Vuyo Mvoko | Business has new responsibility
For Sandile Zungu and the rest of the leadership of the Black Business Council, Thursday was supposed to be a crowning moment – living proof that they are worth the confidence and trust of the two million members who elected them into office four months ago.
Taking over an organisation that had “been to hell and back” was always going to be a challenge, Zungu opined on Thursday, but putting together such an “auspicious occasion” as Thursday’s summit, within such a short space of time, was proof that not only were they up to the task, but that they took their mandate seriously.
Zungu and his executive obviously hadn’t expected a stray missile from his Business Unity SA counterpart, Sipho Pityana.
The day before, the Port Elizabeth businessman had lashed out at Zungu, asking him to “come clean” for his “complicity” in state capture.
In an open letter to Zungu, Pityana said, “Today our country is in a perilous state. And you and your cronies played no small part in that – so it is about time you confronted your ugly ghosts.
“I firmly believe that there can be no holy cows in our fight against corruption and state capture,” Pityana said.
In his welcoming address on Thursday, Zungu was unfazed, hitting back at Pityana and other “hijackers of the new dawn”, saying their “poorly written letters”, “littered with lies”, would not dissuade the Black Business Council from doing business with the government.
There was applause when billionaire and former Black Business Council president Patrice Motsepe, the keynote speaker at the organisation’s annual summit on Thursday, seemed to echo Zungu’s sentiment, saying SA was the only place in the world where people were castigated for doing business with the government.
Zungu should indeed be unapologetic about black business’s demand to have a prime seat at the economic table.
It’s common knowledge that the pace of transformation has been slow and economy of the country remains concentrated in the hands of a few.
At issue, though, is the nature and form transformation should take, given the country’s challenges and needs.
Surely, transformation can’t be reduced to the ability of a few well-connected individuals or groups to use their proximity to power, to unfairly and often illegally secure contracts at highly inflated prices that reduce the state’s ability to get band for its buck.
It is everybody – including business – that gets hurt when an important entity like Eskom cannot perform the essential duties entrusted to it.
The select few who may have benefited handsomely from irregularly awarded tender will be able to afford generators, and cushion themselves from both the dangers and inconveniences that come with Eskom’s failure, but the rest of us can’t.
Big, black and white businesses must now understand that a prime seat at the economic table will have to come with responsibility, fairness and accountability.
The days of going with the politically “in” crowd in the hope of securing a prime position at the eating table are over.
Whether you are a Zungu, or a Pityana, the criteria should be the same and the opportunities extended to all equally.
Over the past 24 hours people have, on social and in traditional media, expressed their views about who’s right and who isn’t, what motivated Pityana and what Zungu stands for.
With both sticking to their guns at this stage, no-one knows whether, and when, this fight will end.
One hopes that by the end of the Black Business Council’s summit later on Friday, they would have indeed done some introspection about the role that some of them played in bringing the country to where it is today.
Yes, black business’s contribution will pale in significance, compared to big or white business, but that’s no reason to ignore it.
It shouldn’t matter at all whether Zungu thinks Pityana has “drama queen antics”, or Pityana reckons Zungu behaves like an “apartheid era pimp” – all of us need to own up to our past, if we are to correct our wrongs and go forward.
But if our fights are, again, about who gets to sit at the top of the table, then we still haven’t learnt anything.
It can’t be about Pityana. Or Zungu.
It should never be about Business Unity SA members.
Or the Black Business Council’s.
In the end it’s about SA Inc – all 57 million-odd of us.