Former Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza has died

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Jabu Mabuza (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press)
Jabu Mabuza (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake/City Press)

South African business leader Jabu Mabuza has died at the age of 63.

His family said in a statement that he passed away on Wednesday, South Africa's Youth Day, following Covid-19 complications.

"He was a gallant fighter for the political and economic freedom of South Africans. On this day in 1976, he had joined thousands of black youths who demanded the end of Bantu education. He was later expelled for participating in that seminal protest that exposed the brutality of the apartheid regime and propelled the struggle for liberation," his family said in the statement.

Born in 1958, Mabuza grew up in the town of Waterval Boven in Mpumalanga. According to reports, his family was forcibly removed by the apartheid government, and he later went to live with family in Daveyton, Gauteng. He was expelled from school after participating in the 1976 student riots in Soweto, but later matriculated.

After abandoning his legal studies due to a lack of money, he worked for a short time at a court office before starting to drive taxis in Gauteng. Using his savings, he later bought his own taxi and became part of the South African Black Taxi Association (SABTA).

He became president of the organisation, which later founded its own bank. Mabuza also formed FABCOS (Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services), which represents the interests of informal black business, in 1988.

In 1992, he was appointed as group advancement manager at SA Breweries, and four years later he joined Southern Sun Gaming as its managing director.

In the next decades, the fedora-wearing Mabuza quickly became an integral part of the South African business landscape. 

By 2006 he was the CEO of Tsogo Sun Holdings, and in 2012 became chairman of Telkom, a position he held for seven years.

'An amazing human being'

Following the merger of Anheuser Busch InBev and SAB Miller in 2018, he became chairperson of the beer giant's African business. He also served as chairperson of the Casino Association of South Africa and the president of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), as well as the chairperson of Business Leadership SA (BLSA), until 2018.

Mabuza was a great teacher, and an amazing and good-quality human being, said Chancellor of the University of the Free State and Bidvest chairman Bonang Mohale, who worked with him during his time at BUSA and BLSA.

Mohale told Fin24 that Mabuza touched his life in a meaningful way.

"Teaching me and many more, that if we wait for someone else to fix things, we are doomed to further despair. That our purpose must be to do something, no matter how small ... it’s the sum of the parts that creates a greater whole. That we must each adopt one aspect of what government is failing to do and just get it done and, by so  doing, we put ourselves on the path to real black economic empowerment and ultimate emancipation."

In a statement, the BLSA said Mabuza "was a formidable leader, very well respected for his business acumen and independent leadership".

"It was under his leadership as chairperson of BLSA that big business took the firm decision to publicly denounce the state capture project and make a solid pledge towards ethical leadership; protecting our key institutions and working collaboratively with Government towards building a capable state."

In January, 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed Mabuza as chairperson of Eskom, and in the following year he also became acting CEO of the struggling utility, replacing Phakamani Hadebe.

He resigned unexpectedly in October last year, apologising in his resignation letter for Eskom's inability to meet commitments to avoid load shedding, Ramaphosa said at the time.

At the time of his death, Mabuza chaired the boards of Net1 and Sun International, and was the lead independent director at DStv owner MultiChoice. 

"For me his most striking trait was not that ever-present hat, rather (his) riotous sense of humour," Naspers chair Koos Bekker, who founded the M-Net/MultiChoice pay-television business, told Fin24. "When Jabu exploded laughing, it was impossible not to join!"

Mabuza leaves behind his wife, Siphiwe, and two sons and a daughter.

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