Changing the status quo

Born to change the world

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Born to change the world and driven to seek socio-economic justice for his people, Yonela Mvana shows us what happens when patriotism unites with the burning desire to rewrite the South African narrative and contribute towards creating a balanced society

The socio-economic conditions he grew up in pushed him towards politics. Seeing people in his small hometown of Whittlesea in the Eastern Cape struggle with unemployment, he was determined to help them.

Throughout his life, he has worked hard and succeeded in maintaining a relationship with people in senior positions of influence and power. BBQ sat down with the director of the 100% black-owned boutique legal firm Mvana & Associates Inc and provincial chairperson of the Black Management Forum (BMF) in the Western Cape, Yonela Mvana, who gave us a thrilling front-row seat into his life as an entrepreneur, political life and vision for the future of South Africa, paying special attention to black economic empowerment.

Your relationship with positions of power dates back to your high school days as Executive Junior Mayor of Ukhanji Regional Municipality in Queenstown between 2004 and 2005. Can you tell us more about your background?

I was born in Whittlesea, which is a small town on the outskirts of Queenstown, approximately 40km away. Both my parents were teachers and I was fortunate enough to attend Queens College Boys in Queenstown. Growing up I was involved in “ordinary” things that young boys do, like playing sports such as rugby and doing athletics. Because my parents were involved in politics during the armed struggle, before they became teachers, I guess the socio-economic conditions at the time attracted me to politics at a young age. That is when I decided to join the Queenstown Junior City Council, as it was known then. I was first elected as Head of Constitutional Development and later Junior Mayor.

You’re a young lawyer, businessman and patriotic South African citizen who is deeply passionate about socio-economic transformation and equity. What piqued your interest in socio-economic transformation and equity?

The socio-economic conditions of our people. Having grown up in a small town where the majority of our people are unemployed and often rely on government pensions and social grants for survival, and where social injustice is the order of the day, I made a conscious decision to become involved in changing the status quo. I believe that no individual human being deserves to live in poverty and without dignity.

You lead a 100% black-owned boutique legal firm, Mvana & Associates Inc. How has this role and your multiple successfully fulfilled roles prepared you for your current one as Provincial Chairperson of the BMF?

Starting and running my own business has ensured that I maintain discipline, drive and focus to resolve challenges. It has also ensured that I live up to my own expectations and remain true to my vision and principles, no matter what. The BMF as a non-profit organisation demands selfless, disciplined, hard-working and focused individuals, who are committed to the agenda of non-racialism, equality and socio-economic transformation. The attributes required in order to succeed in fulfilling both responsibilities are intertwined.

What differentiates you from your competition? And please expand on the legal solutions your firm offers its clientele.

It is our commitment to finding the most viable, cost-effective and convenient legal solutions for our clients. The clients we service include individuals as well as small, medium and multi-national corporates, including the public sector, and we maintain a very intimate relationship with all our clients. We also make it our business to know our clients’ business and needs. For every challenge, we employ modern methods and take a cost-effective approach when figuring out solutions. Our integrity, hard work and dedication differentiate us from the rest.

Please walk us through some of your daily responsibilities as Provincial Chairperson?

My daily responsibilities include meeting and engaging with stakeholders, raising funds to ensure that the office is sustainable, both financially and operationally, and that the organisational mandate and strategy are executed effectively.

How has the BMF evolved from the time you became involved?

The BMF has always been at the forefront of lobbying and advocating for transformation. The difference between the BMF now and then is that we have taken a more vigorous approach to advancing transformation that includes, among other things, making use of litigation and other legal instruments available to drive transformation. We have also taken a resolution to make sure that both public- and private-interest companies comply with employment equity and affirmative action legislation.

BMF’s goal is developing and empowering black managers within organisations. How does the Forum successfully achieve this?

We are able to accomplish this by championing alternative dispute resolution as a cost-effective tool for resolving disputes and through the interpretation of employment equity plans in terms of section 20(2) of the Employment Equity Act and the King IV Report on Corporate Governance. We also attain our goal by holding companies accountable.

Since BMF is made up of members from diverse managerial disciplines, can you please elaborate on the criteria you use to decide who becomes a member?

Our members comprise professional people who share the ideals and values of the BMF, such as ubuntu and integrity. Anyone who joins the BMF is expected to live up to these values. Any professional who is committed to living up to this ethos and driving the main objectives of the organisation, such as advancing socio-economic transformation and equity, is eligible to be a member of the organisation. Our member segment has also been expanded over the years to include entrepreneurs who are managers and owners of their own businesses and who aspire to the values of the organisation.

Why is the Litigation Fund a critical driver for robust socio-economic transformation?

Transformation is mandatory in terms of our already existing legislation, including the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the country.

Employment equity and affirmative action are laws that every law-abiding South African is expected to comply with. The only problem has been the enforcement and monitoring of this legislation. It therefore becomes important for us as a people and a growing democracy, and particularly for BMF as an organisation whose interest primarily is to drive transformation, to be able to ensure that our laws are adhered to. We need to see to it that every self-respecting, loving and law-abiding South African works towards the common vision of eradicating the inequalities of the past and that they join in the effort to make sure that those who were previously disadvantaged are empowered.

What initiatives do you have in place to promote socio-economic development within your communities?

We understand that we are members of the community before we are managers or BMF members. Therefore, it becomes critical for us to empower and uplift our communities and ensure that we expose community members to different opportunities. We have a responsibility to ensure that we provide solutions and create opportunities to encourage our communities to uplift themselves and participate in the economy. Social and community work becomes a critical part of the BMF’s function.

How does your organisation contribute to the country’s stability?

Black professionals have a very significant role to play in our country, especially given the prevailing conditions. We must ensure that both the private and public sectors are held accountable. Black professionals who were previously prevented from taking part in the economy must be given the opportunity to do so. As black professionals, we must be at the forefront of leading society. We cannot be spectators in a game we are supposed to be playing. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?

What strategy do you have in place to influence socio-economic transformation in South Africa?

Our main objective is to ensure that there is overall transformation in the public and private sectors. We will continue to lobby and advocate for transformation using all available avenues.

We will hold the public- and private-sector companies accountable for failure to comply with employment-equity and affirmative-action laws. If we find that companies and the public sector do not comply, we will take steps to hold them accountable.

What is the biggest misconception about 100% black-owned businesses in South Africa?

Black-owned businesses are perceived as incompetent and not having what it takes to deliver because they are owned and managed by black individuals. Instead of being given the same opportunities as all other businesses, people are obsessed with the “black” owners and managers behind these companies. This often results in white-owned businesses being given preference at the expense of the majority black-owned businesses, which are supposed to be the main drivers of our economy.

What do you hope to achieve in the near future?

I hope that one day, like Martin Luther King Jr once said, our children will live in a society where people are treated equally, a society where blacks and whites will be given fair and equal opportunities and that the colour of your skin will not dictate or measure your success. A society where social justice will be a living reality for all South Africans and not just a sentence enshrined in our Constitution.

Any additional thoughts?

We come from a very dark history in our country. My excitement about finding solutions to create a better South Africa for our children makes it a very interesting time for me to be alive.

The past should not determine our future. I am positive that, notwithstanding the challenges that we face as a country and as a people, if we embrace our diversity we will indeed defeat corruption, social injustice, gender-based violence and all the social ills that keep us divided as a nation. 

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