OBITUARY | Jabu Mabuza leaves an indelible mark on SA’s heart

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OBITUARY | Jabu Mabuza leaves an indelible mark on SA’s heart

He taught me that if we wait for someone else to fix things, we are doomed to further despair, writes Bonang Mohale

Bonang Mohale
Former Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza died of complications related to Covid-19 on Wednesday.
MADE HIS MARK Former Eskom chair Jabu Mabuza died of complications related to Covid-19 on Wednesday.
Image: FINANCIAL MAIL

Dr Jabulane Albert Mabuza was my boss. We persuaded him, and he ultimately agreed, to be the single face of big business as the president of both Business Unity SA (Busa) and the CEO Initiative, as well as chair of Business Leadership SA. He, in turn, later persuaded me to come out of early “retirement” at age 55 to be the CEO of BLSA, the organisation founded in 1960, before I was born.

At its inception, BLSA had two primary purposes: to defend apartheid, and sanctions-busting. The two of us were convinced that it presented the perfect platform for transformation, not reformation, and I agreed to take up the cudgels and eat this monster from within on July 3 2017.

With his inimitable leadership and a strong board, we rapidly put an effective and efficient team in place that consisted of two African women and three African men. A year later, that team evolved to three African women and two African men. Against fierce opposition and at great personal risk, we firmly laid the foundations to root out and defeat state capture, starting with the planned, focused and relentless pursuit and ultimate demise of Bell Pottinger in just six months.

Thank you for leaving an indelible mark in our hearts that our destiny is to clearly build a free, democratic, united, antiracial and anti-sexist SA.

He reluctantly agreed to be included in the five names that BLSA submitted to the Treasury for consideration to the Eskom board. He ended up as chair in January 2018, of a board consisting of true patriots. We initially suspended KPMG, Eskom, Transnet and Bain Consulting, in that order, for aiding and abetting state capture. Due to Mabuza’s determination, dedication and will to succeed, and having been sufficiently convinced of the new strategy, systems and processes that the Eskom board and executives led by Baba Phakamile Hadebe had put in place, it was the first company to have its suspension lifted. 

Mabuza founded, among others, FABCOS, and went on to chair the Telkom, Casino Association of SA, AB InBev, SA Tourism, Unisa SBL and Sun International boards. He served as a member and patron of the SA Day initiative (Citizens in Partnership with Government). He served on the boards of Tanzania Breweries, and Castle Brewing Company in Kenya. He recently retired as board member from the Corporate Council on Africa in Washington DC and the World Travel and Tourism Council in the UK as an executive committee member.

He was appointed to the Concordia Leadership Council, US, and was also the chair of the Regional Business Council for the World Economic Forum (WEF). The University of the Witwatersrand awarded a doctor of commerce degree (Honoris Causa) to Mabuza in 2017, “in recognition of his sterling work and his achievements in entrepreneurship and contribution to the growth of the South African economy”.

I will, forever be grateful to you for being such a great teacher and amazing human being. Thank you for touching my life in such a meaningful way. Teaching me and many more that if we wait for someone else to fix things, we are doomed to further despair. That our purpose must be to do something, no matter how small ... it’s the sum of the parts that creates a greater whole. That we must each adopt one aspect of what government is failing to do and just get it done and, by so doing, we put ourselves on the path to real BEE and ultimate emancipation.

Thank you also for being a testament, that having witnessed both the economic struggles of our forebears and the birth pangs of a new nation, there is real value in building our South African nationhood, for it gives expression to a fundamental truth in our national life. That right through our history one can trace a cord of exclusion, oppression, subjugation and engineered disunity endured at the hands of a racist, prejudiced and unsympathetic National Party government. That the liberation mothers and fathers have successfully impressed their quality and views upon successive generations — an influence later sustained, deepened and broadened by your personal participation in the June 16 1976 student uprisings — for which you were later expelled.

And the United Democratic Front women and men who, when the great liberation struggle came, made such a notable contribution in that lifelong fight for both political and economic liberation.

Thank you for leaving an indelible mark in our hearts that our destiny is to clearly build a free, democratic, united, antiracial and anti-sexist SA.

Our heartfelt and sincere sympathies and condolences go to his lovely wife, Sis’ Siphiwe, their children, family, the Mabuza clan and friends on such a profound loss, but nonetheless a life so beautifully lived.

Hamba kahle Mshengu nkos’yam! 

• Mohale is the chancellor of the University of the Free State, professor of practice in the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) College of Business and Economics, chair of both the Bidvest Group and SBV Services. He is the past president of the BMF.

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