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The courage under fire

- Wits University

Accomplished business leader, Jabulane Mabuza commended the Class of 2016 for their tenacious spirit in defying the odds.

“You did it against all odds. Yours is a good example of ’courage under fire’, he told them.

He spoke during the Faculty of Engineering graduation ceremony on 5 July 2017 where the University bestowed upon him an honorary Doctorate in Commerce in recognition of his leadership in business in the cause of creating a successful economy that creates a better life for all.

Mabuza is passionate about education, made a name for himself as an astute leading business man from humble beginnings as a taxi driver.

He used his own life story to inspire graduands to be active citizens in the country and inspire change in the country.

Thirty odd years ago, Mabuza was a hopeful young law student in the University of Limpopo (Turfloop) but only for a very short while. Due to a lack of funding he was forced to give up his dream of studying law and became a taxi driver to survive.

“It is my wish that there be no repeat of the “Fees must fall” campaign like we experienced in 2016. I hope the lessons learnt will help us circumvent a repeat of the violence and disruptions we experienced.”

“In you lie the answers and responses not to the threats but the opportunities that result from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In you lie the answers of an incorruptible bureaucracy to replace the patronage approach that is hampering delivery of services in ways that obstructs participation by the full citizenry in the economy. In you lie the entrepreneurs eager to innovate and fill the gaps in the market. In you lie the social entrepreneurs committed to uplifting communities doing God’s work in the not-for-profit sector. You however need to take your rightful place. It is not going to be given to you, especially when the levels of greed are at an all-time high.”

His ordeal of not being able to complete his studies because of financial constraints encouraged him to hone his life skills and business acumen while harnessing his entrepreneurial edge.

“It was a gut-wrenching decision at the time but it turned out ok, and not just because I ended up with this honorary degree in the end,” he says.  “I would not be here today receiving this great honour had it not been for the opportunities provided by this nation that has allowed me to serve.”

He extended his gratitude to his family, friends business partners and mentors who witnessed him being capped, saying they “saw a bright spark” in him and took a chance on him.  

He also encouraged graduates to do the same for others like him who had latent potential and to make a positive and meaningful impact in the lives of others and the country.

“As you launch into your careers, please don’t get weighed down by populism or by pessimism. Care about people. And make your impact on our country and the world a positive one. Those values, of ’please‘, ’I am sorry‘ and ’thanks‘ will see you through,” he said.


Jabulane (Jabu) Mabuza was born on 04 February 1958 in Waterval Boven, Mpumalanga. He was educated in Mpumalanga province and in Durban.

His humble beginnings was a taxi driver in Johannesburg rising to become a leading business man and a key player in strategies in 2015/2016 to avert a ratings downgrade that would have long lasting damages to South Africa’s economy. 

Mabuza retired from the position of Group Chief Executive of Tsogo Sun Holdings Ltd, effective in 2011 and as Deputy Chairman: Tsogo Sun Holdings in 2014. Before his retirement he held a number of directorships within the Southern Sun and Tsogo Sun Groups. He served on the Board of South African Tourism for nine years as its Chairman, until 2012. Mabuza is the current Chairman of the Casino Association of South Africa (CASA), President of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), Chairman of Telkom SA SOC Limited and was recently appointed as Executive Chairman of Sphere Holdings.

Mabuza currently serves on Boards of other companies across several economic and industry sectors in South Africa.

Outside of our South African borders, he served on the boards in Tanzania and Kenya. He is currently serving on the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) in Washington DC as a Board Member and on the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) in England – UK as an Executive Committee Member, Chairman of the Regional Business Council for World Economic Forum (WEF).

Mabuza has presented several papers in Southern Africa, the United Kingdom, United States of America and Europe on Black Economic Empowerment Investment in South Africa, small and medium Enterprise development and the role of business in transition.

Mabuza has received a number of accolades and awards. In 1997 he was recognised Champion of Black Economic Empowerment - Pioneer’s Award by the Black Management Forum (BMF). He was the recipient of the 2004 Impumelelo, Top 300 Empowerment Awards as the Top Black Business Personality of the Year, nominated by the Black Business Council (BBC) for his contribution to transformation, job creation, and the economy and as a role model for Black Economic Empowerment.

In 2009, Mabuza was the recipient of the Onkgopotse Tiro Excellence Award in Business, in recognition of his leadership and excellence in business. This award is given to former students of the University of South Africa who have through their successful business endeavours, inspired many generations of aspirant entrepreneurs that the UNISA Leadership Institute (UNIL) and other institutions produce.

In 2011, the Black Business Executive Circle (BBEC) presented Mabuza with the Chairman’s Award for “Black Business Leaders at the Pinnacle of Thought Leadership".

In 2013, the Minister of Tourism presented Mabuza with the Lifetime Achiever Award – The Lilizela Tourism Award, for his exceptional contribution to the tourism sector. Mabuza has played a leadership role in Tsogo Sun, which he has helped to build into one of the top gaming and hotel groups in the world, inter alia as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and today, as deputy chairperson of the board.

In order to broaden his executive skills, Mabuza attended several courses namely, the Effective Leadership Program from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA, August 1996 and the Executive Development Program: Financial Statement Analysis from the John E Anderson Graduate School of Management at University of California, Los Angeles, October 1999.

Despite his humble beginnings professionally as a Taxi-driver, Mabuza has become a very influential business leader in South Africa. Apart from his long list of Board positions and Directorships, he has especially become known as a “Shapeshifter” in the last year, for his role in helping unite government and business in the aftermath of firing of the Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene and in the face of a ratings down-grade. Government and business seemed bent on a path of confrontation. Behind the scenes and on the public stage, Mabuza worked tirelessly with other leaders to help the country rise above those ashes then. South Africans are known for their strange ability to pull together in times of crisis, but it takes great leadership to drive and to achieve this. Moneyweb acknowledges this role, citing him as having taken “a primary leadership role to drive business engagement” as the chairman of Business Unity South Africa.