Reuel Khoza says the ANC's attack on him after he criticised the government's poor leadership record earlier this year was "simplistic and myopic".
CHRIS BARRON | BUSINESS LIVE
The chairman of Nedbank spelled out a few home truths about the country's "strange breed of leaders" whose "moral quotient is degenerating" and who, "due to sheer incapacity to deal with the complexity of 21st-century governments and leadership, cannot lead".
The ANC's vitriolic attack on him had the desired effect of silencing other black business leaders - except for the Black Business Council, which wasted no time echoing the ANC's attack on Khoza - and raised questions about what kind of democracy it is where business leaders are too scared to voice their true feelings about government.
Khoza says as long as SA has its constitution, even if "signs of constitutional breakdown are now all too obvious", and its independent institutions such as the judiciary, nobody can argue that it is not a proper democracy, even if there are aberrations.
"If you inculcate fear and patronage, you wind up with those kinds of aberrations."
The ANC, led by secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, the SA Communist Party in the person of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and cabinet spokesman and BBC president Jimmy Manyi said Khoza was a failed leader who could not execute his brief as Nedbank chairman to find a buyer for the bank. They suggested he owed his achievements to BEE and, by extension, the government, and therefore had no right to criticise.
Khoza, 63, is a man of gravitas and dignity, well suited to the role of wise, elder statesman.
Anyone who thinks his job was to sell the bank shows "a gross misunderstanding" of how such things work, he says.
"I am fundamentally conflicted. I could not have been requested to sell the bank. I am chairman of the bank and I am on the board of Old Mutual, the controlling shareholder. Nobody in their right mind would have given me a brief to sell the bank.
"This is the naivety that worries me of people who are in ostensible leadership. They go off at a complete tangent without understanding the fundamentals of business."
As for owing his position to BEE: "I was a successful businessman in my own right long before these guys came back from exile or from [Robben] Island."
The "real leaders from the island" knew his record and read his articles, he says. "And then you have little upstarts coming later, not understanding where I hail from."
Long before BEE he was a director of Standard Bank and IBM.
In 1981, he started a management consultancy in Johannesburg and operated behind a "white front" to get offices in Commissioner Street.
"Even now, they just talk about my chairmanship of Nedbank. I run a private equity and investment holding company [Aka Capital]. We don't stand on the hilltops and talk about our success, but we are not exactly unsuccessful."
Also in the early 1980s, Khoza started a meat wholesale business. He ran two butcheries and a number of fast-food franchises in Soweto, Johannesburg and Nelspruit.
Before that he was a lecturer at the University of the North. He says he was fired because of his anti-apartheid activism.
There was not a peep from the ANC, the government or the BBC when Khoza voiced his trenchant criticisms of the current political leadership in his book, Attuned Leadership, which was published last year and has just been relaunched in paperback.
It was only when a journalist spotted them in his chairman's address that all hell broke loose.
Does this mean that, unlike the "real leaders on the island", the present crop does not read books?
"It would be presumptuous of me to pronounce on that," says Khoza. But if they do there's little sign of it.
Khoza believes the only hope for the country is to create entrepreneurs and develop small businesses. For this to happen, the government must create an "enabling environment".
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan recently criticised banks for not extending credit more readily to small businesses. But Khoza says it is the government's failure to create the right environment that is the real obstacle.
"A lack of finance is not necessarily the key obstacle. Finance is, in fact, more readily available in South Africa than in many countries."
There are not enough tax incentives, too many labour regulations and too much red tape.
"Small businesses are not hiring because they face being dragged to the CCMA every week."
Another reason people cannot find jobs is because education is "in crisis. Semi-literate and non-numerate matriculants emerge every year looking for jobs."
Tertiary education is failing the country because there is a "mismatch between the skills and qualifications they produce and the needs of business".
The issue of small business and entrepreneurship were not mentioned at the recent ANC policy conference, a fact that Khoza says he found "depressing".
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