Concerns over split in ranks

2011-09-10 12:24

The Black Business Council has called this week’s business summit, where the Black Business Council was formed, the beginning of a new era in which black business will define its own ­agenda and take control of its own destiny.

But this sunny prediction seems to have been overtaken by concerns about racial unity in business as questions arise about the future role of the multiracial Business Unity South Africa ­(Busa), out of which the Black Business Council was born ­after several black business ­organi­sations decided to suspend their membership of Busa.

The Association for the ­Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (Abasa) has called the summit “a step in the right direction”.
Said Abasa vice president, Andile Khumalo: “This summit was not about Busa. It was about uniting black business.

“Abasa are very proud of what we achieved in the two days as black business and the establishment of the Black Business Council is a step in the right ­direction.

“The establishment of a united black business body will drive the kind of economic transformation that we as black people in business would like to see.
“There is no split. Busa still ­exists. What has happened is that black business has organised and united itself under the Black Business Council umbrella to ­address, at a macro-level, a common agenda largely centered on accelerating the effective participation of black people in the mainstream economy.”

Speaking at the summit, President Jacob Zuma was cautious not to dictate to black business what route it should take.
“You have to take into account the phase we entered in 2007 in Polokwane and also in January this year, when we declared economic transformation as a ­primary goal of this era in the ­democratisation of our country,” he said.

“The unity of the business sector is paramount in ensuring the achievement of the transformation goals. As government we need a unified and united business voice to work with.”

Brett Cousins, managing ­director of Regenesys, a business school, said small business might end up bearing the brunt of the split.

“If anything, small businesses need this partnership with big business to work more than ever at this present stage. They can ill-afford any conflict now,” he said.

Cousins said some small businesses might state who they supported upfront while others might decide to split in order to join one of the two bodies while others might decide to break away from both.

“Either way it is likely to be distracting. This is a concern as it will sidetrack the key priorities of business, which are raising our competitiveness, unleashing entrepreneurial potential and getting on with job creation,” he said.

The director of the Rhodes Business School, Professor Owen Skae, said the division might ultimately result in government engaging with whichever it perceived to be the more credible of the two bodies.

“This will in turn fuel perception as to the motives of the ­engagement, which all in all is an undesirable situation, particularly in the current economic climate and the perceived pace of slow transformation in the ­country,” he said.

“However, government would prefer to have business speak with one voice. So one should not rule out the pressure that government will bring to bear on the two to resolve their differences.

“With a divided business voice and the factions that emerge it confirms in the minds of some people that we are not a united country and that perhaps individual interests are elevated above national priorities.

“Either way it has dented the credibility of South African business, especially as Busa was born out of the need for business ­unity.”

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