South Africa: Who’s who in Johann Rupert’s network?

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Thursday, 28 July 2022 06:30

Johann Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury goods Compangnie Financière Richemont, the South Africa-based Remgro, and the Luxembourg-based investment vehicle Reinet Investments, has consistently been on rich lists for the past three decades. Who makes up his circle of trustworthy and influential people?

Johann Rupert, born on 1 June 1950, comes from a wealthy family after his father, Anton, built his fortunes on tobacco.

Last year, Rupert and his family came in second on the Forbes list with a reported fortune of $7.1bn. He is currently number two in Africa and his real-time net worth is reported as $8.8bn. Although he has been in the limelight for his strong political views and connections, Rupert is a very private person.

David Rockefeller (died 2017) was a family friend and Rupert’s boss when he worked at Chase Manhattan Bank in the 1970s.

Gerrit Thomas Ferreira, Paul Harris and Laurie Dippenaar are some of Rupert’s earliest business associates and they are still close. In the late 1970s, their small financial structuring house in Johannesburg, Rand Consolidated Investments, merged with Rupert’s Rand Merchant Bank to become one of the largest financial services firms in sub-Saharan Africa. The three all have connections with Stellenbosch, with Ferreira and Harris having studied at the university.

Edwin Hertzog, a medical doctor who founded Medi-Clinic International hospital group, is the son of Anton Rupert’s business partner, Dirk Hertzog. Johann and Edwin grew up together and Johann helped him expand the company internationally, where Mediclinic has been making most of its money.

Jürgen Schrempp, former CEO of Daimler-Benz, is one of the directors of Richemont and also part of the advisory committee of Reinet.

Yves-André Istel is a French-American investment banker, a former advisor to Rothschild Inc and former board member of Lehman brothers. He served on the advisory committee of Reinet and as vice-chairman of Richemont.

Ruggero Magnoni is Italian and non-executive director on the board of Richemont, as well as on the advisory board for Reinet. He was previously also with the Lehman Brothers.

Alan Quasha is American and the founder and chairman of Quadrant Management. He serves on the board of Richemont as well as the advisory board for Reinet.

Johnny Copelyn, unionist-turned-CEO of Hosken Consolidated Investments, the biggest black-owned investment group in South Africa. It is through backing Copelyn that Rupert ended up owning media shares: Remgro is a one-third shareholder of Sabido, which owns e.tv.

Fred Robertson, chairman of Brimstone Investment Corporation and deputy chairman of Remgro. Brimstone was started by Remgro in 1995 on a similar investment model – by getting ordinary people in their community to invest – and had Jakes Gerwel, director-general in Mandela’s office when he was president, as a non-executive director and advisor.

Mustaq Brey, CEO of Brimstone investments, a black economic empowerment company.

Daniel Zhang, Alibaba CEO, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma, are two of his newer acquaintances after Richemont and Alibaba signed a joint venture in 2018.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, nominated Rupert for a légion d’honneur, France’s highest civilian accolade. In 2018, they received the Appeal of Conscience Award together in New York.

Jabu Moleketi, former finance minister, and Murphy Morobe, ANC veteran, are non-executive board members of Remgro, which said – ahead of the 2019 elections – that the company was hoping for a strong win for the ANC in the elections so that Cyril Ramaphosa would not be recalled by the party.

Nelson Mandela was a friend of Anton Rupert, while Johann, too, was close to him and regarded him as a father.

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel and business executive Maria Ramos exchanged nuptials on the Rupert family farm of L’Ormarins Wine Estate in 2008. Manuel is close friends with Fred Robertson, Brimstone chairman.

Cyril Ramaphosa was the general secretary of Cosatu when Johann met him in 1990. Ramaphosa confronted him about establishing his new company, Richemont, overseas, and Johann said it was about the ANC’s talk of nationalisation, and added that all the money made by the company comes back to SA. They became good friends and Rupert helped Ramaphosa and a number of emerging black businessmen establish themselves. Although his name isn’t amongst the known funders of Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign in 2017, Rupert was in support of Ramaphosa’s election and outspoken against his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. Rupert’s L’Ormarins wine estate sponsored the wines for the ANC’s gala dinner at the conference where Ramaphosa was elected.

Floyd Shivambu, Economic Freedom Fighters deputy president, was one of those in Rupert’s informal intelligence network during the 2017 presidential elections, who advised him Ramaphosa would win. It appears that the friendship faltered after Shivambu advised Rupert to do the disastrous interview in front of an audience by Johannesburg radio station, Power FM.

Party leader Julius Malema, on the other hand, rebuffed Rupert’s offers to help him with his tax affairs and has led several protests in front of Rupert’s businesses and wine farms, which the EFF consider to be symbolic of white dominance in South Africa’s businesses. It is not clear whether Rupert has donated any money to the EFF, but the party had a dinner ahead of the 2019 elections during which the sponsored wine was Rupert and Rothschild.

Margaret Thatcher gave him the advice to employ Bell Pottinger to do his public relations campaigns, but the company later ran a racist campaign villifying him to deflect public attention from the large-scale looting by the businessmen who employed their services. Rupert once famously told Thatcher at a dinner to “stop interrupting me while I’m interrupting you”.

Opposition politicians like the DA’s Helen Zille and ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba are also in Rupert’s social networks. Both were at his 71st birthday party last year.

Golfer Ernie Els is a long-time friend and plays golf with Rupert on the regular. In 1994, Rupert introduced him to Nelson Mandela during a dinner together.

Another golfer, Gary Player, designed the Leopard Creek Golf Club in Mpumalanga, which Rupert developed and built in 1996. It’s considered one of the top golf courses in the country. Rupert has also played in the Gary Player Invitational golf tournament to assist Player to raise funds for children’s charities.

Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel are two more top-ranked golfers amongst the many that Rupert is close to. He has known them since they were teenagers. Other golfers include Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Tom Brady.

Former Springbok rugby player Morné du Plessis was invited by Rupert to be part of the Laureus World Sports Awards decision-making body, which Rupert founded in 2000, of which Nelson Mandela was the first patron. Du Plessis later retired from the awards, but remained part of Sport for Good, a fund for developing sport that came out of the Laureus.

Maverick sport scientist and author Tim Noakes and Du Plessis co-founded the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town with him in 1994.

Leon Louw, executive director and co-founder of the right-wing liberal think-tank, the Free Market Foundation, with which the Ruperts have had a close association since its founding in 1975. Louw has publicly defended Rupert against political attacks. Rupert donated millions to the foundation three years ago for its Khaya Lam project, to provide township dwellers in Stellenbosch and Graaff-Reinet (his father’s birthplace) with title deeds to homes they have lived in for decades.

Retired constitutional court justice Johann Kriegler, whose Freedom Under Law is reported to have received support from Rupert. The lobby group was founded in 2009, the year Zuma became the country’s president, to litigate against “institutional conduct in conflict with rule of law”.

Johann is married to Gaynor Rupert, who is a successful racehorse breeder and owner of Drakenstein Stud.

They have three children – Anton, who serves as the director in a number of companies and is being groomed to take over; Caroline, who is in investment and philanthropy; and Hanneli, a luxury handbag designer. All are currently living abroad, something which Rupert has publicly hinted as being the consequence of the public insults the family has had to endure.

Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg, his sister, is formerly one of South Africa’s leading mezzo-supranos and owns La Motte, a premier wine estate in the Western Cape. His younger brother, Anthonij Rupert, died in a car accident in 2001, aged 49. He was the owner the L’Ormarins wine farm which was managed by Johann after his death.

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