POLITICS

5 Things You Didn't Know About Brian Molefe

Molefe is more complex than his character flaws and his disgraces. On paper, he is a highly competent leader.

27/02/2017 10:55 SAST | Updated 03/03/2017 15:09 SAST

Former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe is among the most complex politicians South Africa has to offer -- as pointed out by the Sunday Times's S'thembiso Msomi in a well-researched article published on Sunday. It provides important historical context behind disgraced former CEO Molefe becoming a Member of Parliament, and looks at the disconnect between Molefe as a person and as a professional. Despite his disgraces, Molefe is no fool. In fact, he is quite the opposite.

Despite the widely reported fact that Molefe is not in fact a member of the specified branch in the province that nominated him, he was sworn in as a Member of Parliament last week. His appointment has also caused massive ruptures in the ANC and its alliance, according to the Sunday Independent. Molefe's comeback as an MP was not only seemingly pushed through at branch level, but announced with much fanfare. New MPs rarely warrant their own press release as Molefe's did. This has fed into widespread speculation that he will either replace current Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, or be installed as his deputy to stymie him.

Treasury under Gordhan and his predecessor Nhlanhla Nene have frustrated President Jacob Zuma's plans around big projects like nuclear, and are thought by their supporters to be the last bulwark against wide-scale looting. But in spite of all of this, Molefe on paper is a highly competent person who has strong anti-apartheid struggle credentials, has had a fruitful career through close relationships with well-respected people and has done incredible things in positions of power that have had enormous positive implications.

Here are the five most interesting things about Molefe that the Huffington Post appreciated from the Sunday Times' article:

1) Molefe was committed to the anti-apartheid struggle during his university days.

He was a member of the Azanian Students Organisation, the forerunner of the ANC-affiliated South African Students Congress, criss-crossing university campuses to win support for the organisation.

By the end of the '80s, Molefe was working for the Northern Transvaal Development Trust - one of many bodies set up to challenge the apartheid state.

Collins Chabane - the late public service and administration minister - officially inducted him into the ANC. The two grew close when Chabane returned from Robben Island, where he served six years for Umkhonto weSizwe activities. They both took shelter in a tiny room at the University of the North.

2) Molefe's relationships with director-general Lungisa and Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago go way back.

Molefe, along with his best friend,Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago, and Treasury Director-General Lungisa Fuzile, grew to become one of the young managers in Thabo Mbeki's administration. They were regarded as key to ensuring that the state would have the capacity to run the economy in the future.

3) Molefe was mentored by Absa CEO Maria Ramos when she was the Treasury's director-general.

Molefe's former colleagues at the Treasury say they regarded the department's then director-general, Maria Ramos - now CEO of Absa - as one of his mentors.

In 2003, when the Mbeki administration needed to use the financial muscle it had through the government pension fund's multibillion-rand investments in listed private sector companies, it was Molefe who Ramos seconded to run the Public Investment Corporation. It was there that Molefe, who used to go by the nickname "Jimmy" when he was young, made the corporate world sit up and take notice.

4) Transformation through BEE was an obsession of Molefe's, and as such, he took on massive corporates and made significant changes.

He took on Barloworld — in which the PIC held a 16% stake — for not having a single black executive director. The controversy led to the downfall of Barloworld chairman Warren Clewlow. It was also Molefe who rapped the industrial giant over the knuckles for being "racist and patronising" when it appointed a black advocate, Dumisa Ntsebeza, chairman and then naming a white man, Trevor Munday, as deputy chairman — a position the company had not had for a decade. Molefe became a sort of cult figure in BEE circles when he strong-armed Sasol into appointing the PIC's nominee, Imogen Mkhize, to its board. The oil giant had resisted the move to have a black woman director on its board despite her impressive record in the sector.

5) Not only did Molefe take on corporates with regard to transformation issues, but he also went toe-to-toe with major companies on corporate governance issues.

Molefe took credit when Bidvest's Brian Joffe - who had not been keen to separate the roles of chairman and CEO - changed his mind and named Cyril Ramaphosa as the group's new chairman, while Joffe kept the job as CEO.

"We also focus on other corporate governance principles - separating the chairmanship from the CEO's position, limiting the discretion of the board over share issues, leave for directors - we've consistently voted on these issues," Molefe told an interviewer at the time.

The article poignantly summarises that the great tragedy of the ever-complex "bright trailbrazer who was once regarded as a lodestar for 'a new generation of cadres' who were to use the state to improve people's lives" is that he is now "permanently associated with the Saxonwold shebeen".

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