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Make it work

Opinion
The cracking of a broken window came to a head last Monday when the Black Business Council (BBC) pulled out of a relationship it shared with Business Unity South Africa (Busa) in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

Certainly, those issues that precipitated the disaffiliation by black business organisations still persist and must be resolved. The BBC-Busa memorandum of understanding (MoU) which has now been set aside, was negotiated at a very volatile moment a few months after that historical walk-out by black business, it can still work.

It is indeed difficult to comprehend how this could happen, given that the MoU has been working well. I have experienced only commitment and cordiality between ordinary BBC and Busa members most of the instances I have been involved at Nedlac, which could be best described as exuding mutual respect.

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Illustration photo of South African rand

As organisations representing different constituencies with vastly different aspirations, surely there would have been tensions and stressful moments from time to time. The key question therefore to both the BBC and Busa leadership is, what happened?

Let me first reflect on the reality on the ground.

Whilst Busa and BBC leadership are grandstanding there is fear gripping South Africa, especially young black women and children, who are confronted by a new wave of reportedly daily kidnappings and violence perpetrated against them. At face value these seem to be instigated by human trafficking and related abuse perpetuated by faceless people. There are too many of such stories doing the rounds in social media.

Whilst the government has its hands full of so many types of criminal acts across the nation, it cannot be its role alone to deal with these unprecedented types of new criminal activities. Business has a pivotal role to play alongside the government in seeking lasting solutions. Therefore, what is the response by organised business, black and white?

Read also: BBC terminates 23-year liaison with Busa

We therefore cannot afford a Busa-BBC bust up. This requires bold and selfless leadership. It is unacceptable that, since the 2011 divorce, no practical solutions have been found to narrow their differences for a common good.

Indeed, whatever the current misgivings are between these two federations, there can never be a legitimate Nedlac without full representation by organised black business.

At its founding in 1994, Nedlac’s business constituency was represented by Business South Africa (BSA), with Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services (Fabcos) being its sole black business representative. The National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc), on the other hand, had declined to be part of BSA and considered such a move a co-option of black business.

Nafcoc subsequently applied for a direct representation at Nedlac and faced fierce resistance, until the intervention by the then President, the late Nelson Mandela. Consequently, Nafcoc attained what was referred to as “Nedlac black business seats”.

Those “black business seats” were later sacrificed to allow for the admission of Busa after the merger of BBC and Busa back in 2003.

Interestingly, Nafcoc was the first black business chamber to walk out of Busa in 2009, a move later affirmed by the walkout by the majority of remaining black business formations in 2011.

No doubt one contentious point of difference that may be adding to the current impasse is the notion of radical economic transformation (RET).

From a BBC perspective, RET is not a fashionable rhetoric, but a policy position adopted by its National Council on April 29, 2015.

The BBC leadership has as part of its mandate the responsibility to drive its philosophical precept, and to robustly deepen its narrative in all spheres of influence, including Nedlac.

It behoves on the leadership of the BBC to emulate the principles and values of our founding fathers such as the late Dr Sam Motsuenyane, renowned for their mastery in dialogue and persuasion.

Equally, Jabu Mabuza must use his powerful office as president of both Busa and Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) to lead his constituency in debating RET as a policy imperative, instead of second guessing it and digging its heels in.

Better still, it shouldn’t be difficult for him and BBC president Danisa Baloyi as brother and sister to lock themselves in a room somewhere and iron out any issues pertinent to Busa and BBC working side by side.

No doubt we should be tackling issues such as “sovereign downgrades, economic development, and foreign direct investment” etc and to find lasting solutions. Equally important is that as we confront these, we find consensus on matters relating to national interest aimed at narrowing gross inequalities.

If RET is that narrative, then lets debate it. Perhaps it is the consensus that has been eluding us.

This is not to suggest all is gloom and doom.

We should be mindful of the many large companies led by exceptional leaders that are truly transformed and committed to this country. The numbers are low though. The new dispensation has certainly benefited big business, with many of them realising exponential growth.

Koos Bekker observed in late 2015 that at least 40percent of current wealth in South Africa was generated after 1994, however, there is minimal trickle-down effect.

Current economic models are unsustainable and are not working. The widening wealth gap is agonising, the conditions of the majority of ordinary black South Africans on the ground remain unacceptable.

Notwithstanding stagnant economic growth, commercial expansion by big business into rural towns and black townships has benefited them immensely, making the rich richer, with adverse effect on local retail businesses especially.

Therefore, no matter how much aggrieved the Busa leadership feels, they cannot throw the baby with the bath water. It is an admission of failed leadership and diplomacy. It is a negative flexing of muscles where there will be no winners.

For its part, the leadership of the BBC is cognisant of any actions it takes that places its constituency at a gross disadvantage, at Nedlac or any other forum, that it would be inimical to the black cause.

Jabu and Danisa should drag their respective leadership back to the drawing board.

The peoples of South Africa deserves better!

Xolani Qubeka is founder of the Small Business Development Institute, and chairperson of Redisa. He writes in his personal capacity. E-mail address.

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