Cyril's two jobs

David Bullard questions the wisdom of the lackadaisical CEO of SA Inc. taking up the position of AU Chair


I have huge admiration for the apparent boundless energy exhibited by so many top business people. I admit to being a tad on the lazy side and I realized that I wasn’t cut out for high flying corporate greatness fairly early on in my career. Not for me the tedious committee meetings (measured in how many trays of tea and biscuits had been brought in) and poring over sales numbers late into the night when sensible folk are already on their second bottle of wine.

I was more a “let’s do enough to make some money and then party” type of guy which is why my former colleagues rose to dizzy heights in the banking world and I just plodded along, making enough to lead a fairly decent life and happily avoiding the stress that inevitably goes with high office.

The trade off seems to be that, while I may not own multiple holiday homes and game farms, I haven’t gone bald yet and there’s not a grey hair in sight. And while I can rent a holiday home or time on a game farm I have yet to hear of anybody renting a full head of ungreying hair.


However, despite not envying them one little bit, I confess that I am in awe of the real movers and shakers in the business world. These are the sort of innovative people who are always looking for the next deal and who never retire. Some say that’s because they have no other interests outside business which may be true for a few. Most business people I have met have plenty of interests outside the business world which they pursue with the same gusto and dedication as they do their business affairs.

It takes a very special type of human being to run a vast complex operation, whether it be political or commercial, and they don’t come along very often. Winston Churchill is an obvious example and Margaret Thatcher another from the world of politics while Boris Johnson may well be the next.

There’s not a great deal of difference between running a country and running a large corporation. Both are complex organisms, both require a competent management, both rely on a loyal workforce and both need to be financially viable to survive. And there’s the rub as the Prince of Denmark famously said. If you fail to successfully run a corporate then the board and/or the shareholders will definitely sack you.

The much-maligned system of capitalism is designed to favour the most successful. It’s a case of survival of the fittest. Which is why most of the top names in the SA corporate world have been there for decades. They are undoubted winners.

Sadly the same cannot be said for politicians. As we’ve seen with much of Africa but also with much of Europe and South America, complete incompetents will be allowed to run a country into the ground and only the ballot box can change that.

The easy way for a politician to get around that little difficulty is to either ban the ballot box or rig elections, as Zanu-PF does in Zimbabwe on a regular basis. The trick then is to get other countries in to witness your sham election and to pronounce it “fair and honest” to the rest of the world as South Africa so obligingly does with Zimbabwean elections.

If the “thief in chief” (© A Donaldson) Zuma had been running a company he would have been out on his ear within the first couple of years at most. I very much doubt whether he would have been in any position to plunder the finances of any company either because corporates (with some notable exceptions) tend to have procedures to prevent directors writing large cheques to themselves. That, after all, is what the incentive bonus is all about.

I mention this boundless energy of our top corporate people because our own CEO, Cyril Ramaphosa, started a new job last weekend. He is now the chairman of the African Union for the next two years and will be dividing his time between running SA and running the whole of the rest of Africa. One story that made it onto the web pages of the main stream media is that he plans to build a road between Cape Town and Cairo, presumably so we can all buy Egyptian cotton sheets with greater ease.

One comment on Twitter suggested that it might be nice to put some tar in the holes in the road near his home first and I suspect there are many other South Africans who wonder whether this divided loyalty of Cyril’s will bring any material benefits to our hobbled, load-shed nation.

The real issue though is whether Cyril has what it takes to do two important jobs. To our many business titans this would be no great ask and they could easily perform two vital roles and still have time for rounds of golf every week. But Cyril has, by general consensus, not really made a great success of his first couple of years as CEO.

No crooks have gone to prison, corruption is rife, unemployment is rising not falling, we are third world when it comes to power generation and bankrupt SOE’s and municipalities are allowed to limp along as though nothing is amis. It even looks as though we’re about to gainsay the people who we trusted to rescue SAA because their solution is not politically expedient.

One would have expected Cyril to have politely declined the invitation to become AU chairman, explaining to the inviting committee that he’s already up to his neck in the hot smelly stuff back at home and hasn’t really got time to run the rest of Africa as well.

I noted with interest that one of Cyril’s main objectives in the next two years is to unleash the hitherto repressed power of women entrepreneurs throughout Africa. Apparently there are hundreds of budding Sheryl Sandberg’s throughout the continent just waiting for some start up capital.

As any woke politician knows you can’t go wrong hitching your wagon to the feminist cause. However, given the slight difference of opinion of many of our fellow AU members on the subject, I doubt whether Cyril will be enthusiastically lobbying for LGBTQIA+ rights any time soon.

Cynics have suggested that the AU job comes with lots of interesting travel opportunities and this is why Cyril has taken it. Whether it’s a good idea to be out of the country too often with the likes of Mabuza and Magashule circling like hungry sharks in the water remains to be seen. But who knows what this AU gig could lead to? An invitation to appear on Celebrity Big Brother perhaps or even a chance to show off all that fancy footwork on Strictly Come Dancing.