Black business, Busa marriage on the rocks

2011-07-16 07:41

The spat between black business and business ­advocacy grouping Busa is about the shortcomings of what has essentially become a ­“marriage of convenience”.

The relationship is now going through a “do-you-really-love-me” crisis and, at the end of the day, the extent to which the two stop talking past each other to find ­solutions will be the litmus test of their maturity. A disintegration of Busa will not serve anybody.

What is the past? Before Busa, white business was represented by a plethora of organisations in various sectors of the economy.

Meanwhile, black business ­consisted of what was then the Black Business Council, an ­alliance of “black-only” business and professional organisations.

Black and white business may be part of the same economy, but their world views are often conflicted, particularly on economic transformation. Furthermore, the two fit into former president Thabo Mbeki’s notion of two economies in one country.

In this instance, black business is part of the impoverished economy in terms of resources, organisational infrastructure and ­culture; while white business is part of the well-resourced, ­modern world.

One or two of the black organisations, the Black Management Forum (BMF) for example, could boast of some resources, albeit limited; but these are no match for the well-resourced white organisations, which naturally use their might, including research capacity, to ­reinforce what they perceive as “standard practice”.

Thereafter, they influence ­policy.

While the BMF was active in ­Busa, other black organisations had serious capacity problems that affected their ability to ­participate in meetings, influence debate and project their views on economic transformation.

Thus, comment from Busa on policy recommendations to government by and large reflected the input.

Frankly, this begs the question of whether government, and black and white ­business leaders who forged this relationship, took a long view and put the appropriate pieces in place.

Did these midwives analyse the pros and cons of the merger, or if the participants could cope? After all, it is now quite clear – unfortunately with hindsight – that very few of the affiliate organisations were ready for the relationship.

In fact, the “marriage” was more of an urgent response to what was and still is a necessity – business unity.

Regretfully, assumptions on readiness were made and the “marriage” was consummated.

The most crucial issue, power relations, was ignored.

There was a naivete which ­suggested that the balance of ­power would be retained by white business having the money and black business bringing the ANC government.

This conundrum reflects an ­irony in which businesses do not go through the processes of consummating a merger – what is ­essentially its stock in trade.

There were no joint workshops to identify and work on a glue that would chart a common way ­forward. There was no identification of issues on which black and white business agreed upon, and those that needed work.

Let us also not only bemoan that participants were not prepared for a relationship that had to provide practical leadership to transform our economy. It is also tragic that Busa did not read anything into the collapse of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry South Africa, also conceived in the same manner.

Government must also carry a large part of the blame as it hardly delivered on the promises it made when it encouraged the marriage.

It said it would provide funds to capacitate black business organisations in terms of research.

The state was clear that there had to be a major organisation to ­represent business but, as stated, it failed to beef up black business so that it was an equal partner.

Yet it was black business that was expected to “educate” ­business in general and white business in particular on the ­values and principles in the ­economy that must integrate this community and also drive ­economic transformation.

The way forward is simple – black business must stay in Busa. To use a politically correct term, it has been “deployed” to Busa to change the thinking in mainstream business and to ensure that business commits to our ­socioeconomic
imperatives. And fighting poverty and unemployment should take centre stage.

For the record, there are numerous examples of blacks who have been very effective in transforming previously whites-only structures into entities of a new South Africa. There is room for more.

It is patently naive for blacks to expect whites to have the same world view as them on transformation; just as it is extremely short-sighted for white organisations not to realise that ignoring the aspirations of black organisations is counterproductive.

The two must now put into ­motion steps that ensure a new Busa is created – one that espouses the values of our new society, and which both black and white ­business are proud of.

»?Mazwai is the director of the Centre for Small Business Development at the ­University of Johannesburg, Soweto ­Campus. He writes in his personal capacity

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.