THERE is a gap between transformation and capability in South Africa; although we are doing a lot right in this area, with our employment equity laws, we still need much more to be done to capacitate the state.
The public sector takes transformation very seriously, but I think the private sector is lagging behind. If we don’t address the problem of the poor, it is going to catch up with us.
We are already experiencing problems with people who are angry and tired of waiting for transformation in their own lives. Business will not be sustainable in that environment.
I would like to see us commit to the skilling of people rather than concentrating on numbers.
There’s a tendency in some companies to tick boxes and say: “Alright, we have the BEE numbers, even if they just sit in a corner and we don’t bother to upskill them.”
I have met people, some from big companies, too, who do not have the skills you’d expect; people who were put in a position with a title, but without the support to learn; to grow into serious businesspeople.
We have clerks at SizweNtsaluba-Gobodo whose parents don’t understand what exactly they’re studying. A few may have had teachers who inspired them, but most need supportive mentors in the workplace.
Companies that comply for the sake of compliance often create a very hostile environment for equity appointees. Black people are let in the door, but they’re not given the support they need to improve their skills.
For someone from Qumbu, in the Eastern Cape, who was educated by their grandmother on a state pension, the whole environment is very intimidating. So there is a tendency for them to switch jobs a lot, in that atmosphere.
I would rather companies take just 10 people and commit to really training them to a level when they can compete globally. For the sustainability of our country, we need to commit to that vision, rather than statistics and compliance.
We have to put heart and soul into educating and skilling our people. There are some examples of the private sector committing to that vision. The Thuthuka Bursary Fund, which was initiated by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants, is showing that if you support and mentor disadvantaged BCom students properly, they can outperform their more privileged contemporaries. It’s because they’ve been prepared; the programme is committed to producing leaders of substance who can effect real change.
I understand why this is hard for a lot of companies. I think short-term objectives may be blinding some of them, to an extent. Transformation is not about short-term profits – it’s about a long-term strategy.
The situation as it is now is simply not sustainable. Let’s stop this lip service to compliance. Instead of making 30 equity appointments, make only 10 – but spend the same amount on them as you would have on 30, to make sure that those 10 become developed as leaders of substance who can improve the country in 20 years’ time. At least let’s get this right at the basic level. Let’s commit to paying it forward, to lifting people in the best way we can.
It will have a multiplying effect: those 10 equity appointees that a company trains and mentors properly will each empower another 10 leaders. And Western business culture can meet them halfway; don’t expect people from such a different background to just “adapt” without a life skills programme. We could wake up in 10 years’ time and be amazed at how we’ve moved forward as a country.
Nonkululeko Gobodo is the executive chairman of accounting and auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo.