Johann Rupert is in your tea, on your sandwich and on your wine list. If you’re not eating him, you’re drinking him, writes Bonolo Ramokhele
I missed the interview last week that had black people seething.
The following day, I ran through Remgro’s stable, which is one of Johann Rupert’s companies.
I must say, Remgro has some good brands, including as it does Nola Mayonnaise; Rainbow Chicken, which is a significant supplier of chicken to KFC in the country; Sunbake bread, which goes well with its Yum Yum peanut butter; Piemans pies; Selati sugar; Yum Yum peanut butter for your children’s lunchboxes; Mageu (that drink your ancestors and elders have perfected was branded, repackaged and sold back to you); Ouma rusks; Rama, Stork and Flora margarines; Bobtail, Catmor and Dogmor for your pets; and Monati Super Mabela for breakfast – needs in a significant number of black households.
When you feel like going to Taboo or some other night spot, Remgro has you covered as well.
You can enjoy liquor brands that are owned by one of its investee companies.
It has brands such as Hunter’s Dry, Savanna and, when it’s time to have toasts at weddings – of which there will be plenty this month – you can do it using JC Le Roux sparkling wine.
Other brands owned by Remgro include, among others, Three Ships Whisky, Durbanville Hills, Oude Meester, Amarula, Viceroy and Autumn Harvest.
If you need a ride to Taboo in your BMW, and if it’s financed by WesBank, then Remgro has you covered as it is a shareholder in FirstRand, the parent of Wesbank, which I believe is still the leader in vehicle and asset financing in the country in terms of market share.
First National Bank (FNB) can sort you out with a credit facility if you need one as well as finance your home, give you that black card, etc.
And, if you need to fill up your car and you do it at Total, then Remgro has you covered there as well, since it is a shareholder in Total SA.
It also has interests in health insurance firms Discovery, Outsurance and Metropolitan.
If you need to undergo a medical procedure and Mediclinic is your place of choice, Remgro has you covered there as well.
The irony is that as soon as we make a bit of money, one of the first things we do is to get on to medical aid so we can start using hospitals like Mediclinic.
We watch eNCA, which is partly owned by Remgro. It is a platform that is used by so many of the same people who fight “white monopoly capital” – be it as analysts, politicians or businesspeople – and makes them relevant.
Remgro also has an interest in YFM. Yes, YFM.
If you have fibre in your home, chances are Dark Fibre Africa had a hand in the laying of the cabling, either through the backhaul or the last-mile solution – and Remgro is one of the shareholders in Seacom, which I believe was one of the first underwater cables to hit the shores of South Africa.
I could go on and list more companies owned by Remgro and the Rupert family, but that is not the point of this column.
The management of Remgro does not force-feed us the food brands it owns, nor does it force us to take up vehicle finance or buy the products it owns. We do that willingly.
We must ask more telling questions as to why the economy of the country is concentrated in the hands of the few.
Why do behemoths like the Public Investment Corporation, which is a 9% shareholder in Remgro, continue to allocate funds to the same old players?
Why is it that, 24 years after democracy, we are still on the periphery?
In six years’ time, a child who was born in 1994 will be turning 30 – and if they have their first child on the anniversary of democracy, that child will be born into a country where they will still be a minority in the economic participation landscape, 30 years in.
I do not have the answers, but we must do better and change our mind-sets, buy black, own value chains and keep the money circulating among black hands at least 10 times before it leaves the community.
Our money gets into our accounts at month-end and immediately goes to Wesbank and FNB Home Loans, and buys groceries whose brands we do not own, and we repeat this cycle monthly.
We also need to put on the national agenda the issue of capital flow and money in this country.
It is as important as the land debate, if not more so – because, as one gent said over the weekend: “He who controls the money, controls the game.”
Lastly, I heard an “amusing” story a few weeks ago. I am told Rupert was lined up to accompany then president Thabo Mbeki on a trip abroad with other businesspeople.
The government needed two people to sit and address an audience, along with the president, at a World Bank event.
The apex business formation in the country at the time recommended FirstRand’s then CEO, Sizwe Nxasana, to be the second business representative.
Apparently, Rupert was unhappy with that arrangement as he “could not share the stage with one of his employees; it wouldn’t look right”.
Remgro has fewer than 200 employees, yet in the last Sunday Times Rich List I read, four of Remgro’s executives made the top 10 list of highest paid executives.
I haven’t even touched on luxury goods holding company Richemont because you know when you make a bit of money, you’re at the Diamond Walk in Sandton at Cartier or Montblanc, just giving Dr Rupert your money.
PS: I urge all of us to do a quick survey and analysis of our spending per month and check who is the ultimate beneficiary of our authorising that debit order, making that EFT or swiping our cards at speed points.
Now get back to work so that come month-end, you make Rupert rich.
Ramokhele is a chartered accountant, treasurer-general of the Black Business Council and an SA Institute of Chartered Accountants’ Top 35 CA (SA) under 35 in South Africa
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