aner Zelda le Grange.
“His marketing genius was widely recognized and he received many awards for his achievements,” added his daughter Knoetze who was with her father when he slipped away in his sleep last Wednesday evening.
Upon hearing of Rupert’ death, President Thabo Mbeki described the head of South Africa’s largest tobacco, liquor and luxury goods empire as a man who played a significant role in ending apartheid and initiating the transformation from all white to ANC rule in 1994.
Yet the young Rupert had been an active member of the Afrikaner secret organization, the Broederbond.
Throughout his long and amazingly successful business career, Dr Rupert rarely raised his head above the apartheid wall or criticized the men leading his country into international isolation. Instead, he maintained a low profile.
Towards the end of his long business career, he made sure that he and his executives were seen to be siding with black leaders in the ANC who, during their student/guerrilla Marxist days in exile or the African bush, promised to bury Anton Rupert and his financial giant colleague, Harry Oppenheimer of Anglo American.
The man whose best friend was Prince Barnhard of the Netherlands (who – for various reasons once worse the black uniform of Hitler’s SS) spent the last decade of his life working with Nelson Mandela in a bid to preserve African wildlife and create across borders game reserves.
President Mandela, Dr Rupert and Prince Barnhard were the founding patrons of the Peace Parks Foundation. Dr Rupert was also the force behind dozens of South African charities and he was a great patron of the arts.
Anton Rupert was born in the Eastern Cape during the First World War. He went to medical school but lack of finds forced him to drop out but at the University of Pretoria he obtained a chemistry degree and for a short while he was a lecturer.
But business opportunities turned his head towards commodities few whites in Africa can go long without – tobacco and liquor. The family empire started in 1941 when Rupert and two companions took over a small tobacco factory in Johannesburg and created the company Voorbrand.
Two years later, he was investing in tobacco, liquor, coal, wool and coffee and by 1954 the Rupert Group expanded worldwide and obtained interests in 27 countries.
Business Report editorialised: “Anton Rupert’s indisputable entrepreneurial ability was underscored by the fact that, at a time when many countries had imposed sanctions on South Africa, Rembrandt went to Europe with -30,000 and built the Swiss-based luxury group Richemont out of this.”
South Africa’s two most spectacularly successful business families – the Oppenheimers (Anglo American) and the Ruperts (Rembrant and Richemont) had close ties with the rulers of South Africa after the Second World War. Some of them – Henrik Verwoerd was one – went to prison rather than fights Hitler.
Yet both powerful families went on to forge what seems to be unbreakable links with the ex-Marxists and Communists who today form the backbone of the African National Congress led today by Thabo Mbeki. How did they pull it off?
When the applause dies down for white businessmen who left the Broederbond to sponsor the ANC, someone (with a ticket out of South Africa, a bullet proof vest and a private income) might tell us. -TREVOR GRUNDYPost published in: Economy