Xolani Mkhwanazi. Picture: SUPPLIED
Xolani Mkhwanazi. Picture: SUPPLIED

Veteran corporate leader Xolani Mkhwanazi has died at the age of 64 after a short illness.

Mkhwanazi, a doctor of applied physics, died on January 4 at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg.

He had a long and extensive corporate career which saw him rise to president of aluminium at BHP Billiton. He went on to serve as chair of BHP Billiton SA from 2008-2015 and played a significant role in the creation of South32, including serving as director, when it was spun out of BHP in 2015.

“Xolani was greatly admired for his grace and his wisdom. He was a scientist and an esteemed business leader with a passion for SA, its people and the resources sector. His contribution was felt throughout the company and we will miss him greatly,” South32 chair Karen Wood said.

JSE-listed IT group EOH also noted the death of its chair, who was instrumental in the company's efforts to put behind it governance failures that cost it a major contract with Microsoft and led to a slump in its shares.

“Dr Mkhwanazi led the board deliberations on all group matters, but most notably during the tough deliberations around the findings of the ENSafrica investigation commissioned by EOH into public-sector contracts. During this period, Dr Mkhwanazi braved a difficult time always striving to do the right thing. He grasped the issues and dealt with them quickly. He will be sorely missed,” EOH CEO Stephen van Coller said.

Mkhwanazi’s alma mater, Lancaster University, bestowed an honorary doctor of science degree, on Mkhwanazi in July 2019 for his outstanding contribution to the development of maths and science.

“His extensive leadership, business and technical expertise is shown through his substantial roles including CEO of the National Electricity Regulator of SA) and chair of the SA branch of the global BHP Billiton mining company. In 2018, Dr Mkhwanazi became the first recipient of the National Science and Technology Forum’s (NTSF's) Ukhozi award, recognising his essential input to the NSTF and contributions to SA more widely,” the university said  in a statement accompanying the award, which Mkhwanazi received in person.

In addition to his roles at BHP, South32, and EOH, Mkhwanazi was also on the board of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) and construction company Murray & Roberts. He was the chancellor of the Vaal University of Technology until his death.

Roger Baxter, CEO of the Minerals Council said: “I had the privilege of getting to know Dr Mkhwanazi back in 2010 and I admired his incredible intellectual capability, his humility and his great sense of humour. South Africa and the mining sector have lost not only a great leader and intellectual but also a man who was passionate about this country. He will be sorely missed”.

"His contribution to our organisation and our industry was immense, as were his contributions to the many other institutions in the private and public sectors that he served with distinction", Baxter said.

thompsonw@businesslive.co.za