It is now common cause that Tshepo Kgadima has been fired as chairman of PetroSA, SA’s state-owned petroleum company. What if Business Day had got its facts wrong? Rams Mabote takes a look.
What if Kgadima is an honourable gentleman, a great businessman and a good director who is not guilty of any of the several allegations published about him?
Unfortunately, these rhetorical questions have just paled into significance. In fact, all allegations are now secondary to the brand damage Kgadima has just done to PetroSA, the Central Energy Fund that rubber-stamped his appointment and to himself.
Before his dismissal, Business Day had reported that he never owned mining assets in Zimbabwe, though this is claimed in press releases and in video interviews with him. Based on that and other claims of high-value assets, he tried to sell 30-million shares at R12 a share in LontohCoal. His claims of a pending listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, premised on these non-existent assets, were therefore inaccurate or blatantly untrue.
He also allegedly tried to sell an executive jet in Swaziland in a deal involving a famous South African musician, but the aircraft belonged to neither him nor a business partner.
Kgadima has not refuted these allegations. And even when he made his unexpected ‘visit’ to the paper he still did not take advantage of the audience with the editor to respond to these accusations.
Instead Kgadima caused a scene by using his mobile phone to film his interactions with the editor, asked irrelevant questions and made accusations against the writer, Sam Mungadze. He was subsequently thrown out of the Business Day’s offices, with photographs splashed across the newspaper’s front page.
What ignominy! How could the chairman of the state-owned oil company afford to be thrown out of any premises, let alone the office of a leading business daily? What really could have been in his head to embarrass himself and PetroSA so much?
The media get their facts wrong from time to time. It happens. Here was an opportunity for the head honcho to set the record with his opposite number at the newspaper.
I am sure even editor Songezo Zibi was rubbing his hands in glee when told that Kgadima was outside wanting to see him. Zibi could have only thought, “here’s a chance to hear it from the horse’s mouth”. Little did he know it would mostly come from the horse’s hoof.
There is absolutely no difference between Kgadima’s actions last week and those of mobile phone company Cell-C two weeks ago when it went to court to try and gag an angry customer.
Cell-C went to court to try and interdict an angry customer from hanging a banner in public accusing the cellular service provider of being “useless”.
Even if we assume that the customer was wrong, this no longer matters. What will be remembered for a long time is that in court David trounced Goliath. As we speak Cell-C is left with an egg on its face, its tail between the legs and, unfortunately, has gained a reputation of being intolerant while still failing to resolve the source of the customer’s anger.
It is absolutely the right thing to respond when ‘wrongfully’ accused and set the record straight. Both Kgadima and Cell-C were within their rights to respond. But both rather chose to react, emotionally and demonstrably, like bullies against either the messenger or the small person.
Even more curious in this case is that for quite some time while the allegations were gathering momentum neither PetroSA nor the shareholder, the Central Energy Fund, responded in full to the allegations and the shenanigans of Mr Kgadima.
Preferably Kgadima should have availed himself for interviews to set the record straight, possibly followed up by an article from the CEF explaining to the public how the appointment was made and why the institution was blameless. Alternatively it could said what it would do to ensure the confidence of the public is sustained.
Had this failed the CEF could still have taken out an advert to tell his story. This is a last resort but it becomes necessary sometimes.
Cell-C, on the other hand, could have put up another banner next to the one criticising them and simply said, “Sorry Mr X about your experience. We will do our best to resolve it. And our million other subscribers can attest to this about us.”
In the face of crisis, however hard it may seem at first, step back, take a long breath and be rational. Anger and muscle are the refuge of the guilty.
The Kingmaker Rams Mabote is a PR coach, radio host, connector, businessman, lobbyist, propagandist, strategist and media trainer. Follow him on Twitter @RamsByTheHorns
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