They appreciated the importance of institutions, in particular civil society organisations, in the fight against apartheid, hence the establishment of the BMF to empower and develop black managers in South Africa.

They knew and acknowledged the centrality of professionals in transforming the apartheid and colonial economic structures. The Black Economic Empowerment Act and Employment Equity Act are unashamedly the products of deliberations that took place within the organisation many years ago.

Khoza was at the centre of those discussions and the reimagining of a just and equitable South Africa.

It is easy to be a Johnny-come-lately to causes. Worse, it is safer to be indifferent to injustices than to take a proactive and principled position. South Africa should learn from luminaries such as OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu – to name only a few – who did not allow indifference to the suffering of their fellow citizens just because of their education and social standing.

It has always been a challenge to take risks in the face of danger and uncertainty. Khoza falls within that small group of great South Africans who looked beyond their own comfort and dedicated their lives to freedom for all.

South Africa is a far better country today than it was during the dark days of apartheid because of the generations of congress activists, labour activists and corporate activists.

Khoza has occupied many positions in corporate South Africa. He is a leader of stature, vision, courage and pragmatism. He is intellectually inclined and morally and ethically grounded, which can be seen in his writing and contributions to the national discourse.

His steady hand as chairperson of Nedbank and often principled approach to national debates remained rooted in courage and fair play. No one can say he lacked courage, particularly after the controversy he courted with his remarks in the Nedbank annual report of 2012 in which he said: “Our political leadership’s moral quotient is degenerating and we are fast losing the checks and balances that are necessary to prevent a recurrence of the past...”

Khoza leaves behind a solid board that has grown the group into a major banking player in Africa. During his tenure at Nedbank, he grew the share price by 191%, from R84.73 in 2006, when he took over as chair, to R246.25 in April 2015, an average increase of 21% a year. He also leaves a pool of black talent in executive roles, from which the group may draw and excel or ignore at its peril.

His departure is the end of a remarkable era. It marks a steady decline in the numbers and influence of black trailblazers in corporate South Africa.

It is curious – and perhaps the issue needs to be interrogated – that despite the illustrious careers and outstanding track records of people such as Khoza, Lot Ndlovu, Wiseman Nkuhlu, Salukazi Dakile-Hlongwane, Kennedy Bungane, Sizwe Ntsaluba, Herman Mashaba, Richard Maponya and Nthato Motlana, corporate South Africa is still not convinced of the unqualified competence and suitability of black executives, particularly black female directors.

Is it their race? Or does it speak to the mind-set of those who continue to wield power, authority and influence in corporate South Africa?

It is our view that young South Africans should learn from the likes of Khoza and emulate his selflessness, courage and solidarity with the downtrodden and oppressed.

It is through inculcating the virtues and values of ubuntu in our day-to-day lives that South Africa can be truly transformed into a home for all.

Khoza is anchored in the African value system of ubuntu. What is outstanding about Khoza is the consistency of his message.

Even during the dark days of apartheid, he was clear that political freedom was not an end in itself. He has always been convinced political freedom should be augmented by economic inclusion if South Africa is to create a stable and sustainable nation.

The departure of Khoza from Nedbank and Sizwe Nxasana from FNB marks the end of an era in the South African corporate sector, particularly the financial sector.

They leave at a time when their attuned leadership seems to be most needed to deal with the many challenges South Africa must still overcome.

Manqele is BMF chair in Gauteng, and Makhubele

is BMF head of research

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