The vi­sion of Khany­isile Kweyama, who be­came CEO of Busi­ness Unity SA in Jan­uary, is to en­sure that or­gan­ised busi­ness plays a con­struc­tive role in the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth, devel­op­ment and trans­for­ma­tion, writes Sue Grant-Mar­shall

CityPress - - Business -

We know that South Africa needs to grow busi­nesses, jobs and in­vestor con­fi­dence to once again be­come a win­ning na­tion. The new CEO of Busi­ness Unity SA (Busa), Khany­isile Kweyama, is do­ing some­thing about that. A glance at re­cent news­pa­per head­lines shows that she has not pulled her punches since she moved into Busa’s hot seat. She has warned South Africa that it “can­not af­ford a sin­gle day of a strike”.

She also made Busa’s dis­plea­sure known when Eskom and se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials kept it in the dark about our growth-in­hibit­ing lack of power.

South Africa needs “an en­ergy mix”, she says, “in which we do not just rely on coal, but on many dif­fer­ent en­ergy so­lu­tions. Nor should we have a sit­u­a­tion where ev­ery­one is re­liant on Eskom.”

Kweyama has clout in head­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that rep­re­sents the in­ter­ests of the coun­try’s pow­er­ful busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Busa is an apex body, “with a membership rep­re­sent­ing var­i­ous con­stituen­cies, from the Afrikaanse Han­delsin­sti­tuut to Mas­ter Builders SA, the Cham­ber of Mines, the Bank­ing As­so­ci­a­tion and a range of oth­ers”, ex­plains Kweyama.

Her job is to make sure there is a bal­ance in their view and voice, “and this is less daunt­ing if we speak with a com­mon goal in mind”.

“Our aim is a bet­ter life for all. It’s a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity that at times seems over­whelm­ing.”

Kweyama’s strong voice and di­rect gaze soon dis­pel any doubt about her be­ing able to achieve Busa’s ob­jec­tives.

She agrees that in the past there’s been a strained re­la­tion­ship be­tween busi­ness and gov­ern­ment. “There was a big trust deficit a cou­ple of years ago, but I think that is less­en­ing now be­cause we need each other.”

Kweyama has brought to her po­si­tion a wealth of busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence gained across a num­ber of sec­tors.

She was the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of An­glo Amer­i­can SA, the first woman to hold such a po­si­tion there, un­til it agreed to sec­ond her to Busa for a twoyear term from Jan­uary this year.

Prior to that, she was head of hu­man re­sources at An­glo Amer­i­can’s plat­inum busi­ness.

She is vice-pres­i­dent of the SA Cham­ber of Mines. But she also un­der­stands in­ti­mately the prob­lems faced by small busi­nesses, as she had two of her own from 1998 to 2002 – the con­sult­ing com­pany Nokusa Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Pro­mo­tions, as well as a hu­man re­sources con­sul­tancy, KTK HR So­lu­tions.

Her back­ground gives her a mul­ti­fo­cused ap­proach to any is­sue she’s work­ing on.

“I’m glad I got the in­side track, for when SMMEs [small, medium and mi­cro en­ter­prises] tell me big busi­ness doesn’t un­der­stand them, I can say ‘I have been there’. I know what it is like to have no salary, to rely on a hus­band to pay staff be­cause clients haven’t paid me.”

She chuck­les and spoons honey into her rooi­bos tea as we sit in the sparkling new Busa of­fices dec­o­rated in el­e­gant grey and chrome in Rivo­nia.

Kweyama started her busi­nesses shortly af­ter she re­turned from ex­ile in Vir­ginia in the US in 1991.

There, she had been work­ing with the ANC of­fice in Wash­ing­ton, DC, while study­ing to­wards a de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion. She be­gan her busi­ness life back in South Africa by work­ing for BMW “in an af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion po­si­tion”.

“I’m sure they meant well, but when I was asked who I knew in gov­ern­ment and to then take them out to lunch, it was ac­tu­ally an in­sult.”

Back in 1993, peo­ple in the work­place were not “used to hav­ing a pro­fes­sional black per­son work­ing with them. So I de­cided to help bridge that gap in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and hu­man re­sources area.”

In fact, Kweyama knew many peo­ple in gov­ern­ment. As a small child grow­ing up in At­teridgeville, Pre­to­ria, she’d wit­nessed her par­ents shel­ter­ing young peo­ple on the run from the apartheid gov­ern­ment.

Her fa­ther, who worked in sales and mar­ket­ing for the SA Co­op­er­a­tive Cit­rus Ex­change, and her school­teacher mother al­ways re­garded ed­u­ca­tion as a fun­da­men­tal right.

They sent her to the best school they knew, Inanda Sem­i­nary near Dur­ban, and then on to Fort Hare.

When strikes made life im­pos­si­ble there, Kweyama went to North­ern Vir­ginia with her two daugh­ters and re­turned as soon as the ANC was un­banned in 1991.

“I worked for the Con­sul­ta­tive Busi­ness Move­ment as part of its Codesa [talks be­tween the Na­tional Party and lib­er­a­tion move­ments to map out South Africa’s demo­cratic fu­ture] sec­re­tariat. Those were ex­cit­ing times and I re­call work­ing through the night on one oc­ca­sion when Nel­son Man­dela walked into the ne­go­ti­a­tion hall in the mid­dle of the night to re­solve a dead­lock be­tween par­ties.”

But she had al­ways wanted to com­plete her ed­u­ca­tion and grad­u­ated with a mas­ter’s de­gree in man­age­ment from the Wits Busi­ness School.

She was re­cently recog­nised as one of the most in­flu­en­tial women in min­ing in Africa by CEO Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and was listed as one of the Top 100 women to watch in the FTSE 100 Com­pa­nies 2014 re­port.

One of the many de­mands on her is be­ing a trustee of the Sen­te­bale Trust, founded by Bri­tain’s Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Le­sotho.

When she re­laxes, she reads books, “in­creas­ingly spir­i­tual ones, such as Deepak Cho­pra’s”, and she re­calls grow­ing up with Mills & Boon and The Hardy Boys.

“But the older I get, more busi­ness books and ones on strat­egy join the pile that I read at any one time.” Busi­ness tip Be­come an ex­pert in the field in which you work, and learn to speak its lan­guage. Men­tor My par­ents, who have men­tored and mo­ti­vated me. Book Lib­er­a­tion Di­aries: Re­flec­tions on 20 years of Democ­racy in South Africa. Edited by Bu­sani Ng­caweni. Wow! mo­ment Re­turn­ing to SA in 1991 af­ter eight years in ex­ile and hear­ing the im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer say: ‘Wel­come home.’ Life les­son De­cide what you are go­ing to do in life, fo­cus on it and then be at peace with your­self.

Khany­isile Kweyama

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