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January 18, 2010

Alan Knott-Craig, Snr. and Nepotism at Vodacom

The Sunday Times this weekend broke the news that former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig,snr among other things is probably guilty of awarding contracts to his nephew without following proper procedures. (See The Sunday Times). Alan Knott-Craig, Snr is an admirable corporate figure in South Africa. (See The Mail & Guardian's short interview with him or SA Who is Who) I have always looked at him with respect. Anybody who has observed the emergence of Vodacom as a mobile phone company in Africa would feel the same way. Now it turns out he is being accused of nepotism by some whistle blower from the top management at Vodacom. Whether that is true or not is not the point I intend to explore here. The report of this wrong doing is a result of an audit by KPMG and KPMG is not a Mickey Mouse auditor.
What I want to point out here is this: The gods are not white. Neither are the devils black. All human beings; black, white, Indian, African, coloured, European, native or whatever – so called, have the same tendencies and essentially the same nature. Which is: prolonged exposure to similar conditions would always generate the same reactions. It is the nature of most human being if they have a some authority to eventually begin to exercise excessive domination. So no matter how you look at it. Nepotism is not just an African problem. Alan is probably guilty of it. As a matter of fact, Nepotism is a rapidly growing phenomenon in South Africa among the now disadvantaged group – the Afrikaans and European population. It is a survival mechanism in the face of growing job losses ( as a result of the recession) and the black economic empowerment policies. And Alan’s case is just an indication of what is happening underground. He probably took it too far by not covering his tracks very well and probably by not taking “proper” and traditional steps before awarding those contracts. The classic cover could have been to cook some documentations proving that there is no other company with the required skills and technical capabilities. Or that there no BEE company or person with the experience in the mobile telecommunication industry that can meet the “tailor-made” qualifications but his son or his nephew. And of course his son was trained and equipped by the best – which is himself. Now we understand that the scarcity of qualified and experienced BEE south Africans is also artificially and systematically created. Because more and more south African males are unemployed even with a university degree in rapidly growing technical areas. Why? because some white Afrikaner's son is more “experienced” because he has been going to work with his father while attending school.
Alan may probably be let off the hook. South Africa should in any case consider the indications and the way forward. Personally I think the BEE policies should be scaled back a bit. I cannot, however, excuse the Africans or the ANC neither can I justify the BEE policies. There is the need for some level of affirmative action (BEE) especially in South Africa but many South African white executives are regularly bypassing it. By so doing they are further aggravating the enactment of hasher and more extreme BEE measures – BBBEE and the like. This whole thing should stop. We must stop demonising each other and find a way to resolve the wrongs and imbalances that exist in the society in a just and equitable manner. That is the challenge.

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