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Bonang Mohale

in conversation with Prof. Daniel Plaatjies

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Bonang man

1961 Born in Benoni, South Africa

1970s Primary and secondary education

1980s Tertiary education

1992 Export manager at Cholesterol Reducers International Conference in Barcelona

1994 Head of Public Affairs at Sandoz Products (Pty) Limited

1996 Managing director of Otis (Pty) Ltd

2002-Present Cheif Executive at the Shared Services and Associated Business SANLAM Ltd

2005 Director at Swiis RE Africa Limited

2006-Present Director at Hollard Insurance Company Ltd

2007-Present Chair of Marketing Association of South Africa

2009 Chair Shell South Africa 2013 Chair of SA Travel Center 2013 Non-Executive director of BMF

2017 CEO of Business Leadership SA (BLSA)

2019 Bidvest Chair

2020 Chancellor of the Free State University

Today Bonang Mohale is one of the most successful men in South Africa, which is good. At the age of 59, he’s been at the helm of leadership of some of the biggest and wealthiest business cooperation in South Africa. He has headed multinational companies like Shell South Africa, Swiss Re, OTIS, amongst others. He has served in numerous leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. He is rumored to be one of the wealthiest black men in South Africa. However, his journey to success started in a town east of Ekurhuleni municipality in Gauteng called Benoni. Benoni is a city that has got links to several prominent individuals, including Israeli billionaire entrepreneur Morris Kahn, Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron, and former First Lady of Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe.

On the 22nd of November 1961, Bonang Mohale was born in Benoni to seven siblings, a father from Lesotho and a mother from Setswana. From a very tender age, he, along with his sisters, was raised by their grandmother. He calls his grandmother his greatest hero of all. She was one of the multiple wives of his grandfather. She painted, farmed millies, and did many other things just to put food on the table for the numerous children in her care. The time he spent under her tutelage is credited with shaping him into the man he turned out to be. When he lost his father at the age of 17, he stepped in as a father figure for his sibling. He even got into photography to earn extra income.


At 17, he met his childhood sweetheart, lifelong partner, and wife, Suzan, another person he says has played a significant part in his life and success. He soon got married to her at the age of 19 and pursued his education with her by his side. The family continues to play a significant role in Mohale’s life. He is well-schooled and very well-traveled.


He has received numerous leadership and honorary awards, yet some of the greatest lessons he has learned, which have helped forge him into the South African business icon he is today, are from his family, especially his daughters. He says, “ through them, we’ve learned what it is like to manage, to lead, to be less self-centered, to be more other-centric and to be genuinely obsessed with the development of others.”

Bonang leader

People first, the planet and then profits

Key Quality of a Servant Leader

Bonang Mohale

Awards for his roles as Public Servant

1997 Black Management Forum’s (BMF)

1997 Manager of the Year 

2001 Presidential Award for his servanthood in South African industry and the economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged individuals

2007 SA Facilities Management Association’s Personality of the Year

2012 IPM CEO of the Year

2014 Winner of both the Country (RSA) and SADC Regional Titans – Building the Nation CEO Magazine Awards

2015 Awarded the Momentum Friendship Blazer in recognition of being the first RSA Nation Building Champion

2019 BMF Lifetime Achievement Award

2019 Awarded the Free Market Foundation’s Luminary Award

2019 Winner of the Forbes Woman Africa Male Gender Advocate Award.

Bonang interview

Things You May Not Know About Bonang

These are drawn from the full interview, which for Daniel was from "OneComradeToAnother'. Watch the full interview, here.




My grandmother, my hero

“... The most profound warrior of warriors was my grandmother. A single mother, raising a good number of kids, a woman, in an environment where my grandfather had seven wives, very polygamous. But she said ‘my kids will never go hungry for as long as I’ve got two hands’. She was hardworking, she painted, planted millies in the fields, sent us to school when our parents were looking at making life. She told them, look bring them here, I'll put them on my knees and give them some values. This is the woman who said, boys, and it's true for girls as well, learn best by looking at the back of the heads of their fathers. Therefore as a father, you should be exemplary, you shouldn’t tell your kids what to do, they must want to emulate what you do, what you act, what you live, that’s the best lesson, that’s why my grandmother is my hero…”


since 1980s

Family work balance

"... It’s about the confluence of two things. First is the notion of maximum satisfaction. It is what you want out of life. The other is the maximum contribution. So if your boss only talks to you about work, about contribution, about projects, about deliveries, they’re missing a big part of who you are and how you prefer to do things. They are also missing an important part about how they can use the time, energy, effort, the force, the impetus of a company, to make you realise your own personal dreams and personal ambitions. Those companies that do this very well, get maximum contribution from their employees, whilst helping those employees get their maximum satisfaction. Maximum satisfaction is; I have a roof over my head, I’ve got a family that I love, they are number one in my life not my work, and from time to time I would like to take them on holiday. I find value, utility, a sense of meaning, consciousness and purpose by spending quality time with them. Whilst I’m at work, I do my absolute best, to be a team player, to tessellate like a jigsaw puzzle within the broader scheme of things, the two go together, it is not problems to be solved but polarities to be managed. How do you become an effective, efficient manager at work whilst being a considerate loving father at home…”


since 2000s

The numbers don't add up

“... Look at the math of the South African geoeconomics, and social-political order. There are about 55 Million of us. Only 11 million of us are tax-paying, yet we’re supporting 17 million who are on some sort of social security. So the less supporting the many. It cannot be sustainable. Most economies in the world, when you look at their structure, it looks like a diamond. A small super-rich, and a small super poor, but a huge middle class. So with taxes from revenue, they can support those that are less fortunate. In South Africa, that looks more like a triangle. There are a few that are super-rich, a small middle class, whose job it is to look after an even bigger pool of people that are in extreme poverty. When we say we are moving 40,000 families into the middle class, and defining the middle class as those people that earn $8-$10 a day, an average, $8,000-$10,000 per annum, you can see it's not a lot of money. We are actually talking about taking people out of extreme poverty to just being poor…”


Correcting past wrongs

“... So the first thing we did was to go to Phuti Toma[UN] the chairperson of Deloitte[UN] to say we were wrong as the BMF (Black Management Forum). When you were appointed as an African woman, it was wrong to say transformation has taken a backstage and a step backward. How could it be? All your life, the way we have known you, the way you have engaged, interacted, interfaced with us, all shows somebody who is absolutely obsessed with transformation. You’d spend your own money to make sure that a black daughter is educated. We were wrong. We also went to Simon Sasuwele…. [UNs] to say we were wrong by not supporting you. Lastly, we went and apologised to Audi for saying we were so rabidly commercial, that you were a partner with us, when Mercedes Benz came to partner with us, we dumped you without even writing you a letter, let alone even having a conversation with you. We also went to our own people and said, what does it mean to be professional, what does it mean to have responsibilities and not just rights. We worked in our nine provinces, and in our 26 branches, we beefed up the national office, and we hired a CFO… We embarked on a 36 months study, on an understanding of the framework of what it is like to handle transformation within our institutions…”


Please note this is a word-for-word transcript from Daniel and Bonang's conversation. 


Lessons from the wise

“... The grandmother that brought me up really brought this home to me very starkly. She used to say, isn't it amazing that those nations that have rights perish, and those that have responsibilities, thrive, grow and move forward in space and in time. So in the context of polarities, it is good for one to understand what your rights are. The history that we come from, which is not just 48 years of apartheid, but 350 years of colonialism, subjugation, exploitation. You need to understand how the past is going to shape the present so that we spend 80 percent of our time into the future. You need to say what is my role in that context, what is my responsibility and what is it that I can do… How do I play to win at a personal level… What skills, abilities and capabilities do I require… Who’s going to help me? Today the world of business is looking less for superstars, and more for team players. We can accomplish much more together than that which we can on our own. Twenty years ago it was okay to be bright, to be brilliant, to be hardworking, today the central question is how can I be a team player, how can I fit in, how can I be a seamless part of a whole that can take us to places that we didn't even know existed..."



Hunger for change

“... Rolihlahla Mandela’s first 400 MPs came to us and said; what is earnings before interest and tax, what is net income before interest and tax, how then do you talk about the difference between income and cash. They would sit for hours on end. We were holding workshops. We were going to the townships and teaching them. Today we apply ourselves less and yet we want to be managing directors and CEOs of the South Africa’s Broadcasting Corporation, and yet we have not made the investment. We’re not schooled, we're not learned, and I'm not talking about formal education. I'm just saying, has life taught us enough to be able to share? Because it's only when you say I've stopped learning that you know it's time to move to the next level. Now what we’re doing is cronyism, it is about ensuring who is going to eat first, rather than being concerned about the broader good, and the broader good. It should be about how we can improve the quality of lives of the majority of our people so that on a composite basis, our people are moving forward in space and in time. We move them from extreme poverty to just being poor, so that we can give them a chance of being in the middle class, unfortunately, Africa lacks a coherent and sustainable middle class…”


since 2000s

The logical thing to do

“... Even when I catch you red-handed stealing from me, I don't fire you like a dog. I don't say pack your things and you’re out of here. I go through a process. I still talk to you as a human being, and in our conversation, I get to the point where you come to the conclusion that; “I’ve acted in a manner that’s not an agreed way of doing things, I have acted outside of the agreed-upon values,”. Then I ask you, under these circumstances, what is the logical thing to do? You come to the conclusion that under these circumstances I’ve shamed myself, I've let my team down, maybe the best thing to do is to pack my things and go. And as you go to your car with tears rolling down your face, you say damn it I’ve lost my job, lost my fixed source of income but they still treated me with respect. My grandmother used to say, isn't it amazing that those people that chase money hardly ever make any, and yet those that follow their passion make money until it comes out of their ears. So the way we position ourselves as a company, is that first be well, we want people that are healthy, that are complete, that are wholesome. Not people that have just had a car crash and they come rushing here bleeding, you’re not useful to yourself, let alone useful to other colleagues…”



Pass on the baton

"... I really believe that any of the first 400 MPs of Nelson Mandela, would have gone on to become the greatest president the world has ever seen. Africa has talent. We don't want to make true the assertion that says there’s no talent or there are no skills in Africa. So when you’re given an opportunity to serve, that’s what it is, just an opportunity to serve, you say how can I come in, and in the shortest period of time, make my contribution. It’s like a relay, you’ve got the baton, you run the fastest, the hardest, and the cleverest and then you hand it over to somebody younger and much more hardworking than you. But if you go for the second term, which is three plus three years, by six years it's very easy for you to be complacent, to be lazy, and to stop innovating. But also it says I can only see leadership in myself. My grandmother used to say, it is actually quite good for you to say you can, but actually, it's a problem when you say only I can, because all the 55 million South Africans can do better than you. Your job is to lay the foundation so that your children find an easier life. That’s why today we talk about generational wealth, not just our wealth. We set up our children so that they are better off than us. That is why I do one term because it's always nice to know when to give up. When you still have energy, when you’re still lucid when you can still be appreciated, rather than want to die on the job…”




His best decision yet

“... I consider myself extremely blessed, with some amazing opportunities. I got married when I was fairly young, at 19. I met my childhood sweetheart when I was 17, Suzan, I consider that the best decision I’ve ever made in my life, to get married to Suzan when I was 19. When I had absolutely nothing, no ego, absolutely pure genuine chemistry and love, with somebody that you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. As it happens, she has borne me the most amazing two divine daughters, who are the center of our lives, and through them, we’ve learnt what it is like to manage, but most importantly to lead. Manage, being how to get things done through other people, but to lead, to be genuinely obsessed with the development of others. To be less self-centered and more other-centric… It's the most humbling thing to have two daughters, because they cut you to size, just through their experiences they give you a lot of pearls of wisdom through their life stories… They guide, counsel and coach without looking like they’re teaching you anything…”


It’s in hard work

“... When we became free, I think our forebears gave us an amazing gift. A united, non-racial, and inclusive constitutional democracy. The one thing that we did not pay particular attention to, was being very explicit about our own responsibilities. We didn’t say, what is going to make us internationally competitive? It's not the RDP program, it's not the free houses, it's not the quality free education. It's our hard work. Globally competitive companies and growing economies are not built just by mergers and acquisitions. They’re actually built by making goods and services that the world needs. It's about being less obsessed with academic qualifications. Only 7 to 11 percent of any nation at any given point in time go to a tertiary institution. The majority of us are blue-collar workers. We are artisanal, we are plumbers, we are electricians. Not all of us are doctors and professors. We don't have to import 3000 Korean welders because every township that you go to, black people are cleaning, welding and sweeping. So why do we need to import 3000 welders? There’s honour, there's glory in working hard. You don’t play catch up by waking up at nine in the morning, knocking off at two and demanding three times the salary. There is a developmental gap, white people have been in positions of leadership for 48 years, 350 years if you will, I’m only getting into this now, therefore I must work day and night, Saturday and Sunday. When other people are going into the matches to relax and watch soccer, I’m talking to people and saying, take me through this financial muddle, how do you get around this…”



He paid the fine, he apologised

“... So for us (At Shell Group), being a good corporate citizen means doing the right thing. When we write our sustainability reports we say it's about people first, it's about the planet, and then it's about profits. When we found that we have done something that we should not have done, the first responsibility is not to run to our lawyers and say draft a letter that does not incriminate us but reduces our exposure. It’s about saying, what is right, what is wrong, what is fair, what is equitable. Our competitions commission is very clear, it says in everything that you do, act in a manner that is not price-fixing, that is not colluding, and that is not allocating the market. So if there was even a hint, a suggestion that we acted in a manner that is not wholesome, we looked at that, examined it and said, because we have been here a hundred and thirteen years, and we’re making plans to be here for the next two hundred years, it doesn’t pay us to start arguing through our bigger lawyers. Going against the lawyers of the competitions commission. It’s to say, we shouldn't have been in this place, we should not have been in a position where even questions are asked. Therefore we paid the fine, but most importantly we make sure that the same never happens again. We apologise. But by apologising we go back to the company and say, what systems and problems can we put in place to make sure that we are awake. So that our behaviour is resonant with being a good citizen…”


Full Interview 

Bonang Full Interview
Bonang lesson

Servant Leaders must put people first, the planet and then profits


"... the structure of this economy is broadly reflective of the demographics, you don't argue with that, we comply, that's why we say comply. Lastly we say, then learn how we do business, in that order. So we put people first, and then we put probably the environment after that, lastly profits as a logical conclusion, because the one person who brings this home more than anything else is William Emark [UN] the founder of this pharmaceutical company called Mack [UN] in the States and as the outside of the States, Mack Shop and Dome [UWs]..."

Daniel in conversation with

Bonang Mohale






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