Themba Maseko. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Themba Maseko. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Business Leadership SA (BLSA) has unexpectedly axed its entire communication unit, citing operational reasons.

Business Day understands that five employees — Business Day columnist John Dludlu, former Financial Mail journalist Thebe Mabanga, entrepreneur Sharmayne Venkatsamy and two administrators — were told last Friday that their services had been terminated "with immediate effect".

The contract of their boss, Themba Maseko, which was supposed to expire on Tuesday, was not renewed and he also left on Friday.

Neither BLSA nor the axed workers were prepared to explain why the organisation took such a drastic step at such short notice.

BLSA, which represents the CEOs of the largest companies in SA and falls under the apex organisation Business Unity SA (Busa), engages key players, including civil society and labour, to facilitate and promote dialogue with the government and other stakeholders.

'Operational decision'

"There was nothing sinister or untoward about it. It was just a normal operational decision," said BLSA CEO Bonang Mohale.

He, however, confirmed that the organisation’s communication unit had been axed.

Mohale said the move to cut the entire unit was necessitated by "operational" reasons.

He said some of the affected employees were on contract and some were fully employed by BLSA.

Employees linked to BLSA contacted for comment on Monday declined to speak to Business Day.

Mabanga directed all questions to Mohale.

BLSA chairman Jabu Mabuza hung up the phone when asked for comment.

BLSA hired Maseko, a former cabinet spokesman and CEO of the Government Communication and Information System, as director of communications on a one-year fixed contract in 2017.

In a letter to his team seen by Business Day, Maseko said: "For reasons inexplicable to me, I have learned that the BLSA communications unit was shut down on Friday.

"I have been privileged to work with a professional team of communicators. Despite the lack of resources, the unit strove to provide the organisation with excellent communication services. I was therefore taken aback by this action."

Mohale said they had mutually parted ways, again stressing there were no ulterior motives behind the change.

Maseko told Business Day there had been no offer to renew his contract or discussions about extending his tenure. "I left amicably. There was no conflict or tension. My understanding was that I was always only going to be kept on for a year."

Maseko is the only person to submit a written complaint about the Guptas to the ANC in 2016 when party members were invited to do so.

He alleged then that former president Jacob Zuma pushed him out of his role because he did not comply with a request from the Guptas to send government advertising spend to The New Age newspaper.

He said he will testify in a commission of inquiry into state capture if called upon.