Lift­ing as He Rises

Change­maker Bo­nang Mo­hale

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As­pi­ra­tion, re­spon­si­bil­ity and a rest­less en­ergy are some of the traits that Bo­nang Mo­hale, for­mer Chair­man of Shell South Africa En­ergy Ltd and newly ap­pointed CEO of Busi­ness Lead­er­ship South Africa, wants to see in in­no­va­tors. Mo­hale will be one of four “Back­ers” in Cell C’s new on­line re­al­ity show, Hang­man, help­ing to de­cide who will walk away with R1 mil­lion and a chance to let their in­no­va­tion take flight.

Mo­hale is widely viewed as one of the most re­spected lead­ers in cor­po­rate South Africa, and his story is one of self­de­ter­mi­na­tion, hard work and am­bi­tion.

Mo­hale grew up in Katle­hong on Gaut­eng’s East Rand dur­ing the apartheid years. De­spite his hum­ble be­gin­nings, Mo­hale says he owes a good start in life to “prob­a­bly the best town­ship school un­der apartheid at that time” where the teach­ers had a real pas­sion to ed­u­cate their learn­ers.

“We had a sense of self-re­spon­si­bil­ity, of fer­vour, of as­pi­ra­tion to as­pire for bet­ter, and the rest­less­ness to be bet­ter to­mor­row than to­day,” says Mo­hale. And this is what he bases his Hang­man cri­te­ria on.

Mo­hale ini­tially wanted to be­come a med­i­cal doc­tor and ap­plied at Wits Univer­sity so, as he puts it, “I could com­pete with white stu­dents.” But his heart was in the up­lift­ment of the thou­sands of un­der­priv­i­leged and dis­ad­van­taged young South Africans, and thus he moved to a ca­reer in man­age­ment.

“I went and worked for a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany and be­came a pro­fes­sional sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive. To leave medicine was one of the best de­ci­sions I have ever made in my life,” Mo­hale says. He pro­gressed through var­i­ous po­si­tions and in 1996, he se­cured a spot at OTIS – the world’s largest and old­est el­e­va­tor com­pany.

“So here I am, a boy from Katle­hong, man­ag­ing the world’s big­gest and old­est el­e­va­tor com­pany, pre­sent in 223 coun­tries and em­ploy­ing 210,000 peo­ple. Black lift me­chan­ics at that time didn’t ex­ist, so we hired good can­di­dates and gave them a four-year ap­pren­tice­ship. There was ini­tial re­sis­tance. There was one client who orig­i­nally did not like black peo­ple ser­vic­ing his lifts, so I sent him eight black women who were excellent, and ever since then he’s be­come one of my great­est friends. He ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand that when peo­ple are well trained, they ap­ply them­selves and are am­bi­tious and con­scious of the op­por­tu­nity that they have, which makes them very hard work­ing.”

Af­ter a stint at OTIS, Mo­hale then moved to Sanlam be­fore be­ing ap­pointed at Shell.

Mo­hale ad­mits that he has al­ways been an ac­tivist, and even to­day he looks at the sys­tem and wants to take it on to im­prove the qual­ity of lives of most South Africans and to be the cham­pion of the change that he wants to see. Poverty, racism, gen­der in­equal­ity, LGBTI dis­crim­i­na­tion – these are all is­sues that he wants to tackle.

“Trans­for­ma­tion is more than just break­ing with the past. It’s about cre­at­ing a fu­ture that bears no re­sem­blance to that which re­places it. I’ve al­ways found trans­for­ma­tion to be pro­found, up­root­ing some­thing and re­plac­ing it with some­thing that is bet­ter and that is for the ben­e­fit of the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion.”

Mo­hale has a strong pas­sion for in­no­va­tion and en­trepreneur­ship. “I take this no­tion of en­trepreneur­ship se­ri­ously. Small and medium en­ter­prises cre­ate jobs. In South Africa, we have a prob­lem be­cause we have more peo­ple on so­cial grants than those who are em­ployed, so the maths doesn’t add up. Five per­cent of our peo­ple are re­spon­si­ble for our tax rev­enue. It’s an un­sus­tain­able sys­tem and it needs to be helped.

“A show like Hang­man al­lows us to fo­cus on peo­ple who are pas­sion­ate about start­ing their own busi­nesses and help­ing them trans­form them­selves from be­ing em­ploy­ees to be­ing em­ploy­ers. This helps

to cre­ate jobs. That’s why I wanted to get in­volved – to see whether we can plant the seed and start a chain re­ac­tion. Let’s think, lets in­no­vate, let’s take risks.”

So how does he want to be re­mem­bered?

“I want to be re­mem­bered as a pro­fes­sional and ef­fec­tive busi­ness­man who pro­duced good re­sults. I also want to be re­mem­bered as a per­son who took time for his com­mu­nity be­cause we want to lift as we rise, and lastly as some­one who was at peace in his own skin and not try­ing to be any­thing that he’s not.”

Text: Sup­plied Im­ages © Yolanda van der Stoep

Hang­man back­ers Quin­ton van der Burgh and Bo­nang Mo­hale with host Maps Maponyane

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