A question of maturity

2011-06-11 13:50

After stepping down as business advocacy group Busa’s chief executive, Jerry Vilakazi spoke to Mpho Sibanyoni about the politics in the organisation

What do you make of critics’ view that the battle for your former ­position is a struggle between black and white?
Leadership positions at Busa will ­remain a very contested space.

There is a view that if you have a successful black entrepreneur leading Busa, the organisation will be sensitive to the interests of all businesses instead of succumbing only to the interests of big business.

The Busa CEO cannot be any professional who does not ­appreciate the legacy of economic disparity, which has left many black graduates and high school-leavers unemployed.

What are your thoughts about the manner in which the ­recruitment process for a new Busa chief ­executive has been handled?

The transition and search for my successor has not taken place as seamlessly as I would have hoped it to.

The process could have been managed differently.

It is a big ­mistake to find Busa’s situation ­being compared to what is happening in the ANC Youth League or ANC, as if it is okay for Busa to have these kinds of spats.

As a business association, we should not allow ourselves to drift towards that level.

People respect an organisation on how it presents itself.

It is sad to see ­finger-pointing, and accusations and counteraccusations in an ­organisation like Busa.

The ­leadership should ensure that, in ­future, we do not get into a ­situation where the membership is polarised.

After the recruitment process has been finalised, Busa should find out what went wrong.

Why does Busa not have a ­succession plan?

That’s a question you should ask the president, Futhi Mtoba. But for the past three years, the succession ­issue has been ­debated.

I was only the second chief executive of the organisation and the leadership could learn how to deal with transition from this recruitment process.

A month after the Busa ­elections last year, I sat down with Mtoba and asked whether she thought I was the right ­person to be part of her agenda.

I asked this question because I wanted the organisation to find a stable way of managing my exit.

So what was Mtoba’s response?

(Vilakazi laughs and does not ­answer the question. Instead, he ­refers the question to Busa ­spokesperson Masego Lehihi).

What crossed your mind when black business and professionals formed the Confederation of Black Business Organisations (CBBO) ­after complaining that Busa was only favouring established ­business?

The formation of the CBBO was a positive step, not an outcome of Busa favouring white business. Black business realised that ­after Busa was formed, they ­became disjointed.

Black businesses don’t share the same resources as historically white businesses. White ­businesses have resources like infrastructure and full-time ­executives that engage in Busa’s policy subcommittees daily.

However, many black businesses are not able to participate in all these committees.

The CBBO would strengthen and give black business the capacity to come together, be able to engage on common issues, and participate in different committees and engage from a much stronger position when they come to Busa.

We should have a strong CBBO that is willing to express, without any fear, issues that ­affect black business because ­Busa ­represents all businesses.

Black business continues to be completely underrepresented in key positions and Busa cannot afford to be quiet about that.

I hope the next Busa chief executive will prioritise uniting black and white businesses because that will determine the pace of economic transformation.

What is your response to critics who say Busa is primarily ­influenced by white business?
The product for mandated positions at Busa tends to be an outcome of organisations that have research ­capacity. Very ­often, black business does not have this capacity.

When Busa was formed, it was very clear that economic transformation left much to be ­desired. ­

Busa has a standing committee on transformation and its constitution places ­emphasis on transformation.

Until we have serious ­advances in economic transformation, serious tensions will ­continue to exist ­between black and white business.

What is your response to the ­notion that you have drawn ­Busa too close to government and ­cannot criticise the state?

This is not true because we know the strategic importance of working very closely with government and other social partners, and retaining ­independence.

When there were policy issues, we raised them behind closed doors with government. We ­cannot be ­hostile towards government and hope to achieve cooperation, as we need to work in partnerships.

I think Busa would be making a mistake if the next CEO would want to shout at government when the state is already listening to ­organised business.

Organised business can make an appointment and meet with a minister at any time. Ministers also come to Busa every month and we find that at some meetings, the gloves come off.

We have managed to build a relationship of mutual respect with government.

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