Johann Rupert, South Africa's second-richest man
with a $6.3bn fortune, dismissed the idea of "white monopoly capital"
in a now-notorious interview with Johannesburg-based radio station PowerFM, arguing
that state-owned companies such as Eskom were the true monopolies.
The 68-year-old chairman of the maker of Cartier watches has sparked widespread debate over remarks he made during the controversial interview with Given Mkhari.
"What does white monopoly capital mean?" Rupert said, after Mkhari introduced him as the face of the concept. "Yes, I’m white, or I mean a white person.
"Show me a monopoly we have ever had, show me one monopoly I have ever had, just one, please."
He went on to name state-owned companies such as power utility Eskom, which, in his view, enjoy genuine monopolies.
Meanwhile, he said his own companies - such as Swiss luxury goods maker Cie Financiere Richemont and Stellenbosch-based Remgro - pay dividends and taxes in South Africa and create jobs in the country, where more than one in four people in the labour force are unemployed.
Rupert’s comments went down badly on social media. The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters called him a "selfish racist white capitalist." In his interview, Rupert similarly dismissed the EFF, mocking the red berets worn by party members.
Of the top richest South Africans listed by Forbes, the first five are white men. Rupert, the eldest son of an industrialist who founded tobacco company Rembrandt Group, trails only diamond heir Nicky Oppenheimer.
The richest black South African is Patrice Motsepe, the owner of mining investment firm African Rainbow Minerals. At the other end of the spectrum, South Africa’s income inequality is among of the worst internationally and white people in the country make nearly three times the average wage of black Africans, according to a World Bank report.
Opening with a more conciliatory tone than what was to follow, Rupert said the purpose of his interview was to try and bring together South Africans of all ethnicities, urging the embrace of "common goals and common ideals."
However, his regular missteps proved more memorable, such as when he dismissed the interviewer as part of a "snowflake generation" for correcting his outdated racial terminology.
Rupert also claimed he had black American friends who would find his mixed reputation in South Africa "incredibly funny," before listing them as basketball star Michael Jordan, British racing driver champion Lewis Hamilton and the model Naomi Campbell.
Rupert’s Remgro holds stakes in South African companies such as hospital operator Mediclinic International and drinks maker Distell.
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