By lunch-time on Friday, Nombulelo 'Pinky' Moholi's profile as a director of Old Mutual had been removed from the company’s website after she quit unexpectedly on Wednesday. The company announced the resignation late on Thursday.
While Moholi would not comment to Fin24, her exit may have to do with how a tenuous plan to strike a deal with the insurer's ousted CEO Peter Moyo has been scuppered.
Fin24 has learnt that some on the group's board and Moyo had progressed in talks to reach a deal to end the corporate imbroglio that has South Africa on the edge of its seat. A highly placed source said Moholi, with fellow board members Paul Baloyi and Itumeleng Kgaboesele, had led the talks with Moyo and his lawyer Eric Mabuza to bring the festering fight to a close.
Talks were progressing well when an Old Mutual press conference led last week by the firm's chair chairperson Trevor Manuel went pear-shaped after he attacked a ruling by Judge Brian Mashile.
Mashile was the high court judge who ruled that Moyo should be reinstated after he was fired by Old Mutual in July. He again confirmed that Moyo should be allowed to return to work when the company subsequently refused to allow him to take up his C-suite position.
Moholi threw in the towel as it is clear that the saga is now far from over. Old Mutual has won leave to appeal Mashile's judgement and a full bench of the Gauteng high court is likely to sit on a date between November and December. Judge President Dunstan Mlambo will preside over the layered and complex case, which has now been made more so by Manuel’s outburst which suggested he regarded the company’s board as having greater authority than "a single individual who happens to wear a robe".
While the Old Mutual chairperson has apologised for the "unguarded comment" the statement has deepened the Old Mutual crisis.
Moholi is among the most experienced members of the Old Mutual board and she previously told Fin24 she was upset by how matters turned out.
"We wanted Peter to succeed. He is an epitome of black excellence. [It was] painful when issues started coming out," she told Fin24 in an interview last month.
The issues relate to an alleged conflict of interest between Moyo and Old Mutual's board, which Moyo did not mitigate when he reportedly received dividends from a company he co-founded, NMT Capital, before Old Mutual. Old Mutual, who holds preference shares in NMT Capital, was supposed to be paid first.
After he was fired by Old Mutual, he has fought like David against the Goliath that is the insurance giant.
Another factor which may have weighed on Moholi’s mind is that Moyo and his legal team have threatened that they will bring a court application to have Old Mutual directors declared delinquent. While Manuel has said the chances of this are slim, the directors would not want to be dragged through even an attempted action.
The 15-member board is filled with the great and the good of South African directors – all are highly skilled directors with cumulatively hundreds of years of experience behind them. In that pack, Moholi is right up near the top in business and directorship experience. The former Telkom CEO is a veteran director.
"What we have seen recently is that these delinquency provisions are increasingly being used to hold directors to account for misconduct," says Parmi Natesan, CEO of the Institute of Directors in South Africa. "Directors must take note of this, because the penalties are extremely severe."
On Friday afternoon, Moyo’s legal team issued a notice that it is withdrawing action against Moholi following her resignation. Legal action remains in place against all the other Old Mutual directors.
An Old Mutual spokesperon told Fin24 that Moholi resigned for personal reasons. "We don't expect further resignations as far as we are aware."