Absa CEO's departure a 'big step backwards for transformation agenda'

23 April 2021 - 18:56 By nonkululeko njilo
A farewell protest for Daniel Mminele outside Absa in Johannesburg on Friday, April 23 2021.
A farewell protest for Daniel Mminele outside Absa in Johannesburg on Friday, April 23 2021.
Image: Alon Skuy/Sunday Times

The sudden departure of Absa's first black CEO Daniel Mminele is a big step backwards in the transformation agenda.

That's according to business organisations that attributed his resignation to “the toxicity” of executives and board members. And they threatened to embark on a mass protest should the banking group fail to appoint a black successor.

These sentiments were expressed on Friday as a handful of staffers rallied behind Mminele at Absa's headquarters in Johannesburg. The group held a drive-past farewell in which workers hooted and left flowers and letters for Mminele. 

They were reluctant to speak to the media, fearing victimisation, but did not shy away from expressing their disappointment.    

“It is quite a sad day for us. Mr Mminele gave us hope and to see him pushed out just like that is emotionally disturbing. I think he did his absolute best given that he was like a pandemic CEO,” said an employee, who asked not to be named, in reference to the economic impact of the coronavirus. 

The Black Business Council in the Built Environment (BBCBE) joined the demonstration.

“We're very disappointed with the fact that we are witnessing a reversal as far as transformation is concerned here at Absa. We are here to show solidarity with the staff and everybody else that is here, it must be definitely criticised. We are here to say to Absa we are watching their next move carefully,” said CEO Gregory Mofokeng.

“We are hoping that the next CEO that is going to be appointed here will be a black person so that we continue to ensure that the banking sector is broadly transformed.”

Andile Nomlala, president of the Black Management Forum expressed similar sentiments, hitting out at the culture of the organisation.

“The culture at Absa particularly for black professionals is not conducive for them to thrive. It is in serious jeopardy and we have made a commitment to the board that us as BMF and other organisations, we will ... make sure that the new upcoming CEO whom, we are very clear, must be a black professional, must be given a sanitised environment,” said Nomlala.

He slammed Absa's executives who he said were to be blamed for black individuals leaving the company. 

“The executive team that is left behind now is the driver of the wedge of people that are coming in here and not succeeding. They are the invisible hand. Everybody is at loggerheads with the board and are worried about the CEO but they are the rotten ones, driving this toxicity and they are not outed. They are the ones that are presiding over a toxic culture.”

Absa however denied the allegations. Responding to queries from TimesLIVE, head of media relations Phumza Macanda said many other black professionals had in fact succeeded in the organisation. 

“At Absa Group, we promote a culture of inclusivity and diversity and condemn behaviour that goes against our values. We have many successful black senior management colleagues but we also recognise that despite our best efforts, there are colleagues whose experience may differ from the culture we want to cultivate in our organisation.   

“We recognise that we have further to go in this regard. We are determined to ensure that Absa continues to be a place where people want to work and build successful careers,” she said. 

On the demand for a black CEO, Macanda said the demonstrating group did not submit a memorandum of demands.

“Absa was never officially notified about a planned protest or a demonstration and neither did we receive a memo of demands,” Macanda said.

Khaya Sithole of the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals (Absip) said the demonstration was a reminder of a walkout staged by employees of Absa Capital in 2017. This was after a black manager, Phakamani Hadebe, was overlooked and employees raised concerns about transformation in the company. 

“The type of anxieties and frustration that we've been hearing from staffers are clearly much more widespread and if employees are willing  to go to that extent, I think it is a point that will force the Absa board to reflect on how it has handled these matters. We are hoping that they are paying attention,” said Sithole. 

Mofokeng and Nomlala said they partially blamed business organisations for failing to protect Mminele who walked a lonely journey. 

“We did not do enough, we have not walked this path with him to make sure that we support him amid the challenges he had and I think that is one of the issues we really need to work on and it is something we have to make sure that we provide, not only to the incoming CEO but even others in this sector because it is a lonely journey. And they need all the support they can get, even from the black business fraternity in particular, so that they can be able to succeed” said Mofokeng.

Nomlala reiterated that anti-blackness could not be allowed to continue 27 years into democracy.

“We must admit that we didn't stay close enough to the processes, we can't dismiss that. It was too late by the time we were roped in. It's our fault that we didn't pay attention. But yesterday we made it clear to the board that from now going forward, we will make sure that we stay very close to the processes. 

“There is going to be another black CEO, we will insist on that. If that does not happen, then we will be forced to shake the ground and call the Absa employees to stand out in protest,” he added.