Aspiration, responsibility and a restless energy are some of the traits that Bonang Mohale, former Chairman of Shell South Africa Energy Ltd and newly appointed CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, wants to see in innovators. Mohale will be one of four ‘Backers’ in Cell C’s new online reality show, Hangman, and will be helping to decide who will walk away with R1 million and a chance to let their innovation fly.
Mohale is widely viewed as one of the most respected leaders in corporate South Africa and his story is one of self-determination, hard work and ambition.
Mohale grew up in Katlehong on the East Rand during the apartheid years. Despite his humble beginnings, Mohale says he owes a good start in life to “probably the best township school under Apartheid at that time” where the teachers had a real passion to educate their learners.
“We had a sense of self responsibility, of fervour, of aspiration to inspire for better; the restlessness to be better tomorrow than today, a sense of responsibility,” says Mohale. And this is what he bases his Hangman criteria on.
Mohale initially wanted to become a medical doctor and applied at Wits University so – as he puts it – “I could compete with white students.” But his heart was in the upliftment of the thousands of underprivileged and disadvantaged young South Africans, and moved to a career in management.
“So I went and worked for a pharmaceutical company and became a professional sales representative. That was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life – to leave medicine,” says Mohale.
He progressed through various positions and in 1996, he secured a spot at OTIS – the world’s largest and oldest elevator company.
“So here I am a boy from Katlehong managing the world’s biggest and oldest elevator company present in 223 countries and employing 210 000 people. We employed black lift mechanics at the time that they didn’t exist and we gave them a four-year apprenticeship. There was initial resistance. There was one client who originally did not like black people to service his lifts and so I sent him eight black women who were excellent and ever since then he’s become one of my greatest friends. He experienced firsthand that when people are well trained they apply themselves and they are ambitious and conscious of the opportunity that they have; they aren’t lazy, they are hard working.”
He then moved to Sanlam before being appointed at Shell.
Mohale admits that he has always been an activist and even today he looks at the system and wants to take it on to improve the qualities of lives of most South Africans and to be the champion of the change that he wants to see. Poverty, racism, gender equality, LGBTI discrimination – these are all issues that he wants to change for the better.
“Transformation is more than just breaking with the past; it’s about creating a future that bares no resemblance to that which replaces it. I’ve always found transformation to be profound, uprooting something and replacing it with something that is better and that is for the benefit of the majority of the population.”
Mohale has a strong passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. “I take this notion of entrepreneurship seriously. Small and medium enterprises create jobs. In South Africa, we have a problem because we have more people on social grants than those that are unemployed so the math doesn’t add up. Five percent of our people are responsible for our tax revenue. It’s an unsustainable system and it needs to be helped.
“A show like Hangman allows us to focus on people who are passionate about starting their own businesses and help them transform themselves from being employees to being employers. And that helps create jobs. That’s why I wanted to get involved to see that we can plant the seed through a pebble in the pond and start a chain reaction. Let’s think, lets innovate, let’s take risks.”
So how does he want to be remembered?
“I want to be remembered as a professional and effective businessman who produced good results. I also want to be remembered as a person who took time for his community because we want to lift as we rise and lastly as someone who was at peace with his own skin and not trying to be anything that he’s not.”
Hangman – a unique fast-paced online reality show which aims to uncover South Africa’s greatest innovator – starts streaming online from October 9 to December 11. The stakes are high in this revolutionary new programme with R1 million in prize money.