Richest man in SA is a non-BEE billionaire

2010-12-18 00:00

THE truth shall out. The truth is out.

The listing of billionaire Patrice Motsepe as the richest South African vindicates the belief that black South Africans need to embrace pure entrepreneurship as a business philosophy rather than the current form of black economic empowerment (BEE).

The rankings are based on share valuations at the end of March and were compiled on behalf of Business Times by Who Owns Whom. According to Business Times, a team of researchers at Who Owns Whom “analysed the holdings of all JSE-listed companies”.

This could be confusing to some of those who regard Motsepe as a product of BEE. He is not. Instead, he is an extremely successful businessman who happens to be black.

You see, how he started in businesses falls outside of all characteristics of a black empowerment. It was April 1998 (exactly 12 years and seven months ago) when we all woke up to the announcement that Motsepe had bought six marginal Vaal Reefs shafts from Anglo American with capital raised on a purely commercial basis.

Motsepe’s move took a lot of people by surprise, journalists included. I was one of those journalists. I could not help it. I picked up the phone and asked him: “Patrice, what is this?”

His answer was brief: “Sipho, I know what I am doing.”

I still was not convinced. But oh, the rest is history. R19,9 billion — that’s what Motsepe is worth, excluding other sums of wealth that could not be determined by Who Owns Whom, since the study is based on publicly available information and only includes disclosed shareholdings in JSE-listed companies. By Business Times’s own admission, “it is therefore safe to assume the individuals are much richer than it appears”.

So, Motsepe could easily be worth way over R20 billion. In fact, that’s a plausible assumption.

Guided by his pure entrepreneurial spirit, instincts and sheer guts, he embarked on a journey that a couple of years later saw the cynics eating humble pie. With the listing of African Rainbow Metals he became a billionaire soon after he started. The guts, the instincts and the calculation were in the right place, while the timing was spot on. So, roll on Motsepe, roll on.

Yes, there are some BEE people who made the list, but only a handful, which vindicates another belief that, since around 1996, BEE has only benefited a few. But even some of these BEE guys who made the list only used BEE when it was convenient — as a stepping stone. Once the shares were in the money, they would use the earnings to spread capital in purely commercial terms and call the shots.

Back to Motsepe. The man deserves big accolades after pipping some of the traditionally wealthy families. He has beaten De Beers chairperson, Nicky Oppenheimer, who was ranked third based on his 2,5% stake in Anglo American. Truth be told, Oppenheimer was born wealthy. He inherited massive wealth from the foundations of what was started by his grandfather Ernest Oppenheimer in 1917.

Similarly, Johann Rupert, a member of the Rupert Family Trust, which made the top 10, inherited his riches from his entrepreneur father Anton. The foundations of the Ruperts’ businesses date back many, many years indeed. In fact, long before Motsepe was even born.

Yes, Johann has done a lot in his own right. He has led the Ruperts’ empire with distinction. That you cannot take away from him.

Motsepe started from scratch, by himself. How lonely it must have been. But this is an example worth noting. BEE? Nay! — Moneyweb.

• Sipho Ngcobo is former deputy editor of Business Report and ex-managing editor of Enterprise Magazine.

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