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Picking Zimbabwean Sitho Mdlalose as Vodacom SA boss raises eyebrows

12 May 2022 at 07:13hrs | Views
The Zimbabwean diaspora seems to be discovering many vertical opportunities in corporate SA, notably in financial services, mining, and lately the telecoms sector. There is nothing wrong with it, but it raises eyebrows given the transformation agenda.

Are SA-born black executives finding it challenging to compete with African-born black executives from the diaspora?

SA telecoms companies have easily collapsed regional boundaries when pursuing broad-based BEE (BBBEE) employment equity targets. They seem to rope in UK-educated Africans from the diaspora to unethically meet BBBEE requirements.

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Zimbabwean-born blacks in the diaspora had a head start in attaining global skills in Ivy League institutions when the international world sanctioned apartheid SA. 

Under pressure from the government to demonstrate a visible, tangible executive leadership transformation, some corporates are resorting to pushing SA-born black executives on the back burner. 

They trust black executives from the diaspora.

On Tuesday, Vodacom, owned by British mobile phone giant Vodafone, disclosed that Sitho Mdlalose, an executive born and educated in  Zimbabwe,  had been appointed as CEO of its key SA operation. He replaces the  incumbent, Indian national Balesh Sharma, on July 1.

Vodacom announced Mdlalose's appointment just a week after I questioned their transformation agenda in appointing local black executives to strategic roles. 

Not so long ago, Vodacom's bigger rival, MTN, tapped Ralph Mupita — a Zimbabwean national — as CEO, and Santam appointed Zimbabwean Tavaziva Madzinga as CEO. Many Zimbabweans have and still occupy strategic positions in SA corporates.

King Code

The appointment of Mdlalose seems to be in opposition to empowering local black executives.

Surprisingly, Vodacom elected not to disclose the nationality of Mdlalose, appearing not to embrace the spirit of transparency and accountability as per the King Code of Corporate Governance.

Later on Tuesday, I discussed this with some black professionals. Despite the rising anti-African migrant sentiment in SA, we agreed that the likes of Mdlalose, Mupita and other black executives from the diaspora are highly experienced and educated. "Yes, experienced and educated just like black South Africans," I said cheekily.

Ethan Mabona suggested that "we need to speak candidly about our private fears and our exclusion to occupy more prominent corporate SA positions. This new form of apartheid is a threat. It's a divide-and-rule strategy. SA corporations seem to be appointing more Zimbabweans and other blacks from the diaspora into strategic positions of power. They want us to resent Zimbabweans and other blacks from the diaspora."

Recently, Vodacom posted SA citizen Yolanda Cuba to Ghana to gain experience. Still, when the time came for her to be the boss of Vodacom SA, she was snubbed, and Sharma was appointed instead.

Miffed, Karen Adonis asked, "How could Vodacom replace an Indian national with a Zimbabwean?"

Standalone company

Playing devil's advocate, I asked if anyone thought Vodacom wasn't keen on appointing black South Africans in meaningful leadership roles.

Two years ago, Vodacom recreated a standalone SA operating company. The company decided to move key SA black leaders to the local operation, where they reported to Sharma. 

William Mzimba and Takalani Netshitenzhe were among those "demoted" to Vodacom SA. Kenyan Stephen Chege replaced Netshitenzhe as chief external affairs officer of the Vodacom Group.

After SA-born Andries Delport left the company to join Remgro's CIVH, Slovenian Dejan Kastelic was appointed chief technology officer, Vodacom Group. Aspiring local leading light Beverly Ngwenya, was overlooked for the position — instead, she was demoted and moved to Vodacom SA.

Why does Vodacom still opt to hire blacks from other countries and foreign whites at the expense of local blacks?

In another development, Vodacom has created a standalone entity, Vodacom International operating company, led by Bolivian Diego Gutierrez.

Insiders suggest that Vodacom is hiring foreign executives to fill new strategic executive positions at Vodacom International.

Diaspora blacks

If this happens, after the appointment of Mdlalose, the Vodacom Group board, led by transformation stalwart Saki Macozoma, appears to be paying lip service to executive transformation.

When they take these big corporate jobs from local whites and move them to blacks from the diaspora and foreign whites, what message are they sending to SA black executives? 

What is the game plan regarding fundamental transformation? 

Where is Vodacom's organisational transformation to enable local blacks to be in strategic positions and be role models?

People don't appoint themselves, so Vodacom remains responsible for proper transformation that empowers SA blacks. Vodacom needs to take SA into its confidence and explain why local blacks are being overlooked for top, strategic roles in the company.

• Lourie is a former correspondent for Thomson Reuters, Business Report, Fin24 and Finweek magazine. He is also founder and editor of techfinancials.co.za.

Source - Businessday
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