Peter Moyo, the chief executive of Old Mutual, is fighting for the dignity of the black executive.
Too many black managers have castrated themselves like a mad dog that starts by licking its genitals then rips them off in frustration because its master punishes it every time it barks.
In May, Old Mutual suspended Moyo for what it claimed to be “a material breakdown in trust and confidence between him and the board”.
The market was spooked and R5 billion of shareholder value was eroded.
Old Mutual then changed its statement, and said the reason for the suspension related to Moyo’s conflict of interest with his company, NMT Capital.
What Old Mutual did not say was that the conflict started when Moyo dared to perform his duties correctly, as court papers revealed.
He made the board aware that the company had paid for the legal costs of its nonexecutive chairperson, Trevor Manuel.
In terms of the JSE’s rules, the chairperson was supposed to disclose this to shareholders.
Instead of dealing with the matter, the board took the stereotypical narrative route and said he could not be trusted.
One government minister famously said the public would “connect the dots”.
But this time, the rampage parade met a courageous black man – a rarity these days – who defended himself.
In court papers, Old Mutual tried to rubbish Moyo’s character, saying it expected a better standard from “an experienced chartered accountant” such as him.
True, Moyo was a partner at Ernst & Young before joining Old Mutual in 1997. He worked in various roles until he became deputy managing director.
A retired employee told me that, before Moyo joined Old Mutual, there were no senior black managers in the company.
He appointed a lot of them and pushed for the board to invite black members.
In 2002, he started a BEE company called NMT Capital, in which Old Mutual bought a 20% stake.
Make no mistake, this is not a black versus white corporate drama – of the 16 Old Mutual board members, only five are white.
Some of the black members had been overlooked while they were employees at Old Mutual until Moyo arrived and promoted them. When they retired, they joined the board.
There is no loyalty in the corporate world, and companies that are led by former politicians are the worst.
Look at state-owned enterprises: they are breeding grounds for looting, backstabbing and incompetence – behaviours that are considered normal in politics.
A senior manager who thinks that Manuel acted despicably and unfairly said the reason many black managers keep quiet in the face of corporate injustice is because they do not want to run the risk of getting fired and losing their lifestyles.
“Nobody eats his principles,” another executive told me.
But directors who have no values soon destroy shareholder value. Old Mutual is no exception.
Shareholders, including pension funds invested in the company, have already lost 20% of their value as a result of this saga.
Sadly, all the d*ck-swinging that is going on is casting a dark shadow over the president’s official residence Mahlamba Ndlopfu, obscuring President Cyril Ramaphosa’s agenda and his entire Cabinet from the media.
But none of his friends truly cares about him. They are more concerned with their own public images.
Twice this year, Manuel has gone to court, drawing all the media oxygen.
He may well win on appeal, but it will be a pyrrhic victory that will hurt his friend Cyril.
Pyrrhus of Epirus was a formidable Greek general. As people congratulated him for defeating the Romans, he replied: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
Many black managers are also connecting the dots, thinking that Ramaphosa’s backers are reversing transformation.
That is certainly a legacy he does not want to leave behind.
Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency