It cannot be business as usual

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the chairperson of the Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the chairperson of the Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Mar 8, 2022


By Dr Wallace Mgoqi

“We have set on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the horizon, we can see the glittering prize. Let us march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight, our brotherhood and sisterhood. In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift— a more human face.”

These were words uttered by the late Steve Bantu Biko before his death at the hands of South Africa’s Security Police in 1977.

Nothing has been more elusive than this true humanity in our 27 years of our democracy. But, as Biko implied, it was not going to be easy to achieve it. He encouraged us to march forth with courage and determination, drawing strength from our common plight, even in the darkest hour when institutions of government and financial institutions are turning against us.

Such as the endemic corruption in the land and banks closing bank accounts of black companies, doing their best to create and maintain employment levels for large numbers of people, as evidenced in the current saga between banks and the Sekunjalo Group.

As stated previously in these columns, it may be a blessing in disguise that this tragedy befell the Sekunjalo Group because it might be the turning point for banks and other financial institutions and businesses, in general, to turn on a new page.

In a judgment of the Constitutional Court, Yolanda Daniels and Scribante, five judgments were delivered, all converging in upholding the right of a tenant to improve her living conditions, as against the right of the owner of the land, who was denied this right.

Justice Zondo quoted what the Court had said in Hatting as follows: “In my view, the part of Section 6(2) that says: balanced with the rights of the owner or person in charge, calls for the striking of a balance between the rights of the occupier, on the one side. And those of the owner of the land, on the other. This part enjoins that a just and equitable balance be struck between the rights of the occupier and those of the owner. The effect of this is to infuse justice and equity into the enquiry required by Section 6(2)(d).

The expression ‘to infuse justice and equity into the inquiry’ is pivotal in this search for balancing the rights of financial institutions like the banks and their customers, where the balance of power is always unequal, favouring the former.

Where do we search for models where businesses do not just pursue making money or profiteering but also commit to transforming socio-economic, political and environmental contexts in which they find themselves towards justice and equity for all. And not just a few.

In its 2008 Annual Report, the University of Cambridge Programme For Industry, Finding The Way, examples of responsible business documented a number of businesses that embraced the notion of responsible business in matters of natural capital, human capital, social capital, financial capital to manufactured capital.

In South Africa, we have some businesses that care enough about the context in which they operate for purposes of sustainability. The Sekunjalo Group is one of the companies where the owner of the businesses decided a long time ago to reduce his reliance and dependence on banks for credit to start or grow his businesses, to the extent that, to this date, he owes no bank any money.

He has been using the profits not to buy yachts or luxury vehicles but to plough such profits back into the businesses. Could it be one of the reasons that these banks do not care about closing his and his companies bank accounts?

Our hope is that from here, there will be a new ethos and culture of infusing everything we do with justice, equity, care and reasonableness, appreciating the consequences and impact of our decisions as we make them. It cannot be, for example, that an institution can collapse 200 businesses, supporting 8500 employees, who in turn, have approximately 40000 dependants, in a climate and environment of high unemployment, poverty and inequality.

On the contrary, we should be finding innovative and creative ways of nurturing businesses so that they can grow and support as many people as possible, regardless of the outcome of the cases. What is certain is that it must never be that we shall allow businesses to do business as usual.

We must find ways to hold them accountable to infuse everything they do with everyone they deal with and infuse it with justice, fairness and compassion. This is what Biko meant when he spoke of bestowing South Africa the greatest possible gift; a more human face.

Our policymakers, progressive business leaders and strategists, as well as our legislators, must help us establish a framework that will make this possible. As a result, all South Africans, regardless of their station in life, are treated with justice, fairness and compassion.

The words of Paul Hawken are apt when he says: “The great thing about the dilemma we are in is that we get to re-imagine every single thing we do. There is not one single thing we make or one system we have that doesn't require a complete remake ....”

We can, therefore, not be told that businesses are self-regulating and must, therefore, be left alone when, in fact, they end up making themselves vulnerable to being manipulated by oligarchs in our society to settle political scores or other battles.

Gone are the days when those in power, like employers before the introduction of the Labour Relations Act, could terminate employment willy-nilly. But with the introduction of the new dispensation, they could only do so on the basis of a fair and valid reason and a fair procedure being followed.

So it must be that stringent conditions must be established for banks. For example, not to rely on contractual terms alone as in the Bredenkamp decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal, when in fact such reliance may be inconsistent with upholding the values of our Constitution, pre-eminently, the value of human dignity.

This is the new dawn that is awaiting us. We better not miss the moment. Shakespeare said: “There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.”

Like experienced surfers, we must identify this as a wave that will take us safely home, where everyone's human dignity is upheld and respected.

*Mgoqi is the chairperson of the Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd