The term tenderpreneurs strictly refers to black business, yet the biggest chunk of state resources goes to white business, writes Dumisani Hlophe.
There is a subtle and yet vicious war against emerging black business individuals. This is unleashed through character assassinations; profiling of earnings and properties of black business persons; the usage and abuse of state institutions against black business; and branding as corrupt a relationship between black business individuals and senior politicians, both as ministers and senior bureaucrats.
The propagated perception against black business individuals is that they lack business acumen. That they are in business because of their association with politicians and senior bureaucrats in government.
Hence, the term of tenderpreneurs.
This term has been so easily accepted.
Yet the state inherently commands vast financial resources, and given the primacy of transformation and development, it is imperative that such resources be dedicated to this agenda.
It is within the development agenda that black business individuals pursue business contracts with the state.
Ironically, this demeaning term of tenderpreneurs, strictly refers to black business.
It excludes whites.
Yet the biggest chunk of state resources goes to white business. Some white business institution even invented BEE fronting so as to access state contracts.
Yet the term tenderpreneurs seems not to apply to white business dominating contracts with the state. Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane earlier this year was at pains to tell Parliament that in the financial year ending 2015, the department procured goods and services amounting to R13.3 billion.
Out of this, only R592.9 million was spent on SMMEs. In the following financial year ending 2016, the department spent R13.5bn on procurement, with only R2.2bn going to SMMEs.
This prompted Mokonyane to decry that in her department blacks are mere “beneficiaries of water services”, and vowed to change this status quo.
There is no need to guess who is in the SMME bracket.
In fact, the bulk of big infrastructure projects go to predominantly white companies.
Virtually all 2010 stadiums and all the major roads are built by white-owned companies with contracts running into billions.
Similarly, water infrastructure design and construction projects, with contract values running into billions of rands, are also predominately done by white owned companies.
But then, this is an acceptable norm.
One can be forgiven to believe that the biggest contract ever to be awarded by Prasa is R3.5bn awarded to Swifambo Rail Leasing.
This company is owned by Aswell Mashaba, and it is wholly black owned. When this issue hit the public platform through the media, one particular focus, was dedicated to what Mashaba owns.
So, there was a whole range focus on the property that Mashaba owns.
One story in particular detailed the various phases of when Prasa paid Swifambo particular amounts, and the properties Mashaba purchased immediately thereafter.
Interestingly, the media did not consider this as an investment, but a property shopping spree.
But then without recognition of Mashaba as a proper businessman, the term property investment could not be associated with him.
Stripped of the businessman status, he was portrayed as a money launderer akin to “easy come, easy go”.
Part of the coverage included the determination of Mashaba’s political connections which was said to include Jacob Zuma’s eldest son, Edward Zuma.
This is the generic caricature of black business persons.
Once a black business owner scores a significant contract, the immediate assumption is that there is possibly something wrong.
A series of questions are activated: what are his qualifications; what does he own; who is he connected to politically; and where has he been in the last few months?
One person who has become a perennial caricature in this regard is LTE Consulting’s CEO Thulani Majola.
LTE has been the subject of media investigations, innuendos and publications for its Limpopo province operations.
It is immaterial that Majola, like Mashaba, has not been found guilty of anything corrupt in a court of law.
In recent weeks, it was suspiciously published that within a year, Majola had secured contracts worth about R5bn from the Department of Water and Sanitation.
Under normal circumstances, this figure would not raise eyebrows for a company working in the field of infrastructure development.
Double this figure can actually be secured in one contract depending on the substance of the project.
In fact, it can be said with certainty that a similar contract given to Murray and Roberts, Group 5, WBHO, or Grinaker LTA would not have raised any suspicion at all.
Then there is also an inference drawn from that LTE allegedly donated R3.5 million to the ruling ANC.
While it is not illegal to donate to political parties, an inference is made in the public opinion that this is the reason LTE gets business contracts with the state.
This, with the presumed relationship with Mokonyane, renders Majola less of a businessman, but possibly secures state contracts from his and LTE’s political association.
Just like Mashaba, Majola, and many other black businessmen and women, their business integrity is summarily thrown out the window.
Businessman Jabulani Mabaso of Indiza infrastructure is suing the state for R400 million for wrongful prosecution and cancellation of his contract with the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education.
His troubles started when his company won a multimillion rand contract with the KZN Department of Education to supply stationary throughout the province.
This achievement was soon turned into a nightmare as he was investigated, and prosecuted.
Seven years later, he was cleared by the Pietermaritzburg High Court - not guilty! The trial lasted seven years.
Throughout this time, his company had become insolvent, his reputation damaged, property shares taken by the asset forfeiture unit, accounts frozen, and now sitting with a legal bill of R9 million.
Mabaso blames his business competitors, and state institutions such as the NPA, that as he claims, failed to investigate properly and make a proper determination that the allegations were actually a non-issue.
Mabaso finds it regrettable that the state, which is mandated to drive transformation, finds some of its institutions being used to sabotage emerging black business.
His business employed at least 300 employees, and all these people lost their jobs when the economic sabotage against him started. Black business individuals must be scrutinised by the media.
Where there is evidence of unethical business conduct, the law must take its course.
But so should white businesses.
It can’t be “corruption” for black business and be “collusion and price fixing” for white business.
A collapsing bridge built by a white owned Murray and Roberts can’t be treated as media sound bites, while black owned Swifambo, Indiza; and LTE are a front page series in the media.
Black business will most likely remain on the periphery of the economy because of being sabotaged through the following: a media engineered template that renders black business perpetually corruption suspects with the exclusion of white business; the media frenzy that is activated whenever a black business secures a big contract; the assumption that a black business person’s relationship with a minister or senior bureaucrats is inherently a corrupt relationship; a generic attitude that says black business persons must constantly explain themselves, otherwise they are guilty of corruption until they prove themselves to be innocent - which is never accepted.
Regrettably, black business organisations have not taken up this battle as a struggle for progressive self-preservations.
Organisations such as the Black Business Council, Foundation for African Business and Consumer Services (Fabcos) and the Black Management Forum, to name a few, are as yet to present a coherent defence of the integrity of black business as a collective.
Similarly, the black government is yet to present a coherent defence when its very own transformation agenda is under siege.
It’s quiet common for individual ministers and departments to find themselves alone in the firing line, without the benefit of a collective government defence.
The battle to keep blacks from the mainstream of the economy has not ended, it has merely assumed a different strategy.
* Hlophe is Faculty Associate at the Albert Luthuli School of Responsible Leadership at University of Pretoria. Twitter @KunjaloD
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media
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