• Standard Bank joint CEO Sim Tshabalala. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

  • Bongani Nqwababa. Picture: SUPPLIED

  • Stephen Cornell. Picture: SUPPLIED

  • Standard Bank joint CEO Ben Kruger. Picture: ROBERT TSHABALALA/FINANCIAL MAIL

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

IN THEIR radical posture, some in the black consciousness brigade fighting for transformation and against racism often display what would seem to be an inferiority complex.

In the process, you discover how black people often insult other blacks, perhaps without being conscious of the implications of their words.

So what am I referring to? Last year, Sasol announced a joint CEO structure in terms of which its then finance director, Bongani Nqwababa, would lead the company alongside Stephen Cornell, then executive vice-president of international operations. A number of transformation agents went on to assume that this appointment was anti-transformation and that Cornell was there to "babysit" Nqwababa.

But why did nobody ask why Nqwababa was babysitting Cornell? Why is it assumed by black people that it is the black person who needs a babysitter?

Nqwababa is an experienced and respected corporate leader who can think for himself. It is an insult to assume he would accept a situation in terms of which he would be babysat.

This is not the first time black directors have been insulted indirectly by other blacks in the name of fighting for transformation. The joint CEO structure at Standard Bank provides another example. Many saw this as a white executive director being asked to babysit a black director.

When Standard Bank announced the joint CEO structure in 2013, I asked a number of parties concerned — including joint CEOs Ben Kruger and Sim Tshabalala, and former chairman, Fred Phaswana — why this structure was chosen.

At no point did Tshabalala give the impression that he thought he was being babysat, and I would be extremely surprised if he had accepted terms he was unhappy with.

All the Standard Bank stakeholders I spoke to said that whatever appointment was made, the board needed to ensure that it did not pose a risk to the bank.

There was concern that appointing Kruger as sole CEO could have led to some people feeling skilled black talent was not recognised at Standard Bank, posing the risk that crucial black human capital would seek other opportunities. Simultaneously, if Kruger, who has been at Standard Bank since 1985, had been overlooked, vital, skilled white talent may have lost hope in the bank and left, taking clients with them. Standard Bank operates in Africa and having a white CEO is not always ideal. Added to that, there were aspects of the business that Tshabalala knew better than Kruger, and vice-versa.

When I spoke to Kruger, he was happy to concede that he needed Tshabalala, and had no qualms in saying Tshabalala would probably take over leadership of the bank on his own one day — Kruger is not far from retirement.

Equally, at Sasol I canvassed the opinions of people close to the process and the recurring view was that both candidates had applied and that they complemented each other in terms of skills and style. The expectation is that Nqwababa will eventually take over as sole CEO after he has added to his experience in the oil and gas space.

I am certain the Public Investment Corporation, as a major investor in Sasol, would have made a lot of noise about the appointment had Nqwababa been unhappy. Sasol is chaired by a black person, Mandla Gantsho, and has directors such as Mfundiso "JJ" Njeke, Nolitha Fakude and many others, who would also have squealed loudly if they were unhappy.

Standard Bank had a black chairman, black deputy chairman and many other black directors who fight for transformation. Why would they allow transformation to slip?

Of course, the joint CEO structure is an expensive one, and shareholders carry that burden. But perhaps we must accept that transformation does not come cheap, but yields better returns in the long run. I am equally aware that some people may hide behind the joint CEO structures in future to slow down transformation.

As Robert Sobukwe noted in Fort Hare in October 1949: "History has taught us that a group in power has never voluntarily relinquished its position.… And we do not expect miracles to happen in Africa."

However, in fighting racism, let us all arm ourselves with the necessary facts to defeat it.

• Ndzamela is a finance writer