Divisions are showing among the top leadership of the Black Business Council (BBC) over whether to take the Gauteng government to court for a multimillion-rand fibre roll-out programme for townships.
At the centre of the debacle is a controversial arrangement BBC had with the Gauteng ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) before the national elections, which stated that the council would benefit from the programme.
On Friday, the BBC’s vice-president for business, Keith Thabo, told City Press that they were intending to take the provincial government to court next week for being sidelined.
He said this was because the provincial government had entered into a deal with Vumatel instead of sticking to the arrangement the council had with the PEC before the elections.
The Vumatel deal was announced by former economic development, agriculture and environment MEC Kgosientso Ramokgopa on September 12.
Ramokgoba said at the time that he had leveraged a R2 billion investment from Vumatel that would roll out fibre in townships and offer connectivity to households at affordable rates.
The first phase of the project was scheduled to begin in Vosloorus.
Thabo said that they intended to interdict the process from going forward.
Part of the arrangement with the PEC, Thabo said, included a memorandum of understanding that was going to be signed by the council and the PEC, but this did not materialise.
“The memorandum of understanding was supposed to be signed. It was not signed. We are going to court to interdict the process. We feel the premier [David Makhura] insulted our intelligence.”
Thabo said they felt they were just being lobbied before the elections so they would support the ANC.
“The black government is doing this to black people. We are in this nonsense. Government can’t empower small, medium and macro enterprises [SMMEs]. We are powerless. The only way is to go to court,” Thabo said.
But on Saturday afternoon, the chief executive officer of the BBC, Kganki Matabane, released a statement contradicting what Thabo told City Press on Friday.
In the statement, Matabane said the council had noted media enquiries from City Press about the alleged promises of fibre roll-out made by the Gauteng ANC’s PEC.
“The BBC and the Gauteng PEC are currently discussing a potential principle-based memorandum of understanding that is not tender-based, in line with the primary objectives and purposes of the BBC, which are to lobby government on policy-related matters and to play an advocacy role where policies are in place to accelerate the participation of black business in the mainstream economy,” Matabane said.
“Any entrepreneur or business, be it a member of the BBC or not, that is disgruntled about a specific award of any tender is more that welcome to approach the courts of law.
“The BBC does not get involved in procurement processes, tender adjudication or tender awards. We support compliant processes aligned to the procurement policies of government,” he said.
When approached for comment, Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, said the premier was not involved in the awarding of contracts or tenders.
“Procurement processes are done by officials, not politicians,” he said.
He said politicians were responsible for policy guidance and referred questions about the details of the contract to the Gauteng department of e-government.
Questions were sent to the department of e-government and the department of economic development on Friday.
But only the department of economic development responded.
Gauteng economic development head Pumla Ncapayi said the department had maintained a strategic relationship with key stakeholders, in particular black business, through the BBC and other structures as they remained the backbone of the province’s transformation and reindustrialisation agenda.
“In this context, the BBC has not raised the matter with us and we continue to engage them on matters to resuscitate the economy during the current pandemic and beyond. As a government that upholds matters of engagement, we remain open to a discussion with them to deliberate on all matters that they bring to our attention,” Ncapayi said.
Details about the Vumatel deal were not divulged by the department.
City Press has seen the unsigned memorandum of understanding, which shows that the partnership was to be managed through the programme management office, which would be based at the premier’s office.
The programme management office would then report to the partnership steering committee, which was to be made up of representatives from both parties.
The programme management office would have a programme director, administration department and managers for each programme, which include that of the fibre roll-out for townships.
“The programme management office will have the following resources on a full-time bases for five years with full remuneration to drive and manage the execution of the programme(s). All programme management office positions will be formal appointments through the office of the premier or the PEC general-secretary’s office,” the memorandum said.
It said the PEC recognised the need to restructure the Gauteng economy by ensuring inclusive growth and participation of black businesses in mainstream economic activities.
“The provincial PEC has decided to be at the forefront of this socioeconomic restructuring agenda through the Gauteng economy disruptive programme, which aims to create new economic players and transform certain market sectors through radical economic transformation,” the memorandum said.
It details that a steering and a working committee were to be set up to manage the partnership and implement the proposed Gauteng economy disruptive programme.
Both committees would include BBC and PEC representatives.
“This programme aims to establish a black-owned special purpose vehicle to develop the SMME market to roll out fibre across Gauteng’s townships.
The special purpose vehicle will operate as a fully functioning public-private partnership between the PEC and the BBC, with a clear mandate to create more than 20 black SMME companies as part of the value chain.
Gauteng ANC PEC secretary Jacob Khawe on Friday said he would reply to questions on Saturday after making some enquiries because he did not know about the matter.
At the time of going to print, he had not responded.
Journalist | City Press
|Rise above the clutter | Choose your news | City Press in your inbox|
|City Press is an agenda-setting South African news brand that publishes across platforms. Its flagship print edition is distributed on a Sunday.|