Ubuntu Is What Local Executives Really Need Business Culture

Cape Times (South Africa), March 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ubuntu Is What Local Executives Really Need Business Culture


BYLINE: Matome Modipa

As corporate moral fibre continues to slide, ubuntu may as well be the guiding light. When the Competition Commission was statutorily instituted in 1998, some business executives murmured, conveying their misgivings about antitrust legislation in corporate South Africa.

In its brief history the regulator has already unearthed business malfeasance aplenty, penalised greed, and defended the average man from mercantile abuse. Cases involving such titans as Pioneer Foods, Telkom, SAA, Sasol, and their peers demonstrated the grave ills of anti-competitive behaviour.

Old habits die hard. Recently some construction companies were found guilty by the commission of collusion and fixing prices. As an entrepreneur in the construction and engineering fields, I was naturally shattered by the case involving construction companies. Analysis of the historiography of the South African political economy goes a long way to explaining the current behavioural patterns of business.

Prior to the democratic dispensation in 1994, the domestic economy was not greatly transparent, and this provided a cloak for corporate governance lapses to fester. The aristocracy of a military state and the debilitating role of the insular Broederbond crept into the business front.

The existence of price-setting marketing boards, and the complacency of the regulatory environment provided a conducive setting for executive ill-discipline to evolve without abating.

Fast forward to post-1994 corporate South Africa and collusion networks and a corrosive culture of greed are still with us. For construction companies, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was a boon, an opportunity not to be missed, hence the case in question.

For the love of money

Anti-competition behaviour in the sector is the tip of the iceberg. The health sector is currently under investigation for similar offences. It is within reason to suggest that other sectors may well be dabbling in this heinous practice. As the philosopher of yore Thomas Hobbes so cautioned us, man is a creature of vices, hence the state of nature.

It follows that most companies engage in anti-competitive behaviour mostly due to greed, poor ethics, and a lack of strategic potency. …

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