Business

Bruised egos battle it out at Old Mutual

2019-10-01 15:00

Moyo, three; Old Mutual, nil.

The chairperson of Old Mutual and former minister of finance, Trevor Manuel, is on a burn-the-foundation-mock-the-judiciary-f**k-the-policyholders-to-hell-with-shareholder-value-I-am-the-only-one-who-is-right-and-Peter-Moyo-must-not-win-at-any-cost crusade.

Someone who was a senior minister in Nelson Mandela’s administration is on the record calling a high court judge a “single individual who happens to wear a robe”.

This is where Manuel lost his “shadow”, or seriti or isithunzi, which are the African words for dignity, because, as our forebears observed, anyone who has no shadow is lower than a maggot, which prefers the dark belly of a carcass. Oh, Mr Chairperson, what a disappointment.

Manuel is like a drum of used atchar oil rolling down a hill

Manuel has since apologised for deriding the judge, but to paraphrase an adage: “Once a baboon climbs up a tree, children get to know that its arse is bald, but coming down the tree does not erase the knowledge.”

Manuel is like a drum of used atchar oil rolling down a hill, and he is taking policy and shareholder values down with him.

The company has lost more than 20% of its value. Anyone who tries to save him will most likely get hurt and, although we love atchar and vetkoek, we do not like their smell on our clothes.

Old Mutual
Old Mutual vs Peter Moyo: A timeline of events

If he does not bow out honourably, Old Mutual’s shareholders and executives must throw him out.

Under his leadership, the board has shown a despicable disregard for corporate governance. For instance, of the top seven JSE-listed financial services companies in South Africa, particularly the top three life assurance companies and top four banks, Old Mutual is the only company without a lead independent director, breaking the King Code on Corporate Governance.

The role of the lead independent director is to weigh in when the chairperson is conflicted. If Old Mutual had a lead independent director, perhaps it would not have been harmed by the Moyo-Manuel rope-a-dope.

If it turns out that Manuel is a typical African dictator – colloquially called indlovu kayiphikiswa, meaning “the elephant that cannot be questioned” – then the board members are too weak to be entrusted with the custodianship of South Africa’s largest insurer. They must go with him.

Manuel says he has spoken to the shareholders and they have said that they don’t want Moyo to get a golden handshake. A yawn for the shareholders – at least they have a mouthpiece in him – but the policyholders are suffering alone in the cold shadow of his ego.

Over the past few years, there has been a terrible disregard for other people’s reputations. Many of those who have been imbued with boardroom power have used much of it to destroy their enemies. They tend to use the corporation’s Goliathic might and bottomless treasury to thwart justice and prejudice ordinary employees. And, unlike Moyo, most people lack the means to go to court three times on the same matter.

Read: Old Mutual must explain decision not to reinstate Moyo, judge rules

What the board does not realise is that, while it is trying to find a favourable judgment like a heat-seeking missile, every loss also hurts them.

French philosopher and activist Simone Weil wrote in her essay entitled The Iliad, or The Poem of Force that violence “turns anybody subjected to it into a thing”.

Manuel has been reduced from being a poster boy of governance to a caricature who, based on his statements, has little regard for the courts.

In a way, that has probably unfairly tainted the other companies he is associated with, particularly Rothschild, which has been splattered with blood because of its expensive ringside seat. Moyo is, rightly or wrongly, seen as the man who stood up to unfair corporate might and the stupidity of the beloved.

Muzi Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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October 13 2019