Opinion: Dan Matjila owed an apology by media
CAPE TOWN – The report of the much-covered Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of impropriety at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), will, according to a number of sources, shortly be made public. The contents of this highly anticipated report are likely to make for interesting reading.
According to a spokesperson inside the Presidency, it has been transferred from the office of the President to the minister and deputy minister of finance, and to the chairman of the PIC, and is now being studied by Parliament. It would seem the long wait will shortly be over.
By all accounts, the report is more than 700 pages long, and almost exclusively covers investments that the PIC made in black companies, as well as at the governance processes at the PIC. The investigation was also aimed at transactions performed during the tenure of Dr Daniel Matjila, who stepped down as the chief executive of the PIC before the start of the commission.
Matjila, was called to give an account of himself and his decisions, and it can be agreed, that his interrogation at the commission, spanning nearly three weeks, was perhaps the most grueling of cross-examinations, but also the most illuminating.
Independent Media believes that the report has classified Matjila as a highly credible witness, knowledgeable about the affairs of the PIC and was found to be someone that exercised sound integrity.
That said, it is also believed that the nub of the report has recommended to the President and the PIC, that governance procedures at the state-owned asset manager, be significantly improved and along with decision-making capabilities.
However, South Africans would have been forgiven for getting a completely different picture given the heavily biased television and print coverage of the commission. In particular, coverage from the likes of eNCA, print publications such as the Sunday Times and Business Day, and online portals such as the Daily Maverick, inferred that Matjila was an incompetent and corrupt black executive that fumbled his way to the top at the PIC. Perception was also created that Matjila only provided investment support to his friends and squandered billions of the PIC money.
They could not have been more wrong. What the commission of inquiry clearly demonstrated, was that Matjila had grown the PIC’s portfolio from about R400 billion to R2 trillion. Matjila delivered on his mandate, making significant returns on investments for the PIC, which in turn, benefitted its clients – the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
We do not need a report to see this.
Under Matjila’s tenure; the PIC won many awards and became one of the most highly respected global asset management institutions. Matjila was also able to attract top talent to the PIC from asset managers that were in competition with the PIC in the private sector. He was also responsible for the PIC transforming into an organisation that attracted and developed black talent, and many young people thrived under his leadership.
Further, through the Isibaya Fund, Matjila began investing in black-owned companies and allocated capital to black asset managers. Under Matjila, the PIC became an activist shareholder in companies with investments into JSE-listed entities, demanding better governance and the meeting of transformation imperatives.
If there is a criticism of Matjila, then it would be that his investments in JSE-listed companies did not fundamentally change the status quo of the JSE, where black companies still remained with only 3 percent of the 12 trillion JSE market capitalisation, and if the debt is excluded, then the net is 1.5 percent – according to the specialist economist, Duduma Ngubedi.
25 years post democracy, the PIC, and R1.6 trillion investment on the JSE, still remained largely in the hands of white-owned and operated companies.
Matjila started to change that.
In any other country in the world, Matjila would have been lauded as an outstanding asset manager and business leader, he achieved what many asset managers would not be able to dream of doing – in terms of economic and portfolio growth on behalf of his investors. Not so in South Africa, who focused on less than 5 percent of the total investments the PIC made on the JSE, and distorted Matjila’s contribution to the GEPF’s portfolio.
This deliberate misrepresentation of Matjila was designed to embed into the public psyche, the storyline that all black executives are corrupt, incompetent, or both.
Matjila and the PIC Commission of Inquiry, to some extent, sadly became conflated with the concurrent, and still ongoing, Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in South Africa. The influence the Guptas wielded over the country crept into the proceedings at the PIC Commission of Inquiry.
The reality, however, is that Matjila resisted the Guptas and paid the price for doing so. (Matjila was in the unenviable position that both the Guptas and their enemies, such as Pravin Gordhan, wanted him removed as the CEO of the PIC. Had they got that right; it would have been like handing the keys to the sweetshop to a sugar-addict.)
South Africans are still psychologically scarred by apartheid and the colonialist mentality of that which is white is good, and that which is black, is bad. We still live in a time where the Marcus Joostes of the world, are applauded for what they achieved at Steinhoff – even though he destroyed the value of the business and it is referred to as market forces.
This is in stark and obvious contrast to the Matjilas of this world who just happen to be black. They are more often than not, ridiculed, belittled and their actions and decisions are constantly questioned and checked. Black business people are not "trusted". Yet, there are many highly capable people in this country, who like Matjila, have built significant value in the organisations they lead. Look no further than the PIC, where Matjila and his team built real value for the PIC, the pensioners of the GEPF and for country.
Dan Matjila is a man of great integrity, skill and ability. He is owed a sincere apology by the media and by those who doubted his integrity. He is someone that South Africa’s business community can ill afford to lose. Perhaps had Matjila been running some of our SOEs they would actually be contributing to the fiscus and not draining us.
If I had a choice, I would insist that the President appoints Matjila to run the state bank or sovereign fund which he alluded to in his SONA address.
Sizwe Dlamini is an investigative journalist and Live Editor at Independent Media (Business Report and Personal Finance) who has extensively covered the PIC Commission of Inquiry.