Now Nene’s into the fi­nance of farm­ing

‘BEE at­tracts op­por­tunists’

CityPress - - Business - RIANA DE LANGE busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Nh­lanhla Nene, the for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter, who is cur­rently an ad­viser at Thebe In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, says BEE was only partly suc­cess­ful.

“If peo­ple do not have to work to get to the top, there is a ten­dency that op­por­tunists start be­liev­ing they have a right to sim­ply and quickly get to the top,” he said this week.

“For that rea­son it is very im­por­tant that prac­ti­cal and mean­ing­ful plans are made to sup­port the en­force­ment of BEE.”

Thebe is one of South Africa’s black em­pow­er­ment suc­cess sto­ries, but iron­i­cally, it is not a BEE com­pany.

The com­pany was founded as a trust by lu­mi­nar­ies such as for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, along with Wal­ter Sisulu, Bey­ers Naudé, Ernest Mabuza and Vusi Kany­ile in 1992.

At the time, there was no BEE leg­is­la­tion.

The in­ten­tion of the founders of Thebe was to start a black com­pany that would help black peo­ple get ac­cess to main­stream busi­ness in the new, demo­cratic South Africa.

They ini­ti­ated some busi­nesses them­selves, and bought, de­vel­oped and resold oth­ers. One of th­ese was the state-owned air­line, SA Ex­press.

To­day the com­pany man­ages as­sets worth R6 bil­lion and it still has a ma­jor­ity black share­hold­ing.

“Yes, there should be more com­pa­nies like Thebe, which was founded to cre­ate value – un­like to­day’s com­pa­nies, which are only es­tab­lished be­cause of ben­e­fits to be reaped from the BEE reg­u­la­tions,” said Nene.

“Th­ese days, peo­ple es­tab­lish BEE com­pa­nies purely be­cause there are im­me­di­ate ad­van­tages for them.”

Af­ter Nene was fired as fi­nance min­is­ter last year, he re­ceived nu­mer­ous job of­fers, in­clud­ing one from Thebe.

“Thebe’s cul­ture and vi­sion ap­pealed to me,” he said.

“To this day the com­pany still aims to, first and fore­most, build com­mu­ni­ties, while also con­tribut­ing to trans­for­ma­tion and to grow­ing the com­pany.”

– Inge Kühne

De­cem­ber 9 marks ex­actly a year since Nh­lanhla Nene was fired from his post as fi­nance min­is­ter.

A day or two af­ter va­cat­ing his po­si­tion, he took his youngest daugh­ter shop­ping – be­cause he had the time. He also helped his wife, Lisa, to plant 10 000 cab­bages on their 22-hectare farm near Kran­skop in KwaZulu-Natal.

Be­fore long he was in­volved in a de­vel­op­ment project for preschool­ers, and took up the chair­man­ship in board meet­ings of the lo­cal hos­pi­tal.

Af­ter Nenegate – known in the cor­ri­dors of Trea­sury as “9/12” – Zuma tried to calm the mar­kets by claim­ing Nene would be tak­ing up a high po­si­tion at the de­vel­op­ment bank be­ing mooted by Brics, the acro­nym given to the coali­tion of the five emerg­ing na­tional economies of Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and South Africa. But noth­ing came of that.

How­ever, many in the pri­vate sec­tor queued with of­fers in hand for Nene.

In April, he ac­cepted a po­si­tion as a nonex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Al­lan Gray. Since May, he has been an ad­viser at black in­vest­ment group Thebe In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, which man­ages as­sets worth more than R6 bil­lion.

Nene de­scribes th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties as vastly dif­fer­ent from his min­is­te­rial du­ties. “It of­fers me a new life be­cause the pri­vate sec­tor forces me to fo­cus on new chal­lenges.”

He ad­mits to miss­ing the break­neck pace of his for­mer life in pol­i­tics. “My chil­dren can tes­tify that they were never re­ally sure whether they had a fa­ther. But now they know they have one. I in­tro­duced my­self to them again.”

He feels less stressed than dur­ing his min­is­te­rial days, and en­joys what he does now.

Govern­ment’s loss is busi­ness’s gain. Vusi Khany­ile, the chair of Thebe, at­tests to this, say­ing Nene’s “im­mea­sur­able skills set” will be in­valu­able to the growth path of the busi­ness.

For Nene, who is in­volved in his fam­ily’s farm, agri­cul­ture is of crit­i­cal im­por­tance to the econ­omy. He places its im­por­tance as be­ing on a par with min­ing.

“Agri­cul­ture’s role in ad­dress­ing three of the coun­try’s big­gest chal­lenges – un­em­ploy­ment, food se­cu­rity and its con­tri­bu­tion to the wider econ­omy – should not be un­der­es­ti­mated.”

But there are many ob­sta­cles, es­pe­cially for peo­ple farm­ing on a small scale. “It would help if ev­ery town had a mar­ket where lo­cal farm­ers could sell their fresh pro­duce, be it 10 bags of pota­toes or 100,” he sug­gests.

“Th­ese mar­kets could start as a govern­ment ini­tia­tive, and state in­sti­tu­tions such as schools and hos­pi­tals could buy their prod­ucts lo­cally.

“This would stop the process of vy­ing for sup­ply ten­ders and pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for pri­vate en­trepreneurs, such as for con­trac­tors who trans­port the farm­ers’ pro­duce to mar­ket.”

Nene stresses the im­por­tance of good re­la­tion­ships be­tween pro­duc­ers, the mar­kets and govern­ment agen­cies. “If you look at some of the failed agri­cul­ture and land re­form projects, poor links be­tween the var­i­ous role play­ers, or mis­un­der­stand­ing the role each was sup­posed to play, was a prob­lem.”

He says Thebe is in a po­si­tion to re-eval­u­ate some of th­ese failed projects, get in­volved and make them com­mer­cially vi­able again.

One of the projects that has been iden­ti­fied for a re­vival is sit­u­ated in Mpumalanga.

Ac­cord­ing to Nene, Thebe rep­re­sen­ta­tives are al­ready in talks with com­mu­nity mem­bers on the mat­ter and will soon meet with the de­part­ment of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form to dis­cuss pos­si­bil­i­ties. “Farm­ing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is suf­fi­cient to sus­tain you and is an as­set that grows. But your heart has to be in it.”

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