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Dr. Reuel Khoza

in conversation with Prof. Daniel Plaatjies

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Reuel man

1949 Born December 31st

1957 Primary school

1974 Junior lecturer and researcher at the University of Limpopo

1978 Studied in England

1983 Standard Bank’s Advisory Board

1984 Stannic Board member

1997-2002 Eskom chairman

2001  President of Institute of Directors (IoD) in Southern Africa

2001 Chairman Aka Capital Pty Ltd

2005-2015 Nedbank  chairman

2015 Chairman Globeleq South Africa Management Services Pty Ltd

2019 Chairman Assupol Holdings Ltd

2019 Chairman Revego Africa Energy Limited

2021 Chairperson of Discovery Bank Limited and Discovery Bank Holdings Limited

It was late 1989 when anti-apartheid activist Walter Sisulu was released from Robben Island. During a meet and greet function, an emerging business leader walked up from the crowd to meet his icon for the very first time. As he approached him, he began to introduce himself but was stopped immediately by Sisulu. "Stop it, I know you," he said. It turned out that while in jail, Sisulu had read articles he had written and heard how this young man was instrumental in securing offices for the ANC in the center of town. This young man was no other than Reuel J. Khoza. A prolific business thought leader who has served on the boards of major banking, business, and academic institutions in South Africa and is the current Chairperson of Discovery Bank.


Khoza was born in 1949 in the Bushbuckridge area of Mpumalanga. His parents and grandparents brought him up. His father was a preacher while his grandfather reared cattle. From the age of 5, he began tending to his grandfather's cattle. At the age of 8, he enrolled in a missionary primary school called Nazarene. When he started school, he performed poorly, but during his second year, he awakened and shot up from a previous position of 31st to the first position in class, maintaining this position until his matric.


In 1974 he worked as a junior lecturer and researcher at the University of Limpopo, now the University of the North. He has said that his time at this institution exposed him to activism. He joined the Black Academic Staff Association as well as other activist organisations on campus. During Africa Arts Week and under the Choral Society platform he headed, he led songs that inspired people to rise against apartheid. He also used his positions at the institution to clamor for the decolonisation of the African mind, urging for a boycott of performing songs from composers like George Frideric Handel and Tchaikovsky in favor of locally composed liberation songs. These activities ultimately led to him being fired towards the end of 1974. However, in 1984, he was invited back to the same university to give a graduation speech. 1987 he was again invited to become a council member, and in 2007 he was invited and appointed Chancellor and fundraiser for the university.


Khoza has had a similar recurring theme all through his business and professional career. He has opted for positions of principles rather than populism, and in almost all instances he has been rewarded for it. He holds today's political leaders by the same standards, explaining that; "There should be an insistence on knowledgeability as a criterion for anybody stepping into a leadership position. A good number of leaders today, evident from their behavior, whether they're heading up our communications ministry, energy, or whatever, do not quite stack up on the criterion of knowledgeability. In the 21st century, you cannot ride on the wave of just populism".

Reuel leader

Be a principle-centered leader

Key Quality of a Servant Leader

Dr. Reuel Khoza

Awards for his roles as Public Servant

1997 Awarded the Presidential Achievers Award by the Black Management Forum (BMF)

2000 Awarded the Excellence in Business Management by University of the North

2001 Received the Leadership in Practice Award by the UNISA – School of Business Leadership

2004 Awarded the Pioneers of Economic Empowerment by the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals

2006 Received the Thought Leadership Award by the Black Management Forum

2006 Received the NERSA Chairperson’s Award by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa

2007 Received the Distinguished Business Leadership Award by the Association of SADC Chambers of Commerce and Industry

Reuel interview

Things You May Not Know About Reuel

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

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Never settle for less than the best

“... When it comes to electing our leaders, we must be able to say, unless ‘Daniel’ meets the following criteria, he should not even have pretensions to leading me as a youth, he should not have any pretensions to leading me as a member of the intelligentsia… Somebody who for whatever reason, is morally degenerate, the proscription should be because he doesn't meet the moral muster. He should not even try to pretend he can lead me because I consider that a very important thing... I believe Mandela was very knowledgeable. The history of the ANC is replete with it being led by members of the intelligentsia. Lawyers, teachers, doctors, etc from 1912 onwards. I see no reason why there should be no insistence, particularly in a world that is even more complex, there should be an insistence on knowledgeability as a criterion for anybody stepping into a leadership position. I believe that’s one of the areas in which we have fallen a bit flat, I’m not saying that all of the people in leadership now are not knowledgeable, but I’m saying a good number, evident from their behaviour whether they’re heading up a number of ministries, a good number in fact don’t quite stack up on the criterion of knowledgeability. In the 21st century, you cannot ride on the wave of just populism, you should actually drill a little deeper…”



since 1994

Black South Africans need to bring more to the table

“... Look at those who write our tax laws, they tend to come from people other than black. In spite of the fact that blacks are in excess of 80 percent of the population. The majority of the specialist surgeons, specialist tax experts, specialist accountants, and so on and so forth, is still drawn from 7-10 percent of the population. And black people clamor to be empowered and all that they bring to the table in the majority of instances is so-called connections. It's so-called blackness. Help me, enable me or empower me purely because I am black and I bring nothing by way of intellectual capital… Black people must learn to bring something to the table and the best of capital for any development is in fact intellectual capital… There should be a culture of industry, we should be industrious as a nation. Here we’re beaten even by neighbours from Zimbabwe. When Zimbabweans come here, their degree of diligence, their degree of dedication is a marvel to behold, where a good number of South Africans just float as opposed to doing something definitive. So industrialisation with the requisite diligence and the requisite dedication is crucial…If you look at those that have revolutionized the world, the Bill Gates of this world, their real capital is intellectual. I do agree with our countrymen regarding returning the land to us, that’s fine. But if you ask Bill Gates how much land he has, chances are he’ll tell you very little, and the land that I have I rent. But intellectual capital galore and I've conquered the world...”


To date

His legacy will be for others to decide

“... People imagine all manner of things that should be written on their tombstones as epitaphs… I believe a legacy is not something that you can prescribe as an individual player. It's those around you who would actually describe your legacy. Not even your family cos your family will be subjective. It is the people that, in one form or another you may have touched in doing that which you believe you do for the greater good. So I don't even try to crystallize what I fancy should be my legacy, that’s the duty of people who I’ve had their fortune of living with, whom I value, or not even value, what it is I fancied is my contribution, I leave it to them and to posterity…”

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



The lonely birthdays

“... Born on the 31st of December, Just about nobody remembers my birthday. My late father remembered to a degree, my mother to an even less degree. They expected me to actually be the one who forks out what is needed to make them happy. My family lately couldn't be bothered, they do give me some little symbolic stuff, but they’re more concerned about new year’s day or new year’s eve, that’s the preoccupation…”


Walter Sisulu’s affirmation

“... One person who has had an overwhelming impact on me where humility is concerned, was Walter Sisulu. Upon release from the island, I met with him, greeted him and I tried to introduce myself and he said stop it, I said but why, he said I know you, while still in jail, I read no less than 3 articles that you had written and I agree with you 100 percent, and I know what it is you did to facilitate our getting offices as the ANC in the center of town. I was humbled. 9 months later we met again because he’s an elder, you know he’s in the age bracket of my father, I greet him and have to introduce myself because he meets so many people and he says but I told you not to. For me, that’s the kind of leader I'll follow any day…”



Speaking out

“... I believe leadership should not be cast ashore by a wave of populism. I don't mind popularity, you and I would actually be quite happy with a leader who is popular. But populism is not anything that any leader of substance, particularly at the national level should rely on... The amount of looting, some done subtly, the others actually pretty naked, in provinces and in municipalities as well as at the national level. There was institutional stealing which some social scientists would characterise as kleptocracy. If I’m a Khoza, somehow a host of Khozas because we’re so many, will find a way to get their snouts into the trough and they don’t qualify on merit. They qualify purely because they are close to me by blood, or they’re close to me in terms of how useful I believe they will be in unfairly feathering my nest…"




This is the stance I take, shoot me or support me

“... I think there was a journalist in the Financial Times who described that statement as a milder version of statements I have made before. I once opened a session of the institute of directors of which I am president, with a talk-themed ‘Courageous Conversations’, and the language there was slightly stronger... He described the kind of language I used, as effective in the sense that it was actually barbed like a barbed wire, or acerbic, bitter as gall, but stating the facts. And that was one of several statements by even the international media. There were a few people that I should apologise to the ANC so they don’t blast you, and I said apologise for what? I wasn’t guilty of anything, I took a stance and said to all and sundry that this is the stance I take, shoot me, or support me… And as it so happened, there was a preponderance of support. And if you look at the situation several years later, there is a sense in which I believe I’m being vindicated…”


To date

Advice for the youth today

“... I suggest that the youth of today think beyond tomorrow, they must crystallize for themselves a sense of destiny which will help them define their personal vision. It is from that personal vision that you can walk backwards to your strategy to realising that personal vision. Be a net contributor to those around you, your family, your village, your city, your nation. Stretch yourself to be a net contributor to your continent. Know your continent Africa, make a difference at that sort of level. Help Africa to be welcomed in the world of nations, in the world of other continents in a manner that is unconditional, in a manner that is not derisive, in a manner that is not condescending…”



Leadership lessons from my late preacher father

“... The angel Gabriel will be replaced by the angel humility... If you go into any situation, particularly a leadership situation, and you are haughty and arrogant, you invite people to pull you down, but if you get in there with what my father somewhat unkindly referred to as ‘intelligent ignorance’, you go into the situation in learning mode, everybody will come in there to educate you, and as they educate you, whatever blind spots you may have had, become reduced. So argued my late preacher father…”



No excuses

“... One of the flaws about the people who were there at the negotiating table is that a majority of them were politicians and not economists. The emphasis clearly had to be skewed in favour of we are going to vote, so we fought for your vote… Which is not a faulty approach by the way because once you’re in political power, you can actually legislate for corrective action... One would have argued that the monster that is apartheid was actually politics of oppression, politics of suppression in very significant measure, but in a much more significant measure, it was economics of exploitation. So in addressing the liberation struggle as something that should give people a vote, heed the fact that apartheid was economics of exclusion, economics of exploitation, economics of domination. So there is a sense in which I believe the analysis, even at the time, tended to over emphasise the political side… But that should not actually absolve us from doing something about the situation, from doing something now. Mandela may have fallen short, but you and I are alive right now and we have done an analysis, it behooves us to actually render common that analysis and use it as a force for correcting the wrongs or for topping up for the inadequacies of what was negotiated, at the time of negotiation…”



The rewards of bold and courageous leadership

“... I didn't come out against the leadership or government of President Zuma per say, if you go back to my chairman's statement you will actually have serious difficulty finding anybody’s name, or any institution’s name, I made an observation about the prevailing conditions and the guilty somehow stepped into the trap. I did not mention anybody by name, I was worried about what I saw as an emerging leadership that was devoid of a moral base, whose moral quotient was degenerating, and if President Zuma or even the ANC or even certain business leaders stepped into that, they stepped into that essentially out of their sense of guilt. I didn't mention anybody’s name… If you’re a chairman of a significant institution, you articulate your observation, you warn your shareholders about what it is you believe they need to know to make informed decisions, and that’s exactly what I was doing… There is a sense in which if you make a statement like that, it can be seen as very irresponsible, your shareholders will actually punish you, but the AGM that followed, I was returned to my chairmanship by not less than 98.57 percent… I want to believe that 98 plus is overwhelming support of the stance that I had taken, in fact, the day following the over publicity of the stance by Business Paper, I was on my way to the mother body of Nedbank in the UK, Old Mutual Plc, and upon arrival, the chairman wanted to chat to me, and he said have you seen this, and I said no I haven’t actually seen it but a colleague of mine has called me, and he said what do you think about it, and I said exactly what is stated there, and he smiled and he said well I believe what South Africa needs is bold leadership, so we are concerned, you got our support…”

Full Interview 

Reuel Full Interview
Reuel lesson

Servant Leaders must be a principle-centered leader

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"... I guess one of your best bets is to use as your anchor, principled centered leadership, or management, that is crucial, but also in addition to that, to have a compass, and for me that compass which actually serves as, if you like, the pricking of conscience the, the compassion, is African humanism Unbuntu as I understand it. And with that compass, I think you actually would navigate and navigate relatively successfully, I don't believe I’ve been singularly successful, occasionally you get bashed, you get bruised, and more often than not, if you have a sound compass, and you also have a sound point of departure, in being a principled centered leader, more often than not you are successful...."

Daniel in conversation with

Dr. Reuel Khoza






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