Johannesburg - In 1917, Ernest Oppenheimer met with South African general and soon-to-be prime minister Jan Smuts to seek his blessing for a new mining company called Anglo American. Smuts wanted one assurance, the company was there for the long haul.
Anglo, along with its sister company De Beers, made Oppenheimer a billionaire and his descendants one of Africa’s richest families. The company became South Africa’s biggest, a conglomerate once spanning brewing, publishing and gold mining. Now a century later, Anglo is trying to cut many of the ties with the country where it all began.
While South African mines were cash cows for decades, Anglo now wants to sell them next year to cut debt accumulated during the commodity boom, when it spent $14bn (nearly R120bn) on Brazil’s Minas Rio. How to package the assets and which to include will be major choices for Anglo, and it faces opposition from a government pension fund that is also the biggest investor. With so much history and national identity wrapped up in the company, it will be a complicated divorce.