Wealth club still boys’ club

2011-10-08 15:36

Gloria Serobe, who co-founded Wiphold, a women-led investment company about 17 years ago, is ­under no illusion it will take some time before South Africa begins to produce black female billionaires on a noticeable scale.

Despite being in business for nearly two decades, Serobe does not feature on the recently ­published list of richest South Africans.

The list reveals that the 10 richest people in the country are male and that mining tycoon Patrice Motsepe (49) is the wealthiest with an estimated ­fortune of R23 billion.

There is the only woman among the 100 richest people in South Africa – Sharon Wapnick. Wapnick, a non-executive director of Octodec Investments and ­Premium Properties, is ranked 74th on the list and is worth R330.37 million.

Says Serobe: “Historically, the participation of black women in the economy has always been low.
“We won’t see this changing for a while. Men are still comfortable (doing business) with other men.”

She points out that while the rich list is a useful guide for measuring personal wealth, it is, however, not as accurate as many people may think because it only tracks wealth listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

“There are rich people who are under the radar because the companies they own are not listed,” ­Serobe explains.

Wiphold is among many matured black companies such as ­energy-focused Worldwide Africa Investment Holdings, which are not listed but pack a punch.

Serobe says: “We delisted because we wanted to keep our affairs private. It is nice to tell people you are listed, but when we were listed we couldn’t control how much of the company was owned by ­women.”

She makes it clear that Wiphold has no intentions of listing again. The reason for this being to avoid public scrutiny and to ­ensure that the company’s 1?200 direct shareholders and a trust, which benefits 18?000 women, are not diluted.

She adds: “Listing was dilutive to the original intention of having a black-owned and controlled ­investment vehicle.”

Serobe declines to shed light on how much wealth Wiphold has amassed in the time it has been operating.

She modestly says they have made “some money” for its shareholders and beneficiaries. Most of the company’s assets are in energy, financial services, telecoms, mining, forestry and timber, and cement manufacturing.

Wiphold has clinched minor black economic empowerment stakes in fixed-line phone operator Telkom, life insurer Old Mutual, lender Nedbank and short-term ­insurer Mutual & Federal.

Unlike other BEE firms, Wiphold has not let white or male controlled businesses interfere with its vision. The company has become more bold and ­confident, and is facilitating investments in greenfield projects that have the potential to create jobs.

One such investment is the cement plant that the company is building in Limpopo at a cost of R1.6?billion with its partners Continental ­Cement and Chinese parastatal ­Jidong.

Says Serobe: “We have a healthy portfolio because our businesses are doing well. We are getting stronger and we are happy to be where we are.”

Apart from creating new businesses, Wiphold has been credited with helping Old Mutual and its subsidiaries, Nedbank and Mutual & Federal, seek new customers in rural areas and townships, which were historically ignored by these companies.

Six years ago, Wiphold nudged the three companies to set up the Imbizo project, which resulted in five green shops being established in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal.

These shops offer products that range from funeral cover to savings products, livestock cover and loans to low-income earners.

Marshall Rapiya, managing ­director of Old Mutual’s South African operations, says that though the project has been painstaking, it has been worth the trouble.

“We made losses in the first five years, but we broke even this year. In Wiphold, we have a black ­business partner that has said to us ‘there is a space, occupy it’,” says Rapiya.

Ruel Khoza, Nedbank’s chairperson, agrees: “Had we not ­partnered with Wiphold, Imbizo would not have happened as we know it today.”

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