Accelerate change

Mncane Mthunzi, president of the Black Management Forum.
Mncane Mthunzi, president of the Black Management Forum.

In recent years, the Black Management Forum (BMF) has been struggling to find companies to award for their achievements in transformation – a clear indication that there is no model company for transformation in South Africa today.

The Jack Hammer Executive Report, which was released late last year, reveals that the proportion of black South African CEOs has fallen from 15% in 2012 to 10% in 2015.

These astounding statistics prompted the forum to request companies to consider and favour black candidates when they are recruiting for CEO and other executive positions in companies today.

This is direct evidence that the transformation project is indeed in reverse gear and the rainbow nation of Archbishop Tutu is becoming increasingly elusive.

Putting matters into perspective, there are more than 40% of black people who are unemployed, compared with only about 6% of white people.

White families earn six times more than their black counterparts, according to the report: a black family’s annual income is R60 000, whereas a white family earns an annual income of R365 000.

As far as management representation goes, whites make up only 10% of the economically active population, but occupy more than 70% of the top management positions.

This, compared with 13.6% held by black Africans. Coloured and Indian people hold 4.7% and 8.4% of top management level positions, respectively.

According to Stats SA, a white young adult without a matric is more likely to hold a managerial job than an African young adult with a BA degree or diploma.

Based on the above statistics, it is clear that we are sitting on a time bomb as a nation. Business and other institutions have been subscribing to a minimalist approach as far as the implementation of transformation is concerned.

It is evident that self-regulation in matters of transformation has failed.

The stakes are usually high in BEE and the outcomes are drastic; they could conceivably be seen as radical. Consequently, those who actively champion this subject are easily labelled and sometimes even condemned. BEE and transformation are controversial and challenging, but when effectively carried out, they change lives.

John F Kennedy reminds us that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable”.

Can we successfully implement BEE and transformation without the significant or widespread permission from those who are in control? I think we can, and this is how:

Firstly, the rule of law and parts of our legislation, such as – but not limited to – the Employment Equity Act and Broad-Based BEE Act must be put to test.

Companies must be taken to court for disregarding these laws and must publicly explain their recruitment and decision-making processes. The former act must also apply at CEO and executive levels to ensure they reflect our broader societal demographics.

Secondly, there must be an Employment Equity Tribunal, which will determine the fines to companies that are not complying with the Employment Equity Act based on the work done by the Employment Equity Commission.

This will be similar to how the Competition Commission and Competition Tribunal are currently structured.

Thirdly, the director-general reviews conducted by the department of labour must be publicised to understand the explanations for the transformation impasse.

The labour department’s inspectorate must be capacitated and strengthened to execute its responsibility. The outcome of their work will help provide transformation watchdog organisations such as the BMF with reliable and concrete evidence for legal challenge.

Fourthly, the JSE listing requirements must include diversity and further stipulate representation of black people and women based on the turnover, size and industry in which companies operate.

Fifthly, black people who are executives or nonexecutive directors must know that they carry the responsibility for transformation, whether they like it or not.

These people are our role models and sources of inspiration as black professionals, and their behaviour and conduct must reflect that.

In fact, they are the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action – they would not be occupying those positions if companies were not forced to appoint black people.

Finally, it is about time that we take transformation as seriously as we take exchange controls, corporate governance, accounting reporting standards or the creation of shareholder value.

It is only then that transformation would be a business imperative.

The hashtag movements (#RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and others) that caused revolt at our institutions of higher learning will soon be coming to corporate South Africa.

Those students will be graduating in the next two to three years, and the majority of them will be employees at our private sector companies.

Companies are currently struggling to manage the millennial generation, so I can only imagine the complex dimension that the workplace would have to contend with.

It would be better for them to enter a transformed workplace, otherwise there will be another leaderless revolution – with the corporate workplace as the battlefield. Mark my words.

It is about time that we develop policies and solutions for the society that we have, and not the one we wish we had. The Employment Equity and Broad-Based BEE acts have been instrumental in lifting black people out of poverty and creating the black middle class.

It is 22 years since our country finally became free and democratic. However, the dream and vision of our founding father, Nelson Mandela, for a South Africa that is united and racially prosperous is under threat. The dividends for our freedom and democracy are yet to be realised.

An organisation that undermines transformation perpetuates societal inequality and economic injustice.

The organisation’s espoused and practised values have to be in congruence, otherwise there will be tension between desired and actual behaviour in the organisation.

Transformation should not appear on the professional’s to-do list, but rather in the culture and essence of running the business.

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Mthunzi is president of the Black Management Forum.

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