Busi Mabuza has just been appointed Chair of the South African chapter of the BRICS Business Council. Also the chairperson of the Industrial Development Corporation, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her plans for trade and investment.
What is your first point of focus as the chair of the South African chapter of the BRICS Business Council?
It is still early days. I am just lucky I was appointed to the BRICS Council last year… In my few months, my sense was that the sister countries in BRICS were much more organized in terms of what it is they are looking for and in bringing a coordinated voice of business. We were still trying to get there in terms of coordinating our efforts and channeling our objectives and making sure we agree on the priorities.
I look forward to, first of all, picking up from where others left off. This is a council that has been around not long after 2010, and it has a long-enough track-record.
I think where things have been done well, we just need to make sure they are done better. Where there are gaps, I’d like for us to close those gaps. On the administrative side, I have noticed our sister countries, the business councils of the other countries, are much more coercively organized, more streamlined, business has a very strong voice and business facilitates all of it.
I would like to see that engagement with all corners of business, big and small. I think there is room for everybody there. If one looks at the African continent, the majority of the population is young people. If we sit in those meetings without understanding the voice of the youth, without talking to and addressing the issues of the youth, we will be left behind.
I think it is an opportunity to make sure business rolls up its sleeves and we actually benefit from the linkages our political principles have cemented.
As a woman in leadership, how will you navigate this space?
It is one that also challenges me ideologically. I never wanted to be labeled ‘the first black woman [in anything]’, and yet I have worked most of my life in environments where it has been lonely just by the mere fact that when the guys are talking rugby, I want to talk about something else.
Rugby is great, I also enjoy that, but it is also good to talk about other things. One success factor when one is thrown into such environments is to [bring] others in deliberately. I’d love to demonstrate to the women out there that there are opportunities such as these and we need to be there and we need to show up at our best in terms of our game.
We need to work diligently because when it comes to the results and output, the assessment won’t be based on whether you are a man or woman, it will be based on what you deliver tangibly. South Africa has an opportunity to make the other BRICS countries aware that women have to be at the table and we do it through our actions rather than just talk.
What is on the 2019 agenda for business in South Africa?
With this being new days, I believe in consultation. I believe in making sure I understand the mandate I have been given. I understand what the Department of Trade and Industry is about, and their focus on creating export opportunities because that will grow our trade.
I understand their focus on empowerment, because as a country we do need to see a better profile and reflection of society in the economic space. The focus will continue to be on trade and investment, as we move along, I would like for us to do this in an inclusive manner.
Which sector will South Africa prioritize?
I would definitely take a cue from the president’s [Cyril Ramaphosa] focus on agriculture. Agriculture is fantastic for this continent because we have land, we have the people and if you look outside South Africa, there is water. The resources are there.
The other side of the coin is that agriculture can be a great employment opportunity. Agriculture is getting more technical and technology-intensive and that excites me. If we had a trading bloc arrangement, we will be talking much bigger opportunities within the country.