South African billionaire businessman Johann Rupert’s rare public interview received mixed reaction on Tuesday night after he was accused of racism and arrogance.
Rupert was this year’s guest on Power FM’s annual Chairman’s Conversations – a show in which the station’s chairman Given Mkhari interviews prominent South Africans.
Among key questions during the interview, Rupert was asked to respond to allegations that he was an apartheid beneficiary who was now a central figure of “white monopoly capital” and the “Stellenbosch mafia” which controlled the economy.
Rupert, the chairman of Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont as well as of the SA-based Remgro group, denied that his father’s empire benefited from apartheid.
“Where does this story come from? We never did business with the (apartheid) government. If my father had emigrated, the shareholders would have done a lot better. We were boycotted oversees because of South Africa, so the choice is to leave or stay. We could have taken the money out of the country, bought boats, whatever, but we did a series of partnerships,” Rupert said.
Rupert said he did not understand why he was labelled a monopoly capitalist, as most monopolies belonged to the State.
“All the people here who belong to a government pension fund own twice as many shares in all those companies as we do and from the beginning my father had no money. He started with £10, then a hundred pounds in a garage and my mother was a company secretary. They grew up poor,” Rupert said.
Rupert said his mother had to walk to school and that she saved until she was in her 80s.
Rupert however, received massive backlash from the audience and from social media after he said he was born in a poor Afrikaner generation that built itself through education and saving instead of consuming.
“They didn’t go and buy BMWs and hang around at Taboo and The Sands all the time, okay?” Rupert said.
Power FM host Iman Rappetti told Rupert that the conversation was not sitting well with many South Africans as he came across as racist and patronising to black people.
“In fact sitting here and listening to the conversation myself I feel like, am I in the wrong place? Am I in the wrong room and I hear laughter… an affirmation for some of the things that you are saying. What would you say to South Africans for whom your message jars?”Rappetti asked.
Rupert defended himself, saying he had been accused of many things in his life but that his generation did not believe he was racist.
Asked what his views were on transformation he said: “I don’t think that hand-outs leave the recipient of the hand-out with any dignity. I believe on hand-ups and leg-ups… and helping people start their own businesses”.
Rupert said while land redistribution was necessary, the expropriation of land without compensation would not be good for the economy.
“Let us not fall into the trap of Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Everything looks good on paper but the game is played on the grass. You need to be tough to farm,” he said.