Ferial Haffajee: In Moyo's case, Old Mutual underestimated SA's love of a side hustle | Fin24
 
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Ferial Haffajee: In Moyo's case, Old Mutual underestimated SA's love of a side hustle

Oct 23 2019 05:00
Ferial Haffajee

In the court of public opinion, former Old Mutual CEO Peter Moyo is killing it. With a media game that puts big public relations companies to shame, he and lawyer Eric Mabuza have got it taped.

Moyo gets many more sympathetic column centimetres than Old Mutual, even though it’s entirely unclear whether he is without at least some mud, in this murkiest of episodes for South African business. At a recent court case trailed by a large contingent of reporters, I saw how Old Mutual spokesperson Tabby Tsengiwe was given a minute or two of perfunctory media time while Moyo got all the love.

This is for two reasons: one is that South Africa, with our history of apartheid and colonialism, and also the struggle against those maladies, will always be the side of the underdog. The other is that Old Mutual entirely underestimates how much South Africans love a side-hustle.

At its crux, Moyo got fired for not managing his side-hustle, his active directorship of his company NMT Capital, with due principle. Old Mutual says it was due preferential share dividend payments. But Moyo paid out himself, his business partners Thabiso Tlelai and Sango Ntsaluba, as well as family trusts first – before paying the insurer, which had invested in the BEE investment holding company.

David, Goliath

Moyo has not denied this, and instead has deflected to a legal strategy that amounts to painting himself as the David in the face of the Goliath that is Old Mutual. Until now, that strategy has worked in the court of public opinion and in the Gauteng High Court, where Old Mutual has come a cropper, with Judge Brian Mashile finding that the company unlawfully terminated Moyo’s employment.

In the face of that judgment, Old Mutual fired him again, as the company’s chairperson Trevor Manuel drew on his history as a Cape Flats activist to go fists up with the judge. That didn’t work either – Manuel drew wrath when he called Mashile a "single individual who happens to wear a robe" holding court over an entire Old Mutual board. He apologised, but the jibe harmed Old Mutual’s case and a possible out-of court settlement with Moyo. In the ensuing hot mess, director Pinky Moholi quit.

Distraction

All of this drama has distracted from the fact that Moyo was conflicted. He did not wear his two hats (Old Mutual and NMT Capital) ethically, and allowing him to even try to do so was a mistake on the company’s part. But these arguments get short shrift in South Africa, where the side-hustle (a job in addition to your full-time job) is a very common pursuit.

The last Auditor-General report on civil servants doing business either on their own or with the state revealed that in 2013, over R1bn had been paid to civil servants in business with the state.

In the Free State, the AG found that half of all contracts (or provincial government tenders) were awarded to politicians and their families. Over 9000 health department employees are doing business with their department; over 2 485 teachers are doing business with the Department of Basic Education.

Politicians often do business either themselves or through proxies. The practice of the side-hustle is so enshrined that it is a social media meme and a theme of coverage of the labour market.

Because it’s a part of popular culture, Old Mutual’s efforts to tighten up governance as part of a post-state capture era clean-up has proven much more difficult than expected.

* Views expressed are Haffajee's own. 

governance  |  peter moyo  |  old mutual
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