Battles lines are drawn within the Black Business Council (BBC) and the tension, which includes allegations of death threats, between two warring factions seems likely to divide the organisation once again.
Members of the BBC who are seen to be loyal to suspended president Danisa Baloyi are up in arms against the organisation’s national office bearers, particularly secretary-general George Sebulela and chairperson Sello Rasethaba, after a number of them allegedly received threats of suspension.
Baloyi was suspended as BBC president in December last year because a R5.7 million donation made to the BBC by the Airports Company SA went missing.
On Friday, at a scheduled annual general meeting that was cancelled at the last minute, members who had attended took a decision to petition the entire council, recall the current elected leaders and call for early elections instead of waiting until September when the elections are supposed to be held.
The matter has caused so much tension that at least 10 member organisations are said to have agreed in principle to split.
In 2003 the BBC merged with Business SA to form Business Unity SA (BUSA). However, in 2012 the BBC split from BUSA to better represent the interests of black business.
Speaking to City Press on Friday, Churchill Mrasi, National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) president, said that although the organisation and nine of its affiliates had not formally resolved to break away, they had in principle agreed to split from other components of the organisation, with black business organisations remaining and other components vacating.
Mrasi said Nafcoc and the nine other organisations separately affiliated with BBC had discussed the split.
The organisations are Nafcoc, the National African Federated Security and Cleaning Sector, the National African Federated Transport Organisation, the National African Farmers’ Union, the National Industrial Chamber, SA Leisure Tourism and Hospitality Association, Nafcoc Construction, African Cooperatives for Hawkers and Informal Business, the National Association for Manufacturers in Electronic Components and Nafcoc Retail.
“We have discussed and, in principle, we agreed even though there was no resolution on it. BBC belongs to business people, the rest must leave,” Mrasi said, adding that the general view among affiliates was that if things do not improve, a break up of the BBC was imminent.
Mrasi said a decision was taken on Friday to meet other organised business formations within the BBC to discuss “reclaiming” the organisation and getting rid of the other components, such as the professional bodies.
Rasethaba and Sebulela, who are accused of spearheading the purges, have also sent an attorney’s letter of demand to Volchere Kgekwane, CEO of the National Black Business Caucus (NBBC), the organisation to which Baloyi belongs, demanding that he desist from threatening them.
The letter, sent from their lawyers, said Rasethaba and Sebulela had reliable information that Kgekwane was threatening their lives.
Sebulela confirmed the letter and said he and Rasethaba had acted in their personal capacity.
City Press has seen email communication circulated to BBC members in which Kgekwane said he had opened a case with police for intimidation and harassment against Rasethaba and Sebulela.
In the email Kgekwane also raised concerns about how Sebulela was appointed to the Eskom board. He said BBC organisations were forwarded communication to nominate a member just hours before the announcement that Sebulela was a board member.
Kgekwane denied he threatened Sebulela and Rasethaba and said he was surprised by the letter.
The Davos sponsorship
Sebulela and Rasethaba are also accused of soliciting sponsorships on behalf of the BBC without the organisation’s mandate or knowledge, coincidentally, something Baloyi was also accused of when she was suspended.
City Press has established that the two had their flight tickets to January’s World Economic Forum paid for by ABSA, a matter that did not go down well with some of the organisation’s stalwarts as it was seen as “begging white monopoly capital for help”, a reliable source close to the matter said.
City Press has also learnt from a credible source that the matter was raised in one of the recent national office bearers meetings.
Sebulela told City Press that, as a former senior executive of ABSA, he had a good relationship with the bank and directly asked its CEO Maria Ramos to sponsor the trip and the matter had nothing to do with the BBC or the Brics Business Council, the other BBC, with which he is also involved.
“My relationship with ABSA has always been great. The payment for our travel [flight tickets] and accommodation [not yet reimbursed] by ABSA had nothing to do with BBC sponsorship other than my personal request to cover the costs through a personal relationship with the bank,” Sebulela said in a written reply.
However, ABSA spokesperson Phumza Macanda confirmed the bank bankrolled tickets on a BBC
“The Black Business Council requested ABSA to contribute towards funding the organisation’s delegation to the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.
“ABSA paid for the flights of Messrs George Sebulela and Sello Rasethaba, who were invited to be part of the South African business delegation to WEF.
“No money was exchanged between ABSA and the BBC. Their tickets were booked through our travel agency,” Macanda said.
The shenanigans within the BBC, relaunched in 2011, are said to have grabbed the attention of the organisation’s founding president Patrice Motsepe. He confirmed he had already had a briefing with the BBC’s Gilbert Mosena last December.
“Mr Motsepe bumped into Mr Gilbert Mosena at the ANC conference in December. His view has always been that South Africa needs a strong and united BBC that will work together with other business, labour, local communities, women and youth organisations for the benefit of all South Africans.
“Mr Motsepe does not see himself alone, playing a mediating role, but would consider playing a role as part of a collective leadership which would include former presidents and other stakeholders of the BBC. This must, however, be at the request of all the interested parties,” said his spokesperson, Sandile Langa.* SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.