Johannesburg – Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Bonang Mohale is not a man who minces his words.

“All our challenges are self-inflicted, even the recession that we got into,” he said during an interview at the JSE this week.

“It was willful, purposeful, deliberate and conscious.”

The fault lies entirely with President Jacob Zuma, Mohale said.

He joined BLSA a few months ago, after serving as an executive at oil and gas company Shell for almost a decade.

City Press picked his brain about the state of business in the country and its sometimes-hostile relationship with government. Mohale said the trust deficit could not be blamed on business.

“This time, it’s not our fault. This time, we don’t accept that monkey. This is the president’s fault.”

Last December, Zuma had urged business to work with government to avoid a ratings downgrade, only to interfere later.

“During Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela’s administration, borrowing was at 20% of the GDP. This administration is at 50% of GDP,” he said.

He repeatedly referred to the Gupta family as an “immigrant Indian family”. Mohale’s facial expressions spoke volumes about what he thinks of the family and their relationship with Zuma.

“There is no self-respecting African who will use the terms white monopoly capital and radical economic transformation, because those are not terms that were coined by South Africans.”

Mohale said the two phrases were the policy of the Guptas and now disgraced, UK-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger, which coined them.

The ANC’s policy was inclusive economic growth, he pointed out.

He rejected criticism that BLSA was part of white-owned monopoly capital, since its members were mostly CEOs of white-owned multinational companies.

“The people who say that are profoundly ignorant. There’s nothing as dangerous as unconscious incompetence.”

He mentioned Standard Bank group CEO Sim Tshabalala, who is also a member of BLSA, as an example.

“Sim owns Standard Bank because, every year, he gets allocated shares of Standard Bank.”

Mohale said foreigners owned more than 40% of the JSE, leaving 60% to locals. At least 39% belongs to major institutions in the financial services sector.

Mohale said that, if one were to consider that insurance giants were run with black people’s money, as policyholders, and factor out black employment, then whites did not own much of the JSE.

‘Poverty still has a black face’

“That’s why the debate is – do black people own 3% of the market capitalisation of the JSE, or do they own 10%?

“If you include indirect ownership – that I’ve got shares in Old Mutual and Old Mutual has shares in this and you strip out just the black employment, you will realise that, actually, white people alone do not own 10% of the entire market capitalisation of the JSE,” he said.

“So, if we were not lazy and we did a little bit of work, we’ll find that, in fact, it’s nonsensical to talk of white monopoly capital. It’s correct that poverty still has a black face.”

He sang the praises of the contribution of business to the anti-apartheid struggle.

Business defied apartheid to meet the ANC in exile, and the Sandton skyline was evidence of black and white business coexisting.

“Business believes in South Africa; business invests in South Africa.”

“That’s why you look at the skyline of Sandton, look at the cranes – this is white business; this is black business,” he said, pointing to the skyline of the richest square mile in Africa from his sixth-floor office.

Asked to point out a single black business on the same skyline, Mohale reverted to his earlier statement that the biggest businesses were built on black people’s money.

He said the tensions between business lobby groups had a historical background.

They included sometimes tense engagements between Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), which the BLSA is a member of, and the Black Business Council.

Mohale is a former president of the Black Management Forum, which is a council member.

He singled out former government spokesperson and current ANN7 television station owner Jimmy Manyi as having spearheaded a number of efforts that disturbed the relationship.

However, when Manyi didn’t get his way, he retreated.

“He sulked and went to his corner,” Mohale said.

“He pulled the Black Management Forum out of BUSA. He led that walkout… and then reformed the Black Business Council with seed capital from Patrice Motsepe and the six people who became the first office bearers,” he said.

Mohale also accused the ANC-led government of killing more senior black executives’ careers than the apartheid government.

Published in City Press (17 September 2017)