MTN SA CEO Mteto Nyati: “I have a dream for SA in 2017… A Nordic aspiration”

By Mteto Nyati*

The lack of a common national identity, coupled with the absence of a social compact between government, business and civil society, hampers South Africa from achieving its full potential.

MTN South Africa CEO Mteto Nyati

Commenting on the state of the nation and articulating his vision for South Africa, Mteto Nyati, Chief Executive Officer of MTN South Africa, says South Africa is a nation that has a puzzled and bewildered sense of identity.

“On the one hand we preach socialism and elevate leaders like Castro (Fidel) and Putin (Vladimir) on a pedestal, while on the other hand we talk about the importance of cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit amongst our youth. We are still trapped in a time warp, we should be asking ourselves probing questions: ‘what have these leaders done for their countries? Are their countries and the values that these leaders espouse, something that we want to live up to?”

Nyati says that South Africa should aspire to emulate the Nordic and South East Asia countries, where the state plays an active role in the economy, while creating and maintaining an enabling environment that allows businesses to thrive and prosper.

He points out that some of the East Asia countries such as South Korea, were on par with some African countries in the 1960s in terms of GDP. “Today these countries are highly industrial giants, their meteorical rise did not come about by prayer or sangomas, but through agreeing on national agenda and diligently implementing what needs to be done,” says Nyati.

“The free enterprise system is the model that consistently delivers the results. Its shortcoming may be that it widens the gap between the haves and the have not’s, but this is where the state plays a role to be narrow the gap by efficiently deploying tax revenue from the fiscus to distribute wealth,” says Nyati.

Nyati concedes that the confounded sense of identity could be attributed to the nation’s relatively young age. Some countries, he points out, have a history that spans hundreds and even thousands of years, and as a result they have established a clearly defined and set way of doing things.

Secondly, Nyati points out that there is no consensus among key stakeholders on what the national priorities should be, and how we need to go about achieving these goals.

Every constituency or stakeholder is looking after their own narrow interests, and often, these are in pointed conflict with one another. Internally, there is no shared understanding of where we want to take the country, and externally there is little unanimity of what South Africa should represent to the outside world.

“In the past, we had a clearly defined vision and framework that spelled out what the role of the new South Africa is, and should be on the continent. This was a vision that was rooted in demonstrating leadership, upholding democracy and a moral high ground. Today we are hobnobbing with the wrong crowd, we are wrestling in the mud with them and we are now talking about pulling out of the International Criminal Court (ICC). We need to revisit our priorities and how we want to be perceived – we need to stand for good governance, for the rule of law, for building and preserving strong institutions. We may be vilified in the process for taking the correct stance, but this is what South Africa should stand for,” says Nyati.

Commenting on education, Nyati says education is the foundation of everything and a leveller that can bridge the gap between rich and poor.

“Government has invested a lot of resources into education, but the poor outcomes we see do not reflect that input. It is not about the resources, but about efficient management of the resources, it is clear that there is a weak link in the system, and this manifests itself in a number of ways, ranging from corruption where resources are diverted away from intended recipients, to inept teacher training,” says Nyati.

Recounting his schooling days, Nyati says he studied in a mud school in the Eastern Cape. Despite the less than desirable learning environment, Nyati says he was one of the students who participated in the International Science Olympiad in 1980.

“This was made possible because we had dedicated teachers and schools that were managed and run by passionate and diligent principals. The quality of teaching, coupled with the support we received from the family structure, put us on a path where anything was attainable,” he says.

Probed on the current state of education, Nyati commented: “It all boils down to judicious leadership. If you look at disparities in the performance of schools, you will find that schools that perform exceptionally well have good leadership as opposed to those that don’t. We need to invest in nurturing good leaders and de-unionise the teaching profession,” he says.

On spiraling unemployment, Nyati says that South Africa has to be weaned off the belief that conglomerates are the solution to the unemployment crisis facing the country.

“We need a strong push towards entrepreneurship, our graduates need to be re-conscientised that they should be part of the solution and not merely job seekers. For example, our country is faced with a number of challenges, from the townships, suburbia to rural areas. It is incumbent on the youth to identify solutions to these challenges that can also be monetised. South Africans have to take initiative as change cannot come on its own accord,” says Nyati, adding: “Inequality will continue to deepen if we don’t learn and adopt the ways of successful people. We have to stop being middlemen who don’t add any value, people need to develop business models where they add value.”

He expressed confidence that a social compact would be struck between government, business and civil society.

“Each one of these stakeholders cannot survive without the other. The sooner we realise that our survival hinges on our interdependence, the easier it will be for us to agree on national priorities and make trade-offs. The first step is to rally like-minded individuals from all sides so that they represent the critical mass, and I’m confident that there is no shortage of men and women of reason across the broad spectrum of our society who can take this country to the next level,” Nyati concludes.

  • Mteto Nyati was born in the Eastern Cape town of Umtata where he completed his first years of schooling. Upon completion of his studies, he was offered a scholarship to do a BSc in Mechanical Engineering, which he completed in 1995. He started off his career in the gases and welding products industry where he served in various roles. He later joined an FMGC where he was instrumental in consolidating the company’s plants in one central operation. The left the industry and joined JSE-listed packaging manufacturer, and later left to pursue a career in ICT at IBM South Africa. He served IBM South Africa in various capacities before he joined Microsoft South Africa in 2008 as Managing Director, a position he served for six years. In October 2014 he joined MTN as Group Chief Enterprise Officer in October 2014, and in July the following year he was appointed as Chief Executive Officer of MTN South Africa. He has won a number of accolades in his illustrious career, including being named as one of Yale University’s World Fellows on Global Leadership. He was also named Male Business Personality of the Year which was conferred by the Oliver Transformation and Empowerment Awards. He was also recognised as the 2014 IT Personality of the Year by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa.