Black Business Council president Sandile Zungu. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Black Business Council president Sandile Zungu. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The Black Business Council (BBC) is hinging its revamped identity on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s promise of a "new dawn" for the country, but the organisation’s history suggests this might just be a farce.

Just as Ramaphosa has seen, reclaiming credibility is a long process — and the BBC’s reputation has been battered.

Newly elected president Sandile Zungu, the owner of Zungu Investments Company, admitted to Business Day on Wednesday that the council was in "tatters". Admitting it is the first step, but it remains to be seen whether Zungu and his team will be able to undo the damage of the past year.

The BBC’s reputation took a dive following its dramatic break-up with Business Unity SA (Busa) in 2017, which saw the business organisation lose its seat on Nedlac. The two have long had a strained relationship but in 2017 it came to a head when they argued over key economic issues at Nedlac.

Suddenly, the BBC had lost a crucial platform and its relevance continues to wane.

Rekindle relationships

Zungu is aware of the damage the fallout has done. One of his first tasks is to rekindle the BBC’s relationship with other business organisations to get business talking with one voice — in line with Ramaphosa’s promises.

"It is at the level of Nedlac where legislative processes are influenced by business in a formalised way that we need to influence," he said.

But Zungu was also a key driver behind BBC formally splitting from Busa in 2012 for not driving transformation, after the two amalgamated in 2003. In 2011 Zungu, who was then secretary-general of BBC, suspended his participation in Busa because of the deepening mistrust between the leadership and organised black business.

What is not clear is what has changed ideologically for BBC or Busa that could repair the rift. Zungu has not outlined how they will tackle their differences, but Ramaphosa has made it clear that there needs to be one voice for business. Zungu looks to be playing right into that.

Zungu has never been far from the seat of power. It seems it is his modus operandi to align himself with presidents. He was chair of Denel under Thabo Mbeki and economic adviser to Jacob Zuma.

While the BBC clung to its rhetoric around radical economic transformation, instances of money not making it into its coffers placed it under scrutiny. The controversy around its former president, Danisa Baloyi, has left a bad taste. She was suspended in December pending a probe into a missing R5m donation from the Airports Company SA. Baloyi denied the allegations, but was replaced by Gilbert Mosena as acting president.

The controversy shook the organisation and the BBC has been unable to get back on track for much of 2018 — which is why it called early elections.

While Zungu is returning to a leadership position, the BBC has also seen the election of three women and the youngest office bearer, accountant Bonolo Ramokhele, who was elected treasurer-general.

Nkuli Bogopa, who leads the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners, was elected vice-president of professionals. Keith Thabo, who is president of Namec Telecoms, is the vice-president for organised business. Business veteran Judy Nwokedi is the BBC’s new secretary-general, while Tilson Manyoni, the founder of Acutech, is head of policy. Businesswoman Bridgette Radebe is the chair.

The new team will lead the organisation’s 54 members, which represent black professionals, business associations and chambers.

But it remains to be seen whether Zungu will be able to help the organisation claw back into Nedlac and restore some semblance of credibility.