How Sol Kerzner spent his 67 minutes on Mandela Day

2013-07-21 14:00

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Sun King gives talk as part of his 67 minutes for Mandela Day

Billionaire Sol Kerzner is accustomed to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s elite at A-list parties.

But this week, the 77-year-old magnate briefly slipped into Cape Town to deliver a talk on leadership to poor teens from the violent Imizamo Yethu township in Hout Bay.

The youngsters are affiliated with Lalela Project – a charity founded by Kerzner’s daughter Andrea.

Speaking on Mandela Day, below elaborate chandeliers inside the ballroom of his five-star One&Only Hotel, he told the children to pray for his friend Madiba. “I met with Nelson Mandela a few months after he was released from prison in 1990. We became friends after that,” he said.

“He is a remarkable man and today is a special day,” he said. “I don’t know anyone else who could have brought about such a peaceful and financially sound transition. The most amazing thing about him was that he stepped down after just one term.”

Kerzner arrived in Cape Town from the US to give 67 minutes to Mandela, according to his spokesperson, Suzanne Weil.

He owns a property called Leeukoppie, overlooking Hout Bay, where he has hosted glittering New Year’s Eve bashes.

The Sun King’s business empire extends from South Africa to Dubai, Mauritius, Mexico and, soon, Montenegro on the Mediterranean, where a R6.4 billion One&Only resort is being planned.

He is now based in England, where he was knighted by the queen in 2010, and where his fourth divorce from socialite Heather Murphy remains tabloid fodder. Last month, he was named as one of City Press’ 100 World Class South Africans.

Lalela Project aims to “empower children and youth living in extreme poverty by igniting creativity”.

The charity began with 20 pupils during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and now reaches up to 800 pupils each week at five schools in Imizamo Yethu and Hangberg in Hout Bay, as well as Masiphumelele near Kommetjie.

On Thursday, Khaya Mdubeki (17) and Simamkele Benani (17) met Kerzner after his speech at the hotel.

“I was so nervous, but so very, very excited too,” giggled Benani. The two pupils from Hout Bay High School will set foot on a plane for the first time on July 30 when they fly to New York to visit Andrea and meet Lalela benefactors.

Lalela has helped Ncedo Jako (20) enrol at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Andrea introduced Jako to City Press at a function last Saturday: “I want you to meet this young man. We’re very proud of him,” she said.

In his shack in Imizamo Yethu, Jako says he decided to study radiography to help his cancer-stricken mother Doreen, a domestic worker.

She has since passed away, but his resolve remains unbroken and his grades are good.

“I’ve always been motivated, knowing I need good grades to get on with my life,” he said.

“I joined Lalela. The people there told Andrea about my circumstances.

“I was living by myself. Whenever she was in South Africa, she would come visit me in the township at my shack. I didn’t even have tea to give her, but she didn’t mind.”

Lalela staff bought him a suit and a bus ticket so he could attend his mother’s funeral in Eastern Cape when she died in April last year.

“I told myself I mustn’t take my mum’s death as a setback. More like a challenge to overcome,” he said.

Lalela presented Canadian teen pop sensation Justin Bieber with a painting by Wandisile Maqoko (19) of Imizamo Yethu during the singer’s South African tour in May.

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