[lg policy] South Africa: Driving the transformation agenda

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 12 14:51:15 UTC 2011

Driving the transformation agenda

Should the need for a Department of Transformation arise, Dr Mvula
Yoyo is suitably qualified to steer it

Dr Mvula Yoyo, transformation executive at Medi-Clinic, was schooled
to understand diversity at an early age, thanks to his upbringing.
Born in Victoria West in the Northern Cape, he grew up in an
Afrikaans-speaking community – an accident of fate that exposed him at
such an impressionable age to issues around diversity.

“When coloured people were moved away from our area, conflicts began
to unfold because then we were wittingly made aware of our
differences, thus the cat was set among the pigeons,” Dr Yoyo says.
This background is important in understanding what makes him such an
indispensable authority on transformation. Precisely the reason
Medi-Clinic, traditionally a conservative company – my words, not his
– appointed him to drive its transformation agenda.

While attending a cosmopolitan high school in the Eastern Cape, Dr
Yoyo was able to forge relations with different ethnic groups; this is
where his consciousness about diversity was created. Suffice to say,
diversity has always been a part of his life. “The environments I
found myself in gave me a platform to think about the other, the
awareness of being different,” he says.

Going to Fort Hare University offered further scope for the young man
to broaden his knowledge of diversity. It was one of the few
institutions of higher learning open to blacks at the time, as such
there were students drawn from all parts of the country and continent.
It was there that most of his views on diversity were shaped and

In addition to spearheading transformation at Medi-Clinic, Dr Yoyo
chairs the MultiChoice Fort Hare Inkwenkwezi Trust. Founded in 2006,
it gives Fort Hare University students an opportunity to mentor Grade
11 and 12 pupils from disadvantaged communities of the Eastern Cape.

It is a responsibility he is thoroughly committed to drive – thanks to
Dr Koos Bekker, managing director of Naspers, who founded this
initiative. “I think the Eastern Cape and Fort Hare in particular were
good choices for such a trust. The province faces serious challenges
with respect to education, and the Trust gives us a chance to help
meet those challenges,” says Dr Yoyo.

“The role that Fort Hare played in turning out leaders for South
Africa and the continent over 90 years qualifies it as an ideal
location for this idea.”

Highlights of the Inkwenkwezi Trust

Enabling interactions between university students and high school
pupils is the cornerstone of this programme. Prior to this initiative,
there existed a lack of access to basic information on education by
school children in rural Eastern Cape, where Fort Hare is nestled.
“This outreach is empowering university students to interact with high
school learners at a personal level, too, besides being reservoirs of
knowledge,” reveals Dr Yoyo.

“It is also fostering competition among learners; scholars with best
results receive bursaries for their first year.”

At Medi-Clinic, Dr Yoyo’s key task is to drive its transformation
agenda. That is a mammoth assignment for anyone to undertake at such a
conservative firm, whose decision to base its headquarters in
Stellenbosch does not help to dismiss stereotypes.

The challenges of his portfolio cannot be underestimated. In 2006,
Medi-Clinic was named a non-transformative company, following which he
was hired to change this perception to the outside world.

“As you can image, the biggest challenge is employment equity,”
confesses Dr Yoyo.

Since 2007, he has been at the helm of transforming Medi-Clinic, using
a strategy that speaks to its black economic empowerment (BEE)

“However, the BEE Scorecard is not the only vehicle for
transformation; we look beyond that, at things such as sustainability,
skills development – a very important component of BEE – and forging
partnerships with universities,” he adds.

“Additionally, we have six in-house learning centres and have formed
relationships with the Department of Health.”

State of transformation in South Africa

According to Dr Yoyo, part of the problem with transformation is that
it is seen merely as a compliance issue. He begs to differ, and
emphasises this point by borrowing the SABC’s TV Licence slogan: “It’s
the right thing to do.”

He recommends this refrain as the right attitude to adopt, but is
disappointed that corporations are more concerned about the bottom
line. It leaves him no option but to believe there is a lack of
commitment to transformation.

“Don’t look at transformation in narrow terms, for instance, companies
should not hold back from training staff lest they lose them. Suitably
qualified workers will benefit the economy at large, regardless of
where they end up in the country,” explains Dr Yoyo.

He describes the pace of transformation in South Africa as “very
slow”. This is attributable to genuine issues, but he points out that
skills development would accelerate this process. “It’s a channel we
should use,” he says.

There are obstacles to transformation, broadly speaking, and at
Medi-Clinic specifically because it is a diversity management issue.
So how does a company handle it much better?

Dr Yoyo believes there are pockets of resistance manifested in many
guises, such as the assertion that there was a lack of suitably
qualified blacks to fill certain positions when, in fact, companies
could rather be looking at the potential of prospective candidates,
grooming them and strategising succession planning, instead of hiding
behind smoke screens such as a “lack of suitably qualified people”, he

“This gives an opportunity to build a broader pool of people, who can
then move into senior positions,” he asserts.

On its part, Med-Clinic’s Leadership Development Programme is a
product of such lateral thinking. The objective thereof is to ensure
there is no limit of opportunities for black people to aspire to. This
scenario is not peculiar to Medi-Clinic because the phenomenon is a
microcosm of the South African reality.

“But, specifically, one of the barriers that holds back black
professionals at our firm is language. Despite a language policy that
recognises English as a medium of communication at the workplace,
there are hardened attitudes on the workplace floor,” says Dr Yoyo.

Role of universities in accelerating transformation

Are universities churning out enough quality graduates to spearhead
South Africa’s transformation agenda?

“No, definitely not,” responds Dr Yoyo. “There is room for
improvement. We need graduates to walk into PricewaterhouseCoopers,
and that is not happening presently.

“There are no ready-made people coming through; the reason for this is
simply that universities develop people for academic purposes.

“Universities of Technology should be better utilised, as they are
tailor-made to prepare graduates for the workplace. Otherwise, we are
building a pool of people for failure.

“What else can grade 12s do after Matric?” he asks.

Dr Yoyo advises students to heed the call by Minister of Higher
Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande, to consider enrolling at
technical colleges as an alternative to university study.

“We have neglected the foundational phases of our education; our focus
is primarily on Grade 12. And in large part, our curriculum is not
suitable for preparing students for the future,” he laments.

“We should be paying attention to the quality other than quantity of
our school graduates.“

Is transformation of the workplace playing second fiddle to BEE?

“Well, it is easy to reach BEE targets, isn’t it? But there are better
options for remedying imbalances of the past, one of which is through
broad-based BEE,” says Dr Yoyo.

“Secondly, skills development empowers individuals, whereas enterprise
development stabilises fledgling entrepreneurs. We should be combining
different pillars of BEE and synergising them.”

He is dismissive of affirmative action, which dispenses with merit.
“No, there should be no affirmative action at the expense of merit.”

But, according to Dr Yoyo, the truth is that a set of conditions on
the ground favours one group over others.

He takes strong exception to people who mention “transformation” and
“merit” in the same breath.

“It’s an insult to equate transformation with mediocrity. By
extension, this is an insinuation that transformation has no merit,”
says Dr Yoyo, with an unmistakable ring of irritation to his voice.

“Transformation and merit are not opposites,” he says indignantly.

State of transformation at Medi-Clinic

According to Dr Yoyo, a key impediment to transformation at
Medi-Clinic is language.

“We have a language policy in place, but Implementation thereof is
hard,” he confides.

“It’s a big challenge, but even so, everyone is welcome to work for
Medi-Clinic and, indeed, our staff are aware of company policy toward

“There is lots of room for improvement before we can safely say we
have achieved our transformational agenda. We have not arrived there

“We recently embarked on a structured approach to transformation.
Systems are in place. Our hospitals have committees looking into
employment equity,” says Dr Yoyo.

Giving back

He adds that the environment outside work also plays a role.

Medi-Clinic staff members do not merely look after the health of their
patients, but give back to communities where they serve. They do this
through voluntary work at schools, old-age homes and welfare centres.

The company identifies four focus arrears in its corporate social
investment strategy, namely: welfare, education, sport and health.

David Mwanambuyu


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