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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 16:51 GMT
SA firm's 'fictitious black boss'
Three people sitting at a boardroom table
Does the colour of your face still matter in South African business?
Africa Dube's business career seemed to embody the spirit of post-apartheid South Africa.

On paper, Mr Dube had worked his way up from driver to owner and senior manager of CKB, a software firm that was winning big contracts, including one from Durban city council worth 5m rand ($812,000; 439,394).

Under the Black Economic Empowerment initiative, which aims to promote black South Africans and helped CKB secure the contract, Mr Dube looked set to continue his winning streak.

But according to Mike Sutcliffe, head of Durban council, Mr Dube's leap into the boardroom is a sham that exposes the lengths to which companies will go to exploit black empowerment.

Mr Sutcliffe alleges that CKB, or Collaboration & Knowledge Business Systems, used Mr Dube as a front for what is in truth a white-owned and managed company.

Fast track

Instead of making executive decisions, it is alleged that Mr Dube was simply asked to sign blank cheques and tender documents for prospective contracts about which he had no knowledge.

He was given an office only after newspaper articles appeared that referred to him as the owner of CKB.

They must think I am some sort of idiot
Mike Sutcliffe, head of Durban council

"Every day I sit in my office doing nothing except playing computer games," Mr Dube was quoted in Johannesburg's Star newspaper as saying.

And despite his top "job", Mr Dube is said to have never made it to the leafy suburbs or commuter belt, continuing to live in a township shack.

"This is the worst sort of abuse - a racist reason why a white company employs a black man," Mr Sutcliffe told BBC News.

CKB vehemently denied the accusations.

Plain wrong

Chris Cleator is the company's general manager and is the man who put Mr Dube into the driving seat at CKB by selling him his holding in the firm.

He told BBC News that he had known Mr Dube for the best part of 18 years and while he may not have been the most qualified person to lead a company, his appointment was "about trust" and giving someone a chance.

The question here is can a black man from humble beginnings go on to become the owner of a company?
Chris Cleator, general manager CKB

"We are in business to make a profit and together this is possible," Mr Cleator said, adding that the company had "achieved some huge successes".

But "the issue here is not ownership, it's the calibre of the man," he continued. "The question here is can a black man from humble beginnings go on to become the owner of a company".

In statements released by Durban city council, CKB says that Mr Dube is responsible for logistics at the company, works closely with other top executives, and is fully involved in the decision making process.

Mr Cleator points to the fact that CKB informed Durban city council "at every step" about the ownership structure of the company and had worked with them on previous projects.

Referring to the sworn statement Mr Dube is said to have given Durban council listing the irregularities of his job, Mr Cleator says that "it is not his intention to do this".

"His command of the English language is not as strong as it may be. He is a Zulu person."

Face to face

Mr Sutcliffe was dismissive of the claims.

"They must think I am some sort of idiot," he said, adding that the council first became suspicious soon after it awarded CKB the 5 million-rand contract.

That agreement has now been cancelled, with the mayor of Durban, Obed Mlaba, calling the situation "extremely serious and one of the worst forms of corruption".

Calling a meeting with Mr Dube, they were surprised to find the businessman turn up with a white female colleague who answered all of the questions for him, said Mr Sutcliffe.

On his own, however, Mr Dube explained that his role was nothing more than as a figurehead, earning 5,000 rand a month, according to Mr Sutcliffe.


SEE ALSO:
Investors fear black empowerment
22 Mar 04 |  Business
Empowerment deals come under fire
28 Jul 04 |  Business


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