Would Tintswalo survive the cruel corporate world?

Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula

Published Feb 15, 2024


Mabila Mathebula

During his State of the Nation address (Sona), President Cyril Ramaphosa brought a hypothetical figure called Tintswalo to the attention of the nation.

Tintswalo was born in 1994 where she tasted the nectar of success, thanks to the progressive policies of the ANC-led government. Tintswalo reminds of Snow White. The best part of Snow White is how much her mother loved her, even before Snow White was born.

The worst part of Snow White is how the mother dies when she is born and an evil stepmother raised her. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is not a fairy tale, it is true story, and I bet whoever wrote it had an evil stepmother.

People loved the ANC even before the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as president. The worst part is how conscience has died under the leadership of the ANC when it comes to spending public money. I know that the ANC-led government will use Walter Winchell to justify their actions as the president did with Tintswalo: “Too many people expect wonders from democracy, when the most wonderful thing of all is just having it.”

How do we ensure that Tintswalo is not destroyed by the same society that has created her? I have the same DNA as Tintswalo in me. I was employed by the then-Spoornet (Transnet Freight Rail) in 1995 as an assistant internal communications manager; we were called Turn Strategy Candidates. I was an assistant manager but there was no internal communications manager.

I later found that blacks people’s status in management was based on new jobs created in affirmative action, human resources and public affairs that led to dead-end careers. I also realised that we had never been employed to add value to the organisation but to add figures to the employment equity targets.

Our upward mobility as black managers was thanks to the political pressure from the ANC-led government to force the corporate world to employ black people in managerial positions. Labour either was racialised or mainstream.

Author and specialist in racial workplace discrimination Sharon Collins says racialised labour “performs white institutional functions that have a manifest or symbolic connection to black constituents or black issues. On the other side, mainstream labour performs jobs that lack these racial implications such as service planning, strategic management, operational safety, finance and infrastructure management”.

I thought it politic to leave my racialised job and moved to a mainstream job when I became an operational safety manager where I was tasked with a responsibility of running an accident office nationally.

The Transnet management under the leadership of Saki Macozoma realised that black managers were not part of delegates to attend conferences overseas. They came up with a policy that said: “If a white person goes overseas, he must take a black person along with him.”

I became the beneficiary of the policy when I attended a quality conference in the US and an International Railway Conference in Australia. The following year, I told my boss that I was ready to write and present a paper at the International Railway Safety Conference in Canada and I was prepared for a change-of-gear scenario where I would take him alone with me.

My abstract was approved and I went to Canada to present: “Linking Employee Engagement to Safety Performance: A Human Assets Approach.”

Like Tintswalo, I was eternally grateful to the ANC-led government for the opportunity as the paper was voted the best conference presentation. From there, I received many invitations and job offers overseas. I also served on the Transport Research Board with its head office in Washington DC. I was amazed that I was the only black person serving on the board. In addition, no black American occupied the position I occupied in the South African railways.

As Mandela said: “After climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many hills to climb.” From the white management one had to fight against active racism but when black people took over, racism was replaced with professional jealously. What would you expect if you told your manager that you had received an invitation from Japan to present a conference paper? You would be the victim of the Pull Him Down (PHD) Syndrome.

To add insult to injury, my abstract to a railway safety conference in Perth, Australia was accepted in 2018. My topic was: “The lack of synergy between operational managers and financial managers in the railways: A South African case study.”

The Rail Industry and Standard Board (RISB) hosted the conference. I was not given an opportunity to go and present my paper, the CEO, the chairperson of the board, three board members and a friend and a colleague went to the conference. My friend had to present my paper on my behalf and his paper. The rest of the crew went to Australia to listen to other speakers.

I found my friend to be intelligent, cheerful of spirit, unselfish, full of generous impulses, patient, considerate and wonderfully good-natured. Not any passenger who flew with him to Australia would withhold his endorsement of what I said about him. The delegates found my paper to be interesting and the RISB requested to put our two papers on its website.

Tintswalo may have to scale the professional jealousy hurdles. The ANC needs to put a monitoring mechanism to ensure that CEOs and board chairperson do not abuse their powers. The unethical leadership did not affect me; I took comfort from Henry Ford: “Doers get to the top of the oak tree by climbing it. Dreamers sit on an acorn.” I regarded that leadership as dreamers sitting on an acorn.

Author and life coach Mathebula has a PhD in construction management.

The Star