Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Usual Suspects

Lekota and Shilowa have gone on a mission. They are out to prove that they can Cope without the ANC. They have laid claim to the Freedom Charter and to the imagery of the Congress of the People. They have been the target of abuse from Camp JZ and from the ANC itself. Nonetheless they have soldiered on.

However, in doing so they have made the fatal error of attempting to claim the moral high ground, with Lekota saying at an early Shikota rally: “We don’t want crooks, we want honest leaders”. Now, most people will think that he was referring to JZ Camp & Co. But I think he is referring to everyone who benefited from the Byzantine politics of the Thabo era.

You see, when you are a bigwig in government and your government department or departments control vast sums of budgeted expenditure, there are all sorts of product and service providers who are really nice to you. Just because they want you to remember them when they are bidding for a slice of that state expenditure — or for your approval of a private sector “empowerment deal”.

Like the medical practitioners who are plied with odd gadgets branded in the name of cholesterol fighting medicines, the purpose of these business people being “nice” to the political bigwigs is to get on their right side. Some would call this a bribe; others simply write it off as the cost of doing business.

During the Thabo years, Gauteng, which in itself is one of the largest economies in Africa, had two premiers — Tokyo Sexwale and Sam Shilowa. Tokyo was redeployed to go into business and to advance the struggle for black ownership in the private sector and on the JSE. His Mvelaphanda group is the result of this. Sexwale recently re-entered the political arena by throwing his weight behind camp JZ in the run up to Polokwane, but for all intents and purposes looks set to remain in the business arena (unless he gets a special invite to join the new Cabinet). On the other hand, Shilowa, a Cosatu politician has not been redeployed to the business world. Far from it. In fact, Shilowa has left the ANC to join Lekota in the Cope.

Now, one would think that all is above board when a politician resigns from his party on the grounds of no longer being able to identify with its values He forms a new party which is premised on returning to the original values of the national democratic revolution. Bear in mind that the Congress of the People occurred before the treason trial and before the Rivonia trial. The armed struggle had not yet reached fever pitch and the ANC was still the ANC of John Langalibalale Dube.

So it would seem that Lekota and Shilowa are on the up and that all is well. They have decided to go after the ANC support-base which did not approve of the armed struggle and which has a preference for democratic reform and is opposed to corruption. At least this is what it seems like.

And this would be true if it were not for the former first lady of Gauteng. The thing about being a political spouse is that in the course of attending events with your loved one, you are introduced to all of the people who are trying to be nice to your spouse. And when you are the de facto head of the premier’s official residence, they really try to be really, really nice to you.

Wendy Luhabe (who is married to Shilowa) follows the advice in that advert which says “recognise potential and have the patience to wait for the return”. In marrying Shilowa, she probably had no idea that her walk down the aisle would lead to the premier’s palace, but she was a capable and efficient first lady, and I give her credit for that.

However, in being nice to Wendy Luhabe, some people who have an interest in doing business with the Gauteng government suggested that she get a group of women together and start up an investment company. Then these people began plying this women’s group with investment opportunities — where among others — it was the “gender empowerment component” of larger consortium and invested in companies controlled by women.

Now I won’t say that between the sheets, there were murmurings of tenders or licences being issued to consortia in which Wendy was or is invested; nor will I suggest that Wendy’s marital status had any role to play in the deals from which Wendy benefited; but somewhere between “I Do”, the Premiership and now … Wendy is the Chairwoman of the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

The IDC was established during apartheid to finance infrastructure development which would make South Africa self sufficient and less reliant on imports. And today the IDC is doing similar work, financing endeavours which create jobs. It’s a huge finance entity and, not surprisingly, the people who want IDC loans are likely to be very grateful to the individuals giving them these loans.

Rumours that the IDC issued a loan to a venture, in which Wendy was invested, seem to have evaporated and I am sure that all is above board at the IDC. Nonetheless Wendy is worth millions of rand and the question must be asked (as it is of all role models), “How did you do it? What were your ‘defining moments’?”

Now leaving aside the “hard work, prudent saving and sweat equity” drivel that all moguls dish out, there must be something else. I mean there are more than three million women in Gauteng; how did Wendy rise to the top of this group?

The answer very simply, to quote George W Bush during his Harken Energy days, is that “In business and in politics, access is power. I can get hold of my daddy any time of the day or night. I can get things done that would take other people much longer to do.”

Back home, Wendy Luhabe, has already been voted “South Africa’s most powerful business woman measured in terms of influence, not wealth” by one of South Africa’s most respected business magazines.

Access. Wendy had 24-hour access to the most powerful politician in Gauteng. Gauteng with its billions and billions of planned and budgeted state expenditure; Gauteng with its three metros and the bulk of the SARS tax base; Gauteng with its pavements plastered with gold dust; Gauteng, the hub of Southern Africa’s economy. And Wendy had 24-hour access to the man with the keys to it all.

And it was during these years of access that Wendy became a Non-Executive Director of a number of high profile corporations, which all surprisingly have some dealings with the state, either as a regulator or as a customer.

Now for any ambitious business person this would seem like the perfect “in”. A way to get into the Premier’s house, into his life and even into his bed. A way to convince him that your consortium (in which his wife was invested) should get his approval in all that you did.

But I’m not saying that Wendy benefited from the personal relationship between the Premier and the First Lady. All I’m saying is that Wendy Luhabe must explain where and how her investment vehicles made their money and that Sam Shilowa must deny any involvement in directly or indirectly assisting Wendy Luhabe to make this money before I can take Cope seriously. That’s all.

1 Opinion(s):

Vanilla Ice said...

An excellent post Doberman. I have, on occasion, lectured to MBA students and I can tell you that technical proficiency is all important at the middle management level. Rampant success is usually as a result of connections.