We dig deep into Manqoba's time at Coca Cola and his history of lies and deceit

Long before Minister of Commerce Manqoba Khumalo entered politics he was already the chosen one. He was identified by Fred Yochum, the then Vice President of Supply Chain at The Coca-Cola Company,  who wanted to upscale his protege’s trajectory in the company. Yochum did his best to pave Khumalo's way to glory. 

Even though some within Coca Cola would have thought Thembinkosi TT Thwala was the more leadership material, Khumalo was the favourite because of his Christian persona.  

It is important to note the corporate culture of Coca-Cola Company is managing talent. The company prides itself for attracting, developing and nurturing talent. In this case, Yochum’s belief in Khumalo was that he would raise other African leaders who had passion and vision for the company in the region. After all, blacks were less represented in Coca-Cola . That was Yochum’s point of view in supporting Khumalo: he genuinely cared about people's development especially those who showed promise.

Operational Excellence

On about 2006/07 the company initiated the Operational Excellence (OE) program which was aimed at creating a process improvement mentality within the operations/plants in support of the company’s strategic corridors on Planet, People, Partners, Profit, and Productivity. In order to accelerate this program, a project team was set up which consisted of representatives across the company’s operations.

In line with Yochuma's ambition for Khumalo, he was identified as one of the project team members. At the end of the project, Khumalo was rewarded a good position in Canada where he spent about 18 months working as General Manager.

However, little is known about Khumalo’s success or failures in managing the Canada plant, partly because it is a smaller plant than the one in eSwatini. His appointment as General Manager in Canada was in essence preparing him for a bigger role in an even bigger plant in eSwatini.

All this because, as he probably believed as a Christian man, the Lord was ‘preparing a table right in front of my enemies’. At that very moment the burden of ethical leadership was placed on Khumalo and indeed excellence became his mantra. His path to glory was paved, shinning and glittering with gold. Expectations were high and leadership challenge daunting. 

COCA COLA eSwatini

Back in eSwatini the plant was underperforming. There was a general problem of job satisfaction and many people were not happy with the company for different reasons. Coca Cola, therefore, needed someone to deal with the problem of human capital and went out to recruit someone with a good background in employee relations, law and strong employee relations. They needed someone who would beef up the human resource department more broadly.

Jabulile Mashwama, then Human Resources Manager at Coca Cola, decided to recruit Bathobile Gule who at the time was Director Industrial Relations and Social Policy at the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce (FSECC). According to our sources, Gule was earmarked to succeed Mshwama as Coca Cola Human Resources Manager in the future. What Gule brought to the human resource department were social sciences skills Mashwama needed especially as a natural sciences person.

When Mshwama subsequently left Coca Cola for her first stint in politics, the top three candidates to replace her were current Central Bank Human Resources Manager Gcebile Dlamini,  Karen Gilbert, the former Customer relations Manager at Coca Cola, and of course Bathobile Gule, the current Global Human Resource Director of Coca Cola. Gule is based at the company headquarters in America.

When Khumalo’s time in Canada finished he came back to eSwatini to deputise the then General Manager Jose Neves waiting in the wings to step into the big shoes. It is here that Khumalo first showed signs of paucity of  professional integrity. The first priority within his senior staff was to appoint a substantive Human Resources Manager.

Khumalo decided to hire the less qualified of the three leading candidate, sidelining both Dlamini and Gule and giving the position to Karen. A source told The Bridge that Gule was by far the most qualified and joining Coca Cola as a middle manager was in effect a downgrade.

The promise of succeeding Mashwama had been used to entice her to join a respectable global company like Coca Cola. Sources say Khumalo assured Gule the Human Resources job would be hers but once he had assumed the title of General Manager upon the retirement of Neves, he simply overlooked both Gule and Dlamini and went for Karen whose strength was not in human resources but finance.

It is no wonder that soon after Gilbert was appointed Gule started to look for a way out of Coca Cola eSwatini and successfully landed a role in South Africa but still within Coca Cola.

Professional integrity

In South Africa Gule was to be Employee Relations Consultant, a position that made her senior and in charge of far bigger and wider networks. But Khumalo was not happy. She tried to frustrate this move citing contractual obligations to the company. In retrospect, the sources told us, Khumalo probably felt it didn't look good on him to assume the position of General Manager and then lose senior staff.

Realising he could not stop Gule’s departure he created a new narrative claiming he was the one who engineered the move as part of a strategic vision to advance the careers of his staff. 

Worth noting is that upon assuming the position of General Manager Khumalo handpicked his exco members who helped him run the plant like his own personal fiefdom. It was perhaps the measure of his leadership that working conditions deteriorated so badly that for the first time in 20 years workers decided to organise themselves into a union.

People on the know claim this was surprising because ever since Coca Cola relocated to the country in 1986 employees had not thought of a union. Under Khumalo workers got frustrated and began organising. It didn't matter that the union was officially recognised after he left but the planning and worker resentment started during his term.

Feeling powerful, Khumalo allied himself with the late Prime Minister Mandvulo Dlamini because they saw each other as Christians and corporate giants. But Khumalo’s true colours were shown when he took church politics to work. 

His first victim was Nonhlanhla Simelane, a Quality Controls Manager at the company, whom he resented because he was fighting his younger brother, Phila Simalane, a junior pastor from their church. Khumalo had ganged up with Muzi Dlamini, another powerful monied member of the church, who hated the junior pastor. At the centre of their conflict was a woman. 

The church was divided and instead of losing the all-powerful Muzi, and his sidekick Khumalo, they sacrificed the junior pastor who went on to form his own church. Khumalo took his beef with Phila to work and began to victimise Nonhlannhla to the point of firing her.

This issue between the two was so intense that Coca Cola senior leaders from Atlanta had to come and intervene. Having got rid of Simelane from Coca Cola Khumalo made sure to stick the knife even further by blocking her employment at the RSSC where she had been promised a job.

As if victimising his employee was not enough Khumalo came in hard and fired senior staff in the HR, Finance and Quality control departments. Soon his relatives were hired from the Swaziland Water Services Corporation to managerial positions at Coca Cola.

Muzi Dlamini. He is the Side kick of Manqoba Khumalo. Picture credit: Eswatini Bulletin

Neat dismissal

Behind the scenes our sources confirm that the company was disappointed and concerned with Khumalo’s leadership. Fred had retired and there was no longer anyone to support him. His leadership skills were now in question.

Plans were made to remove him neatly. He was transferred to Ireland where Coca Cola was planning to wind up operations and close their plant in rural Athy. Coca Cola has six plants locations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. But Khumalo was not taken to HBC Northern Ireland Limited, located in our Knockmore Hill plant in Lisburn, which has Coca Cola’s biggest plant.

Instead, he was taken to be General Manager of Coca Cola in Athy, by far a small plant in the rural areas of Ireland.  Everyone else except Khumalo understood that the plant was closing down and that he was being moved there as a smooth way to get him out of Coca Cola. It was in essence a downgrade from being General Manager of Coca Cola eSwatini.

As fate would have it, Khumalo got to know that the plant was closing down and needed to get himself a new job. This is when he worked on his relationship with the king aided in part by Mshwama who by now was a Minister. Khumalo was not new to the king though as he was the one who kept the monarch abreast about his shareholding at Coca Cola. 

The relationship between Coca Cola and King Mswati is interesting. The monarch owns shares at Coca Cola but they are wary of the bad publicity being associated with a known authoritarian leader. This was made worse when the Guardian newspaper in the UK published stories of the company’s relationship with the establishment. Khumalo became the enabler making sure that the interest of the monarch were secure.

Within the corridors of Coca Cola it became laughable and fodder for gossip when Khumalo later told newspapers that he had left a job in Ireland to become a Minister. The truth is he was jobless.

Perhaps the most disappointed is Fred Yochum. He had high hopes for the man. He believed in him. Seeing him hobnob from one interview to the other lying about the recent waves of protests in the country made many to remember Khumalo is not the angel he sells himself to be. Ask Phila, Nonhlanhla, Gule or any of his exco members who all left the company.