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Rupert: 'Injustices In SA Need To Be Corrected'

But, says Johann Rupert, South Africans are being 'robbed blind' while corruption and maladministration flourishes.

14/09/2017 06:17 SAST | Updated 14/09/2017 14:51 SAST
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Billlionaire Johann Rupert, founder and chairperson of Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, speaks with delegates during the Business of Luxury summit in Monaco, on Monday, June 8, 2015.

South African magnate Johann Rupert "unequivocally" believes that economic injustices in South Africa need to be addressed and that more opportunities have to be created to enable black businesspeople to flourish.

But he is tired of he and his family being portrayed as the embodiment of "white monopoly capital", something that has had an "incredible effect" on his wife and children. "It doesn't matter what your political orientation is, the fact remains that it's close to midnight for South Africa ... we're facing a fiscal cliff thanks to maladministration and corruption. We're all going to have to work together, business, civil society and government."

Rupert spoke to HuffPost SA from Geneva, Switzerland, after comments he made on the sidelines of luxury goods company Richemont's annual general meeting were reported by Bloomberg on Wednesday. According to those reports, he said government's economic theory of "radical economic transformation" is merely a code word for "theft" and that everybody knows that state coffers are being looted.

He says he stands by his comments and adds the public purse is being "robbed blind".

Rupert says it is clear that Bell Pottinger, the London-based public relations firm that drove a racially divisive social media and political campaign based on the catchphrases "white monopoly capital" and "radical economic transformation", succeeded in distracting South Africans. "They became the story, but they aren't the story. They distracted us from large-scale corruption and the looting of state coffers. The public purse is bleeding dry. We are being robbed blind."

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A placard with a slogan against Johann Rupert, the heir of South African business tycoon Anton Rupert, the chairman of the Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont as well as of the South Africa-based company Remgroins is displayed as members of the Black First Land First (BLF) movement demonstrate inside an Absa Bank branch in Johannesburg on June 28, 2017.

He is "sick and tired" of being branded a ruthless white monopoly capitalist, Rupert says.

"We need to get the economy going. I unequivocally believe that injustices ... including economic injustices in South Africa ... need to be corrected. We need to create more opportunities for black businesspeople to succeed. That's why I started Business Partners in 1979 to help create those opportunities and also why my wife and I, in the last year, donated more than R600 million to various bursary and training schemes. We also feed more than 10 000 children in Graaff-Reinet every day.

"I have never held a monopoly ... although I wish I could have."

He doesn't want to expand on the effect the social media-driven campaign against him and his business interests has had on his family, but says he believes people see through the name-calling and insults.

"I travel quite a lot and the rest of the world is worried about our future and the high levels of corruption. When large investors become aware of these high levels [of corruption] they don't want to put money into the country. That hampers job creation. We're on the edge of a fiscal cliff. Hemingway asked: 'How do you go bankrupt? Slowly, then suddenly'. And it's because of maladministration and corruption," he says.

He believes the country's fortunes could be turned around if the powers that be were to listen "to the people at National Treasury and the SA Reserve Bank who know what they're doing".

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Caroline Rupert, Gaynor Rupert, Johann Rupert and Anton Rupert in Chichester, England, in 2014.

Rupert dismisses talk that he criticises without being invested the country, given his global business interests. "I criticise the country because I am invested in its future. Our family-built companies, Remgro and Richemont, deliver more in dividends back to South Africa than all the companies on the entire JSE combined. We also pay billions in tax annually."

He is chairperson of both Richemont's and Remgro's boards of directors.

The Stellenbosch native says it doesn't matter who is in charge of the country, the time to come together has arrived. "Economic growth is poor, our debt levels are high and banks are reluctant to roll over government debt like that of the SAA. All South Africans will now simply have to pull together."