EXTRACT | The Stellenbosch Mafia: 'Floyd advised me to do PowerFM interview – Rupert

The Stellenbosch Mafia by Pieter du Toit, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.
The Stellenbosch Mafia by Pieter du Toit, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Sometimes Rupert uses his influence to get messages across to government in a roundabout way. In late 2018, he was in London finalising a deal that would see Richemont become a supplier of luxury goods to Chinese online retail giant Alibaba – a massive coup for a company battling it out with rival LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton (the world's largest luxury-goods company) for prime position in that lucrative market.

After concluding the details with presumptive Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang, he flew to China for the official announcement and met with Jack Ma, the legendary Alibaba founder, who told him of his invitation by Ramaphosa to speak at the South African government's investment summit. 'What would be your advice?' Ma asked the South African. 'You need to tell the president that he needs to make allies of business, he needs to embrace entrepreneurs,' Rupert told him.

Later, delivering the keynote address in Johannesburg, Ma told the audience and Ramaphosa: 'For a country to develop, there are three basic things that have to be done that are important. The first is education; it's always good to invest in education. Investing in people is the best investment in the whole world. And the second thing is trust; build and support entrepreneurs. Make entrepreneurs the heroes. At the top of this is a good and clean government.'

And Ramaphosa's response? 'We should treat our entrepreneurs as heroes and move away from what we have been fed, where we treated our businesspeople like enemies, called them white monopoly capital and all that. That must end today. Let us see our business people as heroes.'

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is considered a good friend of Rupert's and nominated him to receive the Légion d'honneur, France's highest civilian order. He also has a direct line to Steven Mnuchin, a former Wall Street fund manager and Trump's Secretary of the Treasury. Rupert's network covers the US, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, including hundreds of relationships with high-level government officials and businessmen in the economic powerhouses of the world.

But, at least to his detractors, Rupert is the leader of the Stellenbosch Mafia, manipulating government and in control of the levers and the commanding heights of the economy. Malema has often led the charge, accusing Rupert of being the vanguard of a Western conspiracy to subjugate and recolonise South Africa.

In October 2018, Malema said he refused advice that he should 'go to Stellenbosch' so that Rupert could sort out his tax woes. And at an EFF black-tie event in January 2019, with wines from the estate of Rupert & Rothschild on the tables, Malema again attacked Rupert, saying he had rebuffed an offer 'from a sister of Rupert' for a meeting that could 'benefit' both.

The spokesperson for the EFF said, 'Can you please tell the Ruperts that at least there must be one party in South Africa which they do not control. And let that party be the EFF. Because the likelihood is that the Ruperts have got everyone except the EFF. We run the risk of all parties in South Africa being owned by the likes of Rupert who have the money to buy everything that moves in this country.'

Interestingly, though, Malema's public statements about Rupert haven't deterred his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, from cultivating a relationship with the ultimate so-called white monopoly capitalist. During the ANC's brutal presidential election in 2017, Shivambu was one of Rupert's go-to men in his informal intelligence network, sometimes explaining the inner workings of the governing party's processes and procedures – and often giving Rupert a headsup before major developments in the party. (During the height of the contest, Shivambu told Rupert that Ramaphosa would win the leadership race.)

And while his party leader was attacking Rupert on any platform and ranting about white monopoly capital, Shivambu advised Rupert to set the record straight in public and suggested ways he might achieve that: 'Believe it if you will,' said Rupert, 'but Floyd Shivambu advised me to do the PowerFM interview. Once he got to know me, when he realised what I was actually doing, that I was opposed to apartheid and who I knew [during the struggle], he said: "But nobody knows this. You've got to go on Given Mkhari's show and do the Chairman's Conversation [with Mkhari]."'

Shivambu, who also asked Rupert for help with a personal project he was planning, seemed concerned that the public and political image created of the Remgro chairperson was unfair and harsh, and felt that by engaging Mkhari (who had done a similar interview with Mbeki), Rupert could change that narrative. The interview was promptly organised and Rupert had his opportunity to put the record straight – thanks to Shivambu's prodding.

But before that, Shivambu and another EFF colleague went to see Rupert and Ferreira in Stellenbosch. 'He and a colleague – I can't remember the man's name – came to see us to ask for help. We had lunch together at Tokara, [GT] Ferreira's wine estate on the Helshoogte Pass. They wanted to build a hospital in Limpopo and asked if we could help. They wanted expertise. They had two businessmen that already built a couple of Spar supermarkets and wanted to work with Mediclinic. I told them we couldn't but maybe the people from Mediclinic could. Jannie then took them to Fleur du Cap, the farm my father bought and that is now owned by Remgro. I was concerned that they might think that all white people live like that, because they already believe we bathe in champagne,' Rupert recalls.

It is ironic that, as Malema was setting up Rupert as the white, capitalist bogeyman, off which the EFF could construct their populist support base, Shivambu was not only attempting to enlist Rupert's support for his own projects, but actively advising him on public relations to counter the message. For Rupert, it was a functional relationship, but he grew tired and disappointed when the personal attacks from Malema did not abate. (Shivambu has denied all of this, including meeting Rupert, and advising him or receiving any help from him.)

* This extract was taken from The Stellenbosch Mafia: Inside the Billionaires' Club by Pieter du Toit, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

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