Competition Commission head Tembinkosi Bonakele fights funny business

Competition Commission head Tembinkosi Bonakele and his team are taking a sword to funny business in the private sector. Call him the Thuli Madonsela of the private sector‚ if you will.

For this attorney and MBA graduate‚ heading the Competition Commission is more than a job.

“I’ve realised that it’s an area of law that is closest to my heart. I like the intersection between law and economics‚ but most importantly‚ I like the connection to socioeconomic justice‚ which is very important‚” he told TMG Digital.

Bonakele assumed his current position in 2013 but has been serving at the commission for more than 10 years. In that time‚ the commission has launched a series of onslaughts against private sector transgressions.

Major rulings from his office include the R1.5bn ArcelorMittal fine for price fixing‚ and rulings that chastised Telkom and SA Breweries for abusing their dominance. The SAB finding was overruled by the Competition Tribunal.

More recently‚ the commission made damning findings against consumer goods company Unilever. The Boksburg-based company was ordered to pay a R35m fine for anticompetitive behaviour and to invest R135m in a new packaging and warehousing facility.


Bonakele says tougher legislation is needed to deal with corruption in the private sector.

“There is this lingering issue about what do you do with people who have been directly involved in this‚ beyond just the firm but the individuals‚” he said.

“There is legislation that came into effect last year. However‚ I think that legislation can be better. I think while the current provisions may deter people from cartel conduct‚ it makes it difficult for the individual to be given a conviction‚” he added.

Working alongside the Department of Economic Development‚ he hopes legislation will be changed during his time at the commission.

“I don’t think it will take long. It all depends on the priorities of Parliament and the government.”

He welcomes the fact that more companies are paying hefty fines for their actions as this means the commission is fulfilling its mandate of detecting and unearthing unethical practices.

The work of the commission extends further than rooting out rot in the private sector. It is also about opening up the sector to allow small businesses to thrive.

“The work we are doing in the auto sector‚ for example‚ is to open up space for people who want to open up workshops‚ repair cars‚ supply parts‚ the SMMEs. All those people are important to us… We do the same in other sectors that are closed through all sorts of arrangements‚” he said.

“It’s about getting the economic dynamic growing.”

Bonakele has an LLB from the University of Fort Hare and an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs). He had a brief stint as an SABC board member.

But he has dedicated over a decade to rising up the ranks at the commission.

After years of legal practice‚ Bonakele took on the role of senior legal counsel at the commission. He then headed compliance‚ acted as head of enforcement‚ head of mergers and acquisitions‚ then took on the role of deputy commissioner before becoming commission head.

He helped establish a cartels division at the commission and develop its corporate-leniency policy.

Currently‚ he has his hands full‚ chairing the steering committee of the African Competition Forum in Nairobi.

What are his plans?

“I like to concentrate on what I am doing now because that determines where I am going‚” he said.

What about trying his luck for the public protector post? “On that‚ no comment‚” he said with a laugh.

Story TMG Digital

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