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Vodacom defends appointment of incoming MD Mdlalose

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Sitho Mdlalose, new MD of Vodacom South Africa.
Sitho Mdlalose, new MD of Vodacom South Africa.

Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub has defended the appointment of Sitholizwe Mdlalose as managing director of its South African operations, saying the company appoints the best talent that reflects its ethos as a Pan-African business.

This follows last week’s backlash from the Black Business Council (BBC), which questioned Mdlalose’s appointment because of his nationality and demanded that local firms prioritise locals ahead of foreigners.

Last week, Joosub announced Mdlalose, a Zimbabwean national, will return to SA from his current role as managing director of Vodacom Tanzania, a position he has held since August 2021.

Mdlalose worked at Vodafone Group for over six years prior to joining Vodacom Group. He has held various leadership roles, including chief finance officer for international business.

He was then interim group chief finance officer and finance director for Vodacom South Africa, before being appointed as MD of Vodacom Tanzania in 2021.

Nonetheless, the BBC, an affirmative action group, was not impressed with the appointment and issued a strong statement, which triggered debate on the appointments of non-South Africans to head local firms.

"The BBC has noted with serious concern the continuous side-lining of well-qualified, highly-skilled and experienced indigenous South Africans by mainly telcos and financial institutions when appointing CEOs and managing directors,” said Kganki Matabane, BBC chief executive.

"In our view, government is complicit in this matter as they have regulatory and licencing powers to ensure qualitative economic transformation and employment equity happen. Government should also use their lever as a significant shareholder, through the Public Investment Commission, which owns 13.5% of Vodacom, to make the necessary changes."

Reacting to the BBC yesterday, Joosub said the furore was sparked by a column in a daily business publication that wrongly captured the facts.

“The most important thing to understand is that Vodacom is a Pan-African business that is now going to expand all the way from Cape to Cairo.

“So when we make appointments on the exco, it has to be reflective of the countries we operate in. Are we only supposed to put South Africans on the group exco?

“We look at the best talent, making sure we have Kenyans, Egyptians, Tanzanians and so on, that reflect the diversity of the group.

“There is a fine balance in how these things go. In terms of Sitho, he has been an exceptional leader and, to a large degree, has been COO of Vodacom South Africa when I had both roles (SA and group CEO). He assisted me a lot. He is very well-respected and well-regarded by all the staff. Everyone at Vodacom is happy that he is coming back to take over the MD role in South Africa.”

Vodacom has a presence in 48 African countries serving 130 million customers.

Strength in diversity

In the interview with ITWeb yesterday, Joosub said: “Effectively, if you look at Vodacom and you look at transformational efforts in Vodacom, one feels very proud of what we have managed to achieve. Both the SA exco and the group exco, in terms of transformation, in terms of gender diversity, and just to give you an example, 67% of the exco today is black at SA level and the group.

“50% of the exco at SA level is female, black female. So I think it is unfortunate, the article that sparked the wrongly-captured the facts. That’s the first problem with the article.

“The second problem: the article created an impression people were demoted when the group was created. In fact, people were promoted because the senior leadership team was increased.

“It’s quite impressive in terms of what we have managed to achieve.”

In the interview, Joosub also addressed issues regarding the tough economic environment prevailing in the economy, as well as high levels of unemployment, citing the current power cuts as the main challenge to economic prosperity.

Eskom has implemented an unprecedented load-shedding programme in recent months, which has affected most businesses.

The power utility has been struggling with maintaining a steady power supply due to a myriad of issues, including aging infrastructure and other legacy issues.

“I think the biggest issue at the moment, to be frank with you, is power. We need the Eskom issues to be sorted out because they are hampering the ability for the country to grow. It does have an impact on the GDP growth of the country. I would say that’s probably our biggest issue. We need to resolve power resilience in the country,” Joosub said.

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