Notwithstanding the constant flow of corporate malfeasance, African values remain the inalienable source of a moral business framework. Unethical business practices unashamedly encompass medium and large businesses within our shores.
Following the withdrawal of fraud charges against Durban construction mogul Shauwn Mpisane, TV footage showed bottles of sparkling wine being popped by her celebrating supporters.
The charges in question related to her alleged submission of fraudulent documents to the Construction Industries Board to boost her company’s BEE grading. Ostensibly through misrepresentation, Mpisane won a government tender worth R70 million.
“Is it appropriate to withdraw such serious charges before the accused go to trial?” I asked myself. On the other hand, I thought about the fairness of having Mpisane going through the trial, while her counterparts in the construction industry were not subjected to criminal trials for colluding in bidding for the construction of the 2010 World Cup stadiums.
During Mpisane’s court appearances, I was surprised by the silence of Business Day editor Peter Bruce. When the construction companies that build stadiums got into trouble with the competition authorities, Bruce and his newspaper came to their defence. Doesn’t Mpisane deserve the same protection? I shook my head.
The question that has been swirling in my head ever since is: what motivates Mpisane and some construction industry bosses to be so greedy and un-African. This behaviour is un-African because you defraud the public of money that would have served it as a result of greed and a lack of humanity (ubuntu).
History shows that commercial greed is a consequence of individualism and liberalism. These two philosophies have their origin in Western culture; they put more emphasis on individual welfare than group interest. This means that as an individual, I will be more concerned about my needs and wants rather than those of the community, society and country.
This is in direct contrast to the African values of ubuntu because the said values place more emphasis on the individual making sacrifices in the interest of the whole group. For example, in the African value system, a couple with one child would delay buying a family car because they have to pay school fees for two children of the neighbouring family because their parents are unemployed.
In relation to commerce, individualists and liberals argue that an individual should be at liberty to pursue his business interests in the (free) marketplace, without unnecessary interference from the state. That is why the proponents of individualism and liberalism have always argued for a limited role of the government in trade and industry.
It is worth restating that individualism and liberalism are in contradiction with these African values. This is because these traditional African values place more significance on society and a caring state.
They are also based on the premise that a responsible, unified community and collective values should be promoted. African values are anchored on belonging, community well-being and having an acceptable living standard for the society as a whole, instead of just that of an individual.
The individualism and liberalism philosophies are the basis of blatant capitalism. In blatant capitalism, an entrepreneur is mainly motivated by the objective to create wealth and a better life for himself instead of the community.
Some of the consequences of the capitalism system include globalisation, job creation and employment opportunities. Capitalism contributed significantly to the growth of the global economy. Be that as it may, it is important to state that, despite its benefits, unethical capitalism trampled over workers’ welfare, the environment and ethical behaviour to achieve its success.
My counsel to the construction bosses is that they should incorporate the African values in their corporate philosophies and entrepreneurship. The integration of these values has the potential to inject some ethical rejuvenation and rapid growth of South African enterprises.
Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs are succeeding because they embrace their own value system and thus they create their own rules of engagement. In the same vein, African corporates should adopt this principle in deed.
As such, because these companies have wrongly profited from public funds, they should show remorse by building at least 100 schools in rural areas.
The conclusion is that African values are the cornerstone of a moral business enterprise.
* Matome Modipa is the founder and executive chairman of Sebata Group.