By Amy Gray

Industrial and Organisational Psychologists are not politicians, but perhaps they should have been. South Africa’s ongoing transformation from 1994 brought many policies for Organisational Developers to enact, but the Industrial and Organisational Psychology field provided little relevant support and education. We recently discussed these issues and the highly politiciced socio-economic history of OD in South Africa with Dr Loyiso Mbabane, speaker for the upcoming Organisational Development Conference and previous student activist. In 1995, Dr Mbabane was the first black African to receive an MA in Industrial Psychology from WITS, and has since then expanded his education into economics and business and his experience into politics— having been on the presidential committee for remuneration of office bearers and having served as the Director General of the Easter Cape. Here are his thoughts on Organisational Development in past and current South Africa.

“As a student activist, I was involved in ‘the struggle’ and we all were highly politicised. The key goal was political transition and end of apartheid and de-racialisation of SA society. Issues of organisational effectiveness; transformation of organisational culture and related challenges were not at the centre of the agenda. Most people assumed that all that was necessary was to de-racialise the state and private sector and empower women.

I found my education very irrelevant to the contributions that ‘the new SA’ wanted. The only relevant area where I could apply some organisational psychology, but in a far broader sense, was in the Affirmative Action and Employment Equity space, nationally. I had to acquire a whole new degree, a Master of Management, in Public and Development Management, in order to understand the issues as well as the needs of the public and NGO sectors.”
When I completed the Honours in Industrial Psychology, in 1989, I went through a number of interviews, trying to secure some internships. I remember being interviewed by one major NGO, in Johannesburg, for a job as an ‘OD practitioner’. None of the questions had anything to do with Organisational Psychology nor Industrial Psychology (as I had been taught). They were more interested in the development of cadres for leadership; the management of people’s organisations and community structures, etc.

I could not address any of their questions adequately. I flunked the interview.

Dr Mbabane continued to broaden his education, with his final standing comprised  of a PhD in Business Administration and three master’s degrees spanning Economics, Business and Industrial Psychology. However, when asked to comment on this— Dr Mbabane brought home the importance of OD’s political and developmental role in South Africa.

“The Industrial and Organisational Psychology field should not confine itself to the narrow ‘industrial performance’ and ‘individual effectiveness at work’ space, a legacy of the old/ 3rd industrial revolution. There are major, exogenous events that an Industrial and Organisational Psychologist should be able to deal with, such as corruption and the after-effects of the Zondo Commission on the performance of individuals, groups and organisations.

How does an I&O Psychologist deal with the collapse in governance and ethics in a company or a government department? Can Industrial and Organisational Psychology diagnose the root causes of municipal failure and ineffectiveness? Can it provide solutions to deal with the after-effects of the state capture of organisations? Can it diagnose corruption and its manifestations and assist a company to root it out? Are there valid, reliable and culture-fair instruments and scales that can be used to deal with these very real and serious challenges and problems that are destroying the SA society and economy?

If the answers to the above are negative, then the relevance and value of I/OP will continue to be debatable, particularly when serious global crises and national challenges are at stake.”

Organisational development is the department that works most closely, and most strategically, with people. It has the power to change the entire culture of an organisation, and by extension through the families and lives of the employees, thousands of South Africans. However, state capture and other issues can often seem too heavy to combat. Dr Mbabane, however, does not believe that the battle is lost: “The ‘political economy’ tends to over-shadow the organisational psychology, but it does not have to. OD, after COVID-19, should shake itself up and acquire immediacy, relevance and value. After all, corruption, racism and nepotism all affect the functioning and effectiveness of organisations, which is the concern of I/O and OD.”

In most countries, it would be difficult to operate as an OD practitioner independent of politics and state policy— but in South Africa, it is impossible. Whether, and how, Organisational Development will rise to the challenge of redesigning the future workforce amidst crime, corruption and disenfranchisement of the transformation will be the mark of this professional generation. However, what remains true is that the design of a workforce can change the economy, and that the change of an economy can change a country. Let us not lose sight of the power, and responsibility, every OD practitioner carries throughout this unsteady and ever-changing time.


Join us on the 23rd and 24th of February, 2022 to hear more about world-changing theories and practices within OD. In addition to Dr Mbabane, you will be hearing from incredible industry leaders such as Andee Uren from Nedbank and Augusto Cuginotti, Chair, The World Café Community Foundation Stewardship Council. If you would like to find out more about this conference or receive the full brochure, please contact our conference manager, Busie Mjimba at

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