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Africa’s Sam Walton

From shirts to furniture to groceries, Christo Wiese sells billions in low-cost goods to a continent clamoring for them. America could be next.

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Table mountain, the striking mesa above Cape Town, lords over another impressive African monument: the multistory Golden Acre shopping center. Lunchtime crowds pour into the glassy, brightly lit structure, and from within it is impossible not to notice the dominance of South Africa’s second-richest man, Christo Wiese. His bargain-bin clothier, PEP, pulls foot traffic to the basement. Above it, you’ll find his more upscale Ackermans chain. Around the corner is his OK Furniture and his grocery chain, Shoprite, which takes up two floors.

 

 

By and large, they all carry the same message. PEP’s window ads, accented in canary yellow, proclaim it the home of the “Lowest Price in South Africa.” Brightly colored bunting in OK Furniture heralds a similar promise. Shoprite (among its many slogans: “Lower prices, that’s our promise”) will even play moneylender, fronting customers up to R7,500 (roughly $470).

“The business has basically been built on one slogan: Low prices you can trust. Just very, very low everyday prices,” says Wiese (whose name, fittingly, is pronounced VEE-sa, like the credit card). “I suppose we could be described as the Wal-Mart of Africa.” Underscoring the cost-conscious philosophy, the 74-year-old is telling me this at his company headquarters, in an industrial area that abuts a composter and Adult World, which sells what you think it does.

His offices, like his stores, are decidedly spare: drab beige enlivened only by some hotel- quality art (a portrait of an elephant herd hangs outside the door of the conference room he uses as an office). “People have very limited budgets,” continues Wiese, clad in a capitalist’s power uniform – blue suit, blue shirt – the very picture of the lily-white executive that still controls most of South African business. “They have to get extremely good value for their money.” His hunch – that value trumps everything – led him to create the largest retail business in Africa. Publicly traded Shoprite does revenue of $9.9 billion a year, while PEP’s parent company, Steinhoff, brings in $11.8 billion (some of it from selling cellphones and home furnishings). Combined, they net almost $2 billion in annual profits, operate more than 9,000 stores in 30 countries and employ over 200,000 people. No other African retailer comes close to rivaling their breadth and depth, and Wiese controls both.

Those stakes are largely what makes Wiese one of the planet’s richest people, with a $5.8 billion fortune. More than 60% of his wealth is in Shoprite and Steinhoff, while another 30% or so comes from his shares of Brait, an investment vehicle Wiese uses to buy other companies, many of them outside South Africa. His stock in Tradehold, a real estate firm, accounts for much of the remaining 10%.

But if Wiese is to continue his expansion he must move outside of his African comfort zone. The continent isn’t booming the way it once was. Economic growth across Africa has slid from close to 7% in 2007 to about 4% in 2014, the last year for which data are available. In coming years it isn’t likely to much surpass that figure. South Africa, still Wiese’s most important market, is emblematic of the larger trend – stuck at sub-2% growth for the foreseeable future. The slowdown gravely threatens Wiese’s ambitions. He can shut his eyes and picture his empire twice as big as it is today, but for it to grow that large, he must look beyond Africa.

And he’s already started. PEP is expanding rapidly in Europe, while Wiese is snapping up all sorts of companies through Brait, including majority stakes in British discount retailer (sound familiar?) New Look for $1.2 billion last June and Richard Branson’s fitness center chain, Virgin Active, for $1 billion a month later. Put broadly, Wiese is a little Sam Walton, in terms of his focus, and a little Warren Buffett, in terms of amalgamating a portfolio. As a matter of fact, he’s beaten Buffett handily lately. His holding company, Brait, has trounced Berkshire Hathaway in total returns over three years (160% versus 31%), five years (230% to 51%) and ten years (314% to 121%).

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – APRIL 22: Billionaire businessman Dr. Christo Wiese on April 22, 2009 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Sharief Jaffer)

“Christo has been a massive risk taker his whole life,” says Syd Vianello, a retail analyst in Johannesburg, who has observed Wiese over many decades. “Africa is not a place for sissies. You’ve got to have nerves of steel. In Africa they see him as a genius.”

The breathtaking views of Cape Town, where land and sea dramatically converge to produce vistas of green mountains towering above deep blue water, can be quickly forgotten on a nine-hour drive north to the dry, hot savanna city of Upington, an unsightly provincial town alongside the Orange River, close to the Kalahari Desert. Upington does possess one unique site: a statue of a donkey, a rare tribute to the quintessential beast of burden. It is not undeserved. Starting in the 1880s, farmers, employing donkeys to pump water, tamed this rough part of the country with an almost puritanical determination.

Wiese’s father was one of those men. He owned a sheep and cattle farm, as well as a car dealership in town. “People in Upington were hardworking, very neat, very orderly – disciplined,” says Wiese. “People who were not neat always stood out like a sore thumb.” For college, Wiese attended Stellenbosch University, one of South Africa’s better schools, situated in a sleepy area awash in wine and vineyards. He studied law and became head student of his residence hall and an active member of a progressive student organization.

After graduating in 1967, he decided he’d rather return home and join the small retail business owned by his cousin’s husband than become an attorney. The company had around ten discount stores near Upington, which were called PEP. With Wiese on board and helping guide expansion, sales went from 4 million rand in 1970 to 29 million rand (around $100 million today) four years later. Fast growth, but Wiese lost interest after a moment of self-discovery.

“I had worked out for myself that I’m not really” – he trails off, as if about to utter a dirty word – “a number-two man.” There was another concern, too. “I started thinking about getting married,” he says. “And the way I lived in those days, I was away from home 20 days a month. That’s no way to build a marriage. So I thought if I go and practice law, at least I’ll be home much more.”

While working as a barrister in criminal and commercial law in Cape Town, Wiese, restless still, made a futile run for parliament in 1977 on the opposition party ticket, partly inspired by his new father-in-law, a controversial member of parliament expelled from the ruling, pro-apartheid party for dissension. Wiese also grew interested in something that has always attracted the ambitious in South Africa – diamonds. He found a mine nearer his hometown, in Richtersveld. (“The area has a stark beauty, like a moon landscape. Very sparse vegetation, very little rainfall.”) He bought it for about $20 million in today’s currency and began mining and trading diamonds.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JUNE 12: Billionare businessman Christo Wiese on June 12, 2012 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Financial Mail / Hetty Zantman)

Five years after purchasing it, in 1981, he sold it, and looking for his next chapter, he turned to his cousin and PEP, which by then had 450 locations, including a grocery business, Shoprite, it had added a few years earlier. In taking a check (worth roughly $100 million in current terms) for his successful, middling business, the cousin was set for life. Wiese, no longer number two, pictured something much grander. “Maybe I was more ambitious,” he says, quietly, eyebrows arched.

What Wiese envisioned was retail at its rawest, and he understood how attractive it could be. In modest, unadorned storefronts, PEP sold only the simplest kinds of clothes (“underwear, schoolwear, very basic stuff”). The choice between a white shirt and a blue one was often the most complicated one in the store. Shoprite did the same with groceries. All that mattered to Wiese’s target market – poor whites and a black population kept systematically impoverished – was price.

In a perverse twist, apartheid ensured him a gigantic customer base of some 20 million nonwhites, who made up more than 70% of the population. They were incapable of climbing the ladder or earning more money – or shopping elsewhere. And the heavy economic sanctions against South Africa meant little in the way of foreign competition. It was a perfect market: massive and artificially protected.

“Wiese saw the opportunity faster than anybody else,” says retail analyst Vianello. “He targeted the bottom end of the market, and nobody could argue his business had any element of waste. He cut out all the extravagance and gave people what they wanted at the lowest possible price.” The concept proved popular enough for Wiese to begin expanding aggressively, sometimes opening as many as 100 new stores a year. While other retailers concentrated on stores in large markets, he eagerly plunged into rural and poorer areas. He’d rather his customers spend their money in his stores than spend it traveling to them.

Wiese was maniacal about costs, a business necessity in lowmargin retailing and perfectly fitting with his personality – a billionaire who keeps spare change neatly stashed in a tiny bottle inside his Lexus SUV. “Christo is stingy,” says James “Whitey” Basson, Wiese’s right-hand man at Shoprite since day one and an old buddy from Stellenbosch University. “He’ll give me the nicest bottle of champagne as a present, and I’ll open it up, and I’ll see he forgot to take out the message: It’s a bottle from Lord So-and-So. He’s a regifter.”

To guard against corporate expenses, PEP manufactured many of its clothes in 11 factories; one was situated next to the company’s modest offices in Parow Industria. Most important, from almost the start PEP relied on a central distribution system with warehouses to store goods, a total departure from how most South African retailers operated (with many deliveries from many suppliers to each shop). “That was a no-brainer,” Basson says. “Getting one truckload to a store is substantially cheaper than getting 30 trucks to wait outside the store and offload 30 different times.”

In 1986 Wiese spun off Shoprite and PEP into separate public companies while maintaining control of both. Good timing. Four years later Nelson Mandela was freed after spending almost three decades in prison. Apartheid was ending. South African companies were no longer pariahs, and Wiese began to expand elsewhere in Africa. A year after Mandela ascended to the presidency in 1994, Shoprite opened its first store in central Africa, in Zambia, followed by Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Uganda. PEP had a similar trajectory. Their stores’ simple model made them easily exportable.

“Wiese and Basson sat down and took a view that they could conquer Africa, and they went out and conquered Africa,” says Vianello. Shoprite’s size ($2 billion in 1996 sales with about $120 million in cash flow and little debt) allowed it to move more quickly than local rivals. “How long does it take to clear a container in Angola or Nigeria? What bribes do you have to pay to get supplies in? Who on earth would finance them to put up stores? They had to build their own stores themselves. No one else would.” (Wiese insists he has spent not one rand on bribery.)

Other growth came through acquisitions. By the 1990s he had already made six purchases to expand both Shoprite and PEP, pushing PEP’s operations as far as Britain and its sales to more than $2 billion. In 1997 he bought OK Bazaars (and its nearly 300 grocery and furniture stores) from South African Breweries for just one rand. The catch? OK Bazaars was losing around $40 million annually, which was just about how much Shoprite was booking in annual profits. It could be kept on life support for just so long.

“We bet the farm,” says Wiese. He reached for a familiar page from the playbook: “cutting frills, lowering overhead,” including renegotiating several onerous leases. As it turns out, OK Bazaars had good bones and had simply been mismanaged. “Christo is a fantastic corporate deal thinker,” says Basson. “He always makes me think: What would the alternative be if I didn’t make a deal? What happens if the opposition buys the company?”

Wiese didn’t really develop a profile outside of Africa until recently, and to his annoyance, his arrival was trumpeted not by a cunning deal but by something more ignoble. It came after U.K. customs officials detained him at London City Airport in 2009 with two suitcases filled with nearly $1 million in cash. They seized it, suspecting illicit origins. The British and South African press merrily picked up on the incident – apparently suspecting Wiese had been nabbed for money laundering – and were further emboldened by Wiese’s stubbornness in fighting for the funds’ return and his insistence that the amount was “insignificant.” (The Daily Mail’s gleeful headline: “It’s Just Peanuts To Me.”) The government ended up returning the money – interest attached – but the damage was done. He still won’t talk publicly about the incident, and until recently, it was pretty much the extent of his reputation in the West.

That’s now beginning to change, and much of his activity is still in Britain. When his holding company, Brait, first showed an interest in stretching beyond South Africa in 2012, it invested in British supermarket business Iceland Foods and added to its position in November 2015, when it paid about $275 million to increase its position from 19% to 57%. Two more deals came last year: the stakes purchased in discount retailer New Look and gym chain Virgin Active. A second Wiese company, Invicta, has put its capital into industrial companies: unsexy firms with predictable, recurring revenue streams, like Singapore-based Kian Ann Engineering, a distributor of heavy machinery parts. And a third Wiese vehicle, Tradehold, watched the value of its U.K. property portfolio increase by about 50% to roughly $120 million in February 2015 (the latest full-year results available), driven substantially by new investments in the British real estate market, where it owns residential, industrial and office space.

PEP has charged into eastern Europe, too. After its initial move into this part of the continent in 2005 (Poland mostly but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia), PEP has proven its model successful there. Its eastern European stores do about $1,800 per square meter, a 60% increase from 2012 and roughly double what a comparable competitor might do. The region is now 11% of PEP’s $2.9 billion in annual revenue (up from 5% in 2012).

As PEP broadens its store expansion into Britain it will likely run up against the most entrenched competition, including venerable discount retailer Primark. Considering this, Wiese blithely expresses a malapropism: “There’s the old American saying that only three things are certain: death, taxes and competition. You can’t shy away from competition. You’ve just got to go meet them.” And besides, Primark tries to be fashionable, while PEP proudly does not. “We don’t have fashion. You can’t come into our stores and expect a wide selection of colors and pattern,” says Steinhoff CEO Markus Jooste. “Our stuff is for people who have to have it, not want to have it. It offers value to the bottom-end customer and gives them some dignity in what they wear.”

Last December expansion-minded Steinhoff began trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in addition to its long-standing listing in Johannesburg. But not before Wiese got slapped with a reminder that his international ambitions wouldn’t proceed without a false step. A few days before its Frankfurt debut German tax authorities raided local Steinhoff offices as part of an investigation into its accounting. Steinhoff dismisses the investigation as baseless, but it certainly spooked the company’s investors. The stock dropped about 15% in a month – wiping away almost $600 million from Wiese’s personal fortune.

Having long parried advances from those interested in buying his companies – including a visit by Wal-Mart heir and then chairman Rob Walton several years ago – Wiese sees himself firmly in command of his empire for the foreseeable future. Ahead, there’s one obvious final frontier for Africa’s retail pioneer: America. “We’ve been hesitant to plunge into the retail industry there. What can we teach them?” he says. “But we’re looking at getting involved there – one or two opportunities.

“In a decade I’m hoping you’ll find the business has grown, hopefully at the same pace as the previous decade. That will require a lot of thinking, a lot of commitment and a lot of energy – and I’m hoping that you’ll find me right here still.”

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Cover Story

Africa’s Aficionados And Their Eclectic Collections

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From the old to the unusual to the bizarre, what is it that motivates the rarefied pursuit of collecting objects?

For the aficionados soon to be unraveled on these pages, their collectibles are more than mere things – they are priceless treasures and extensions of who they are.

We explore the captivating world of Africa’s collectors, and get a feel of their prized possessions, and what motivates them to keep building on their treasures. This is a selection of considered individuals on the continent who embrace the world around them in enchanting, curious and unlikely ways.

They are passionate devotees, enthusiasts and fanatics who share a love of unique objects. They are drawn to either preserve the things they love, or be surrounded by them.

The featured collections range from accessible and popular to the aspirational and unusual, each different and purposeful. And what we have uncovered rings true to the words “not all treasure is silver and gold”.

It is not always the financial value or return on investment that sparks nor sustains a collector’s momentum. It is the essential personal value they derive from their collection.

The value of the featured collections come from what the individuals are willing to sacrifice, in actions, finances and space to establish their treasure trove.

What’s most encouraging is to see how their hobbies pave the way to alternative avenues of wealth creation and notably, how serial collectors unlock opportunities of commercial, professional and social benefit. This compilation is innovative, exciting and aspirational. Most impactfully, it brings to light how we can extend our personality, values, self-expression, memories, emotions and passions through eclectic items of interest. 

The compilation on the pages that follow is in no particular order.


Makgati Molebatsi, 61, South Africa

Collection: Contemporary art

Estimated worth:  R1.2 million ($80,000)

Collecting for: Enjoyment and appreciation

Makgati Molebatsi quit her 30-year career in marketing and communications at the end of 2015 to pursue her passion for visual art. The following year, she founded a consulting firm in the contemporary art space called Mak’Dct Art Advisory & Agency.

Her keen interest in art began in 1997 after briefly working in the second Johannesburg Biennale art exhibition. The conceptual nature of the artworks exhibited intrigued her and almost immediately sparked her interest in collecting paintings, sculptures, installations and photography. Twenty two years later, she has amassed around 40 significant pieces in her personal stable. Each gem cost Molebatsi an average of R30,000 ($2,000).

“Most of my artworks are acquired from artists during their early career phase,” she says. One of her favorite artworks, which almost eluded her, is a mesmerizing installation of 1,200 keys intricately strung into a scarf by Liza Grobler titled Easy Access Scarf.

Collecting art is a big-budget, yet profitable, indulgence. Local art sales were estimated at R5.5 billion ($368 million) in 2017 according to the AfrAsia Bank South Africa Wealth Report. Molebatsi, however, is not investing in art. She considers herself an ‘essential value collector’ who only acquires pieces that resonate with her.

“Most of my artworks are abstractions which are engaging and have a dialogue. I gravitate towards color fields in artworks [that] I acquire because I tend to be monochromatic and minimalist in my dress sense and home décor,” she adds. 

Molebatsi is one of the few black female art collectors in the country and a prominent art curator and advisor in the local and international space. She has served on the selection committees for the prestigious annual Turbine Art Fair. In 2018, she produced and curated an exhibition with renowned photojournalist Óscar Gutiérrez, to celebrate the centenary of former South African president Nelson Mandela. Some of her artwork is displayed within the Breast Cancer Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg, to which she loaned.

Clyde Terry, 54,South Africa

Collection: Antiques

Estimated worth: +/- R4.9 million ($327,936)

Collecting for: Enjoyment and resonance

After qualifying as a chartered accountant, Clyde Terry decided to neglect his father’s ambition to follow the profession but to convert his hobby of collecting rare antiques into a fully-fledged career instead. Today, Terry is one of the leading antique dealers in South Africa with a personal collection of 83 unique and rare antiquities that have a special place in his heart.

Terry recalls childhood moments spent at auction houses and local antique shops in his hometown of Ramsgate in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, which sparked his love of things old, rare and beautiful. He has now built up a notable selection of silver and glassware; including beautifully-contoured Daum decorative art glass as well as rare Lladro and Hummel figurines. His prized collection includes enchanted, floral pottery from sought-after 1900s British art potter and manufacturer, William Moorcroft; whose delicate pieces have sold for an amount of R221,583.96 ($14,723.45) on auction. “I love that William Moorcroft traveled the world [to] study the flowers of different countries, including South Africa. His vase with the [South African] protea is one I still search for,” he says.

Terry is not only led to acquire unique items just for himself. He has turned a beautifully-restored house in Melville, Johannesburg, into an antique treasure trove of magnificently-decorated rooms, showcasing everything from art-deco, Georgian, Art Nouveau and 1950’s objects. There, he proudly runs his business, Clyde on 4th, which aids antique-enthusiasts in finding and trading prized showpieces and valuable relics. “My hardest lesson was learning that as a collector, you hold on to items and as a purveyor of antiques, you look after many collections and help collectors grow,” says Terry. “[It’s] become easy now to part with items and give them a new future and history.”

As the founder of the South African National Antiques Decorative Arts Association, part of his time is spent organizing the biggest monthly antique fairs in the country which take place at the prestigious Nelson Mandela Square, as well as the upmarket Mall of Africa in Johannesburg.

Masego ‘Maps’ Maponyane, 29, South Africa

Collection: Hats and caps

Estimated worth:  +/- R180,000 ($12,046)

Collecting for: Passion and enjoyment

As a prominent figure in ‘showbiz’, it’s tempting to presume that Masego ‘Maps’ Maponyane’s continuous showcasing of personal style is merely a part of his job. Yet, his love affair, specifically with accentuated headgear, dates back to a time before his career even took shape. “My grandfather is one of my biggest inspirations as far as clothing goes. He was of the generation of Sophiatown, always [fully] dressed in their Sunday best. There would be a complete look with him and his peers with the hat, and I always loved how it complemented their outfit,” says Maponyane.

Maponyane’s fondness for headwear took form in his late teens while on a family vacation in Namibia. There, he bought his first hat, a tan straw fedora with a ribbon around, to combat the scorching heat of the desert land. Impressed by the aesthetic and esteem it gave his ensemble, Maponyane has since invested in over 200 headpieces that have become an extension of his everyday life.

Even so, hats are more than a fashion accessory to him. They represent an opportunity to step into different frames of mind. “Hats are like a form of expression for me. Hats allow me to be that character for a day, depending on the hat. I will choose the hat, not only based on what I am wearing but on my mood,” adds the entrepreneur who also recently opened a hip burger joint in Johannesburg named Buns Out. His collection includes different headgear of varying styles and finessed artisanry such as millinery hats, caps, cowboy style, panama straw and homburg hats. His headgear can be inexpensive as much as it can be pricey. He has once parted with R4,500 ($299) for a blue pork pie with a slick leather ribbon designed by England-based hat-maker, Christys’ of London. Locally, Simon and Mary is his go-to confidante. Although he may order caps online, Maponyane still prefers the sensorial experience of shopping in-store. To ensure the right aesthetic, Maponyane opts to physically weave through selections, feel the weight, texture, try it on and above all, make sure it’s the perfect fit. If not, he has several trusted milliners to adorn his head flawlessly. 

Damian de Canha, 30, South Africa

Collection: Fine art statues

Estimated worth: +/- R2.75 million ($184,000)

Collecting for: Enjoyment and passion

What is better than watching your favorite superheroes or villains on screen? For Damian de Canha, it’s having life-like statues of them displayed as works of art that he can marvel at everyday in his home. De Canha has been collecting the most premium pieces since 2017. As a superfan of all the comics from Marvel and DC Entertainment, his collectible statues hail primarily from their successful fantasy franchises, as well as from the Transformers and Mortal Kombat stable.

“I have always been a geek but what got me into collecting was when [a] friend bought me a Hulk statue as a thank you gift,” says De Canha. Standing up to 70cm tall and an average weight of 17kg, these statues are primarily imported from XM Studios in Singapore which supply luxury collectible pieces that are not manufactured, rather individually hand-crafted to inspire the pride and status of the limited pieces.

“I was so intrigued by the amazing attention to detail and craftsmanship that goes into these handmade statues that I was hooked from the moment I received it,” he says.

In the span of two years, De Canha has collected over 140 limited statues that stand in marvelous grandeur displayed across two rooms turned into galleries in his home. Not to be mistaken for toys or figurines, the figures can take De Canha up to 20 minutes to correctly assemble, and they hold their value over time. One iconic statue, called the X-Men Sentinel Diorama, is worth R110,000 ($7,361). His most treasured piece is a priceless little green bus his mother gifted him when he was just a toddler.

He has turned his enthusiasm into a business called Symbiote Premium Comics & Collectibles, which seeks to increase the accessibility of high-end statues. It’s become the official African distributor for XM Studios for the DC franchise. The business hosted its first exhibition at Comic Con Africa in September.

Yegas Naidoo, 60, South Africa

Collection: Wine

Estimated worth:  R125,500 ($8,500) excluding champagne

Collecting for: Consumption and enjoyment

Yegas Naidoo has been collecting wine from 1985. As a gourmet hedonist, she is not one to deny herself the sensorial joy and global allure of a signature wine. For Naidoo, the process of winemaking, from bottling to evolution, is a spectacle in itself that makes each bottle unique and multi-faceted.

The 1981 red blend from the southern Rhone in France called Pierre Perrin Châteauneuf du Pape Vintage inducted Naidoo’s collection of high-quality wine. She now has over 500 bottles in her home and admits that her wine assortment is purely for consumption with family and friends.

“My collection is imbibed daily, but the average cost is R250 ($17) per bottle, conservatively [and] not including champagne,” says Naidoo. The most valuable addition to-date is a magnum of the 2007 La Motte Hanneli R, a vintage shiraz blend inspired by the owner, Hanneli Rupert. Naidoo purchased this for R9,500 ($636) at the 2017 Nederburg charity auction.

She is a bonafide champagne zealot and is an ordained member of the esteemed L’Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, the official French fraternity of the major Champagne brands. She has been an anchor judge at world-renowned wine competitions based in London including the International Wine Challenge and International Wine & Spirit Competition. Notably, she has served on the judging panel of the South African Airways inflight wine selection for the last 15 years. In her spare time, she’s involved in wine education and participates in global wine events to promote South African wine. “I speak on numerous forums, delivering the message of wine not being an exclusive product targeted for only certain social classes, wine being a product without mystery for the un-christened [as well as the] health benefits of drinking wine in modicum over time,” she says.

Eric Leeson, 35, South Africa

Collection: Sneakers

Estimated worth: +/- R625,000 ($42,325)

Collecting for: Personal apparel

The wave of millennial cultural influence has birthed a new form of collectibles, and Eric Leeson is rooted in the game. Leeson fell in love with sneakers at the age of 13 but only began collecting at the age of 16 with a pair of marked-down cherry-red Jordan 11 Retro Lows gifted to him by his father. “I started collecting sneakers out of struggle. It was simply about having, at least, more than three pairs of shoes aside from my school or physical training shoes. [But] not being able to get the ones I wanted sparked my obsession,” says Leeson.

He has since accumulated a fashionable footwear collection of 350 pairs which he recently downsized to 250. His motivations are now fueled by pleasure and the experience – no longer strife. “I’ve really enjoyed the chase of getting a pair of shoes. Standing in a line to wait my turn doesn’t give me that thrill. I need to be able to make a few calls, locate a pair and get on a taxi, [or] drive to the place that pair is suspected to be,” he says.

Leeson has taken advantage of social media to trade, hunt and purchase limited releases. Although, a recent purchase from Germany was a challenge due to negative perceptions around African buyers. However, through Leeson’s active Instagram and Facebook profiles, he was able to gain trust with the seller.

Globally, Nike still reigns as the most popular sneaker brand with the 2018 global footwear sales reaching $22.3 billion, representing 61% of total group revenue according to Nike’s 2018 Annual Report. It’s no surprise then that Leeson’s top picks include the Air Max 1 Anniversary Red and a pair of high-top Jordan 11 Concord which he proudly wore at his wedding.

He is excited to pass on his affection for sneakers to his children. Currently, his six-year-old son already has 40 colorful pairs of ‘sneaks’, and his five-month-old daughter is soon to follow.

Sarah Langa mackay, 26, South Africa

Collection: Luxury fashion

Estimated worth: +/- R1.9 million ($127,150)

Collection for: Investment

Sourcing rare, unique and timeless pieces that are in high demand is how fashion influencer and avid digital media content creator, Sarah Langa Mackay, manages to stay ahead. In 2011, she began her fashion journey in her first year of university by launching a blogsite showcasing “campus looks of the day”. “All I wanted to do was show someone how to mix and style everyday outfits with key items and pieces,” says Mackay.

Initially, she collected for fun and as a personal shopper and stylist for local celebrities, which meant searching and finding the right fashion pieces for her clients. As her reputation grew in the digital space, she began cementing herself as a luxury fashion brand influencer. This prompted her to intentionally source distinctive and hard-to-find fashion items that stood out. “This gave me the competitive edge needed over my peers and [as a] businesswoman,” she adds.

Her closet is exquisitely stacked with more than 200 pairs of stylish shoes and over 30 luxury one-of-a-kind handbags. Her favorite accessories include the elegant Louis Vuitton Monogram Palm Springs occasional backpack and the effortlessly chic Prada Cahier leather handbag. Amidst Christian Louboutin, Gucci and Alexander McQueen heels, her front-runners are her Amina Muaddi Begum Glass Slingback and the super-trendy Miuccia Prada Cult Flame sandals.

She proudly confesses that she has a trained eye to differentiate fake merchandise from originals. “I do not condone anything counterfeit as I feel like it robs the fashion industry, craft-makers and the original designers of their work, creativity and intellectual property,” she says.

With fashion on the rise in terms of collectibles, she sees acquiring rare luxury items as an investment that will positively contribute towards the growth of her online store, Luvant, which retails affordable pre-owned luxury apparel. “I want to offer my customers a premium experience, something they won’t get from heading to other spaces,” says Mackay. 

Alan Donovan, 80, Kenya

Collection: African Art

Estimated worth: Unknown

Collecting for: Preservation and exhibition

Alan Donovan was first exposed to the world of African art as a young US diplomat based in Nigeria in 1967. After several serendipitous meetings with West African chieftains and contemporary artists, Donovan began traveling extensively to remote places across the continent such as the northern lands of Kenya where he started collecting art, beads, artefacts, weapons, adornments and textiles.

In 1970, he befriended the late Joseph Murumbi, who was the first foreign minister of Kenya, and its second vice president, which transformed his life and birthed a life-long career of collecting, displaying and selling African art. Today, Donovan’s house, a brainchild and artful conception of his partnership and collaboration with Murumbi, is one of the most critically-acclaimed private African art galleries in Kenya.

“It was Murumbi’s dream to set up a pan-African gallery in Kenya where artists from all parts of the continent could show and sell their works [as well as] to preserve, protect and promote African culture,” he says. Set up in 1972, the African Heritage House, as it’s known, is a piece of art by itself. It boasts a decorative summation of Donovan’s art collection spanning 50 years from all over Africa. So diverse and valuable, the house has become a national monument.

The interior and exterior construction design is a mosaic of indigenous and pre-colonial architecture of various African cultures. “I wanted to make my house as African as possible: its architecture, design, furniture, fittings, décor, cutlery and everything,” he says. “I designed my house as a blend of all of the Africa that I was privileged to visit along my way: the desert palaces of Morocco, the sensual Sahel mud structures, the carved wooden house posts of Nigeria and Cameroon, the palm-thatched coral stone houses of the Kenya coast and the extraordinary painted houses of Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso.” Inspiration was also drawn from the towering mud mosques of Djenné. and Timbuktu in Mali. Although his house has not been valued, one of his decorative pieces was recently valued by Sotheby’s at $400,000.

At the age of 80, he still has many hearty dreams for the place he calls home. He plans to add another 200 rooms, a conference center, a restaurant and to build a museum, to be called ‘African Journeys’, which will highlight the works of those who have dedicated their lives to African heritage as well as the pioneering artists of Africa whose careers started at the time of African independence.

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James Rugami, 57, Kenya

Collection: Vinyl records

Estimated worth: KSh440,000 ($4,242)

Collecting for: Investment

Known as “Mr Records” in Kenya, James Rugami lives off music. As the country’s chief record dealer, Rugami has amassed around 55,000 vinyl records of which 3,000 form part of his personal collection. The rest he sells in his shop, Real Vinyl Guru, situated in a busy meat market in Nairobi where he also restores broken records and record players.

The store is draped in circular black discs. He’s been growing his vinyl collection and business since 1987. The selection of vinyls encompass all genres of music, including an impressive library of classic African tunes. “The output of vinyl is rich and priceless. [It has no] comparison with any other format and it’s purely original,” he says. He remembers that the very first disc record he purchased was Louis and The Good Book by legendary American jazz trumpeter and vocalist, Louis Armstrong, whose popularly known for the late-1960s hit track, What A Wonderful World.

Globally, there is a massive resurgence and renaissance of vinyl collecting. Some rare long-playing records (LPs) can trade up to $40 on auction. Classical ‘Afro’ music is even harder to find and therefore, more expensive. With thousands of Afro-selections, Rugami’s vinyl collection is a gold mine. Befittingly, his store has won the admiration of international vinyl fans and clients who sift through the archives in search of rare finds.

Dawid Venter, 42, South Africa

Collection: Gaming

Estimated worth: +/- R300,000 ($20,000)

Collection for: Experience and passion

Although many people perceive gamers as adolescent boys and girls, Dawid Venter is a self-confessed console and gaming fanatic. An avid video game collector and serial champion of the South African gaming industry, Venter’s love for gaming started at the age of six with the childhood veteran game, Donkey Kong Junior. However, the Sega Dreamcast was the first video game console to inaugurate Venter’s collection.

“I originally started in 1996, but sold off [my] collection in 2006 after my mom passed away,” says Venter. He later restarted his collection in 2013. Currently, he has an impressive collection of over 30 gaming consoles. Amongst his collection are modern consoles such as Switch, Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, right through to nostalgic gaming consoles including GameCube, Nintendo, Dreamcast and SEGA. “Retro collecting is something that never ends. Every generation brings new games which in time becomes retro and collectible,” he shares.

The local video game market is growing at double digits and is estimated to be worth R3.5 billion ($234 million) in 2018, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s Media and Entertainment Outlook. As a major proponent of the gaming industry in South Africa, Venter is also the co-founder, managing director and contributing author of SA Gamer.com, one of the country’s biggest gaming news and review websites. He’s had the pleasure of meeting legendary pioneers of the industry including Shinji Mikami, the creative engineer of the long-standing, mainstream video game series Resident Evil, which subsequently birthed the highest-grossing film series based on a video game in 2016.

Today, Venter has no less than 1,000 games, excluding digital titles, to enjoy in the personal comfort of a dedicated gaming room in his home. The latest games to mark his extensive collection are a CD copy of Mortal Kombat and Silpheed for his Sega CD accessory. Interestingly, if Venter were to be left on a deserted island, the only game he would take with him is the futuristic and combat racing game titled Wipeout Omega Collection.

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Nnennaya Fakoya-Smith, 34, Nigeria

Collection: Postcards, stamps, coins and banknotes

Estimated worth: Unknown

Collecting for: Investment

When one hears deltiologist, philatelist and numismatist, the first thoughts that may arise may be that these grandiose terms are used to label medical practitioners. Contrary to that, these three illustrative words are expressively used by the esteemed Nigerian tourism promoter, Nnennaya Fakoya-Smith, to represent her unique obsessions. The descriptions define a postcard collector, stamp collector as well as a coins and banknotes collector, respectively.

Fakoya-Smith has been collecting elements that represent the culture and history of a people since she was seven years old. “My dad used to collect stamps and coins, and I inherited the hobby from him. He also used to send my siblings and me postcards from the countries he visited, which I truly enjoyed reading,” she says. Fast forward 27 years, she has over 100 stamps, postcards as well as a diverse currency collection from across 36 countries. “I love the banknotes and coins because they are vintage collections. [They] are no longer in use in their various countries. They have become rare valuables among my collection,” she shares.

Many are baffled by her interests, especially in this digital age. Although, it is on the internet from which people trade their coins, which can demand a premium over 1,000 times their original value. A 1969 2-and-½ shillings Africa Biafra coin is currently selling at N36,851.85 ($101.31) on eBay. “The first time I found out that stamps and coins were valuable investments was when I bumped into the United Nations stamps and other coin websites,” she says.

True to her millennial nature, Fakoya-Smith regularly makes use of social media to meet and collaborate with people who are like-minded as well as create awareness for these communities. She plans to retain her collection and similarly, like her father, pass it down to future generations. She hopes to open a stamp and coin gallery in the future.

Thomas Collier, 37, Ethiopia

Collection: Jordan sneakers

Estimated Worth: +/- £46,500 ($57,351)

Collecting for: Personal apparel and nostalgia

Thomas Collier is an Ethiopian London-based photographer who grew up in the “golden ages”, loving basketball and watching Michael Jordan, Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Penny Hardaway. This gave rise to a fetish for sneakers associated with old generation sports players. To this regard, he has bought every pair of Nike Jordan’ sneaks’ that have ever been released – a feat that would leave any dedicated sneakerhead in awe. “I don’t see [my sneakers] as an investment, more like works of art. [They] remind me of my childhood and daydreaming of one day playing in the NBA,” says Collier.

Collier began this dream collection in 1998. Currently, he has bought close to 300 pairs, with his favorite shoe undoubtedly being the Jordan 11’s. Collier buys all his sneakers from retailers and not resellers. Furthermore, when it comes to solidifying his selection, he’d go as far as camping in a tent outside a Nike store. This was the case in London when Nike had the highly-anticipated special release of the Air Foamposite One Galaxy colorway shoe in 2012.

“I thought I was going to be the only one [camping], but I was soon joined by about 300 other sneakerheads from all over Europe who arrived just to buy these shoes,” he says. Globally, sneaker fanatics still regard these as the most legendary and publicized sneakers of the century. They’re currently reselling on eBay for $700, for pre-owned and around $2,499, fresh from the box.

Apart from the illustrious designs of his sneakers, Collier treasures the fact that for every pair he has, he can find a picture of his hailed players wearing them. Even though his dream of becoming an NBA player didn’t materialize, his complete range of Jordan’s iconic designer shoes is consolation enough.

Katherine Munro, 74, South Africa

Collection: Books

Estimated Worth: +/- R8.5 million ($569,000)

Collecting for: Knowledge

Reading and discovering the world through other people’s writing is Katherine Munro’s devotion. A seasoned lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Munro enjoys gathering items of knowledge, specifically ephemera, antique maps and non-fiction books.  

She began collecting in the 1950s as a child. Today, she has amassed around 17,000 books, mostly written in English and a few in German, French and Afrikaans. “[I was] fortunate to have a family and a husband who built me a library for my books,” says Munro. Within her library, Munro runs private tours and talks to discuss interesting books and book collecting.

Almost all her books are pre-owned. The genres include history, travel, geography, politics and the Folio Society collection, to name a few. To this day, the excitement of escaping into a world full of thrills, surprises and the appeal of dusty old bookshops in cities around the world is something Munro can’t resist. There, she savors the dusty smell of books not opened (for maybe 20 years); discovering things hidden in books such as money, birthday cards, peculiar bookmarks or pressed flowers. “Every book tells a story. Immediately through a book, you can [feel] the intimacy of someone else’s life. [It’s] also fascinating to read inscriptions in books – gifts to other people or a book signed by the author,” says Munro.

Within her career as an academic, Munro credits books as the stock in trade to spread ideas and stimulate young minds. Her current focus is building a book collection of the city of Johannesburg: focusing on the rich history, people, town-planning and literature.

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Newton Jibunoh, 81, Nigeria

Collection: African art

Estimated worth: Priceless

Collection for: Preservation

Nigeria is quickly becoming an art collectors’ haven; however, for Newton Jibunoh, the man who has driven across the Sahara four times, African art collection is an old trade. His love of the history, civilization and religion of the African black race sparked his reverence for African art. This made him an eager collector from a very young age, but he didn’t start to collect seriously until the early 1960s, after his first visit to the British Museum in London. “Seeing our works in a foreign land and being appreciated by many triggered my need to collect even further. It wasn’t just because I enjoyed art anymore, but I felt obligated to safeguard our works,” says Jibunoh.

He grew up as a choir boy and member of the early churches run by missionaries. During this time, he observed how heritage, religion and culture were stripped off the surrounding indigenous villages before being converted into Christianity. “I witnessed most of [their artworks] being carted away. They were various bronze works from Benin and Ife, woodworks from Igbo-Ukwu and Nok Terracotta from the Nok culture. I [later] wrote home from London requesting that whatever was left, should be kept for me,” he says. These formed his first collection.

Throughout the years, he has acquired a wide variety of African crafts ranging from paintings, sculptures, shrines to artefacts. “I recall that I would spend my entire one month’s salary purchasing artworks,” he shares. One painting by Akin Salu called One Man, One Wife cost him 60% of his monthly salary which he paid over three months. Eventually, when his home could no longer contain his passion, he was moved to open the first private museum in Nigeria, DIDI Museum. It now houses close to 1,000 artworks.

He considers his collection priceless: an investment in kind towards the historical preservation of the continent’s unwritten and continuing story. Some of his collection is loaned to institutions, homes and galleries across Africa and Europe, and others are registered with the national museum, making it close to impossible to auction.

Sonal Maherali, 39, Kenya

Collection: Luxury bags and shoes

Estimated worth: KSh20.7 million ($200,000)

Collecting for: Personal accessorizing and investment

Ever since Sonal Maherali was a little girl, she’s had a great obsession for the finer things in life. A mother of four and arguably, East Africa’s queen of fashion, Maherali’s walk-in closet is drizzled with glamorous high-priced shoes, bags, perfumes, clothes and jewelry.

“I grew up from a very humble background. Unlike most kids who were fascinated by toys, I loved the lore of Cinderella and her coveted glass slipper. That slipper became an obsession,” she says.

Not too shy to impress, the stylish fashionista has a designer collection to enviously flaunt which inspired her to launch a YouTube channel in 2010. She has since drawn over 68,000 subscribers to whom she shares her appreciation of fashion, style and her extravagant lot of Christian Louboutin heels. Her luxury collection also includes high-priced bags like the Lady Dior, the rare Diorama and the exceptional quilted 2.55 Chanel shoulder bag commissioned by Gabriel ‘Coco’ Chanel in 1955.

Her lavish and custom-made items average between $3,000 and $13,000, individually. Some pieces she considers priceless. This includes a special Trash Pigalle by Christian Louboutin that was custom-made with items she sent to the shoemaker. Although her tailormade accessories hold significant memories, they’re not the priciest items in her closet. “[The most expensive] would have to be the first Birkin bag I was offered by Hermès. It set me back a cool KSh1.6 million ($15,400) while the second one, a Fjord leather in blood orange was around KSh1.3million ($12,500),” she shares.

Birkin handbags are rare and can fetch a fortune in re-sale markets. In this light, Maherali has launched an online store, closetsm.com, where she sells pre-owned items from her closet that she no longer wears and that are still chic, trendy and timeless.

PICTURE

Marc Pendlebury, 38, South Africa

Collection: Whisky

Estimated worth: +/- R2.5 million ($169,000)

Collection for: Consumption and investment

For some people, the pleasure alone of consuming a premium whisky is enough, but not for Marc Pendlebury. In 2007, he progressed from whisky drinker to collector when he began purchasing more whisky bottles than he consumed. “I love everything about the world of whisky: the flavors, people, production process, history and the places it is made. I wanted to try as many different whiskies as I could,” says Pendlebury.

He’s since collected about 1,200 distilled bottles of the finest whiskies from across the world – some acquired for consumptive pleasure and others for appreciation. Pendlebury takes pleasure in visiting prominent distilleries, famous whisky bars and festivals in search of limited or discontinued bottles similar to his Japanese Chichibu whisky collection. “[Their] whiskies are near-impossible to find and are expensive on the secondary market. That makes each release I secure quite an accomplishment,” he adds. To date, the most significant spend he’s incurred was on the highly-lauded Springbank Millennium Collection which he part-purchased with two of his friends. The rare set includes six whiskies ranging in ages from 25 to 50 years old and is worth approximately R400,000 ($26,767).

Whether Scottish or Irish, bourbon or rye, whisky returns out-perform every other collectible asset including classic cars, art and fine wine. According to the 2019 Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index, whisky topped the list of the most desired objects with the value of rare whisky rising by 582% over the past 10 years. Although Pendlebury doesn’t buy to invest, he does recognize that collectively, his whisky selection holds a substantial monetary value.

Pendlebury’s greatest pride includes becoming an inducted member of the Keepers of the Quaich, an elite international society that recognizes outstanding individuals committed to the Scotch whisky industry. He is also the founder and co-owner of a dedicated whisky bar, WhiskyBrothers, based in Sandton.

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Ryan Herman, 30, South Africa

Collection: Nike and Jordan Sneakers

Estimated worth:  R75,000 ($5,000)

Collecting for: Personal apparel

Ryan Herman has always had a love and appreciation for sneakers. He sees himself as a silent member in the game and not necessarily influenced by the millennial social trend of sneaker culture. “I don’t have the common ‘I saw the cool kids wearing it’ story. I’ve always had a love for sneakers,” Herman says.

Back in the early 2000s, when companies didn’t send emails or newsletters to remind customers what sneakers were being released, Herman would have to make regular trips to the mall and town to see which sneakers were on shelf. “I remember [a time] when you didn’t have to stand in line or even do the raffle system because the sneakers were all just there,” says Herman.

As a 15-year-old, sneaker-obsessed teenager, he remembers how he would complete household chores to earn his next pair of sneakers. Fast forward to adulthood and financial independence, not one month passes by without Herman purchasing at least one or two pairs. At age 30, Herman has amassed 50 pairs of Nike and Jordan sneakers. “My collection consists solely of sneakers that I like and wear, and I’ve always loved the Nike brand; their unique styles, colorways and their sportswear too,” he shares. To usher in the summer, Herman has already added to his footgear collection the latest addition to the Air Max lineage, the multi-colored Air Max 270 React ‘Bauhaus’, which debuted in July.

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Kavita Chellaram, 62, Nigeria

Collection: African art

Estimated worth: Unknown

Collecting for: Investment

Kavita chellaram is an influential Nigerian art curator of Indian-descent. She began collecting art when she moved to Nigeria as a way to explore the culture of her adopted country. The first works of art she bought were in 1979. These were workmanships of the highly astute and multi-talented artist Jimoh Buraimoh and the late Twins Seven-Seven. Her passion gradually grew over the years, leading her to build the Arthouse Contemporary in 2007.

“When I started collecting, there were very few galleries and exhibition spaces in Lagos. Often, artists sold out of their cars,” she explains. As a result, Arthouse quickly grew into an international auction house and exhibition venue.

Over time, Chellaram has acquired approximately 400 artworks. She’s particularly drawn to Nigerian artists of the modern period including artists of the Zaria Art Society, who were making artworks around the time of Nigeria’s looming independence. According to Chellaram, these artists incorporated traditional narratives and styles along with Western training, creating a unique visual style that developed modernism in Nigeria. “Many of my favorite artists [include] Uche Okeke, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and Simon Okeke,” she says.

Her collection is ever-evolving as she discovers new artists as well as finds rare artwork. Some of her most recent acquisitions are works by Abdoulaye Konaté, the artist from Mali who makes beautiful textile pieces, as well as Nicholas Hlobo, a South African artist. “I also recently added an artwork by Kudanzai Chiurai, an artist from Zimbabwe who works in photography and oils,” she says.

Chellaram sits on the African Acquisition Committee at the Tate Modern, an institution that houses the United Kingdom’s national collection of British and international contemporary art. She is also on the Advisory Board of the School of Traditional Arts under the Prince Charles Foundation. Moreover, she has a non-profit organization arm, Arthouse Foundation, which facilitates artist residencies and support programs for emerging artists.

– Mashokane Mahlo


SIDE BARS

‘Surrounded By The Richest People In The World’

An entrepreneur in Ghana collects and frames FORBES AFRICA magazines.

Kofi Asmah, the founding partner of Gyandoh Asmah & Co, has been collecting FORBES and FORBES AFRICA magazines for the last 15 years.

When he was still an attorney, he visited one of his client’s offices in Ghana and that was the first time he came across a FORBES magazine on world billionaires.

“It inspired me to want to be on that list one day,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Asmah made it his mission to collect the magazines and stack them up to form a mini-museum in his house.

“What I did was to rip the covers off and have them framed,” he says.

“I actually have about 20 to 25 of the top issues framed, the ones with Warren Buffet, Aliko Dangote and just really the big heavyweights. I use that as a theme for my beach house, where I created a FORBES-themed room. The whole idea is that it’s a rich lifestyle and while you’re in the room, you are surrounded by the richest people in the world. It’s for people to know that these are my heroes.”

His favorite issue to date of FORBES AFRICA is the February 2019 edition that featured Africa’s billionaires.

And his message for FORBES AFRICA’s eighth anniversary last month?

“We need to send FORBES AFRICA to every corner of the world so people can be educated about Africa has to offer,” he says.

Karen Mwendera


‘Old Cars Make Me Nostalgic’

A vintage car collector in Mauritius says nothing can beat driving an old car through the swaying sugarcane fields near his home.

One of Mauritius’ most famous vintage car collectors is Viju Gowreesunkur, a sugar farmer whose home in Central Flacq by the ubiquitous sugarcane plantations, is a repository of gleaming metal. In his unassuming, musty garage, under greasy white sheets, are some of the island’s most classic vehicles. 

The Rolls-Royces and Cabriolets stand out in the ubiquitous green of the sugarcane fields, taking unsuspecting passersby to another era. 

“I love old things, old houses, old furniture… and old cars that make me nostalgic,” the 60-something Gowreesunkur, who also has many vintage cars parked in the front yard of his home, told FORBES AFRICA when we visited him in mid-2017. 

“When you see an old car, it brings back memories of your parents, an old film… the cars are that and so many things, you can’t really express it.”

The die-hard antique enthusiast says he has as many as 50 vintage cars in his collection, possibly a record in all of Mauritius. A respected senior at Mauritius’ Vintage and Classic Car Owners Association (VCCOA), he regularly attends meets and races.

In his garage are such jewels as a stunning burgundy 1950 Opel, six Chevrolets, six Jaguars, three horse wagons, a black Daimler that belonged to the Governor of Mauritius in the colonial period, and three Rolls-Royces including a 1956 Silver Clouds Rolls-Royce “believed to have belonged to Marilyn Monroe”. Gowreesunkur’s first car was a beige Citroën that he has now given up. Every car he owns has a story, he says.

“I drive for pleasure… When you drive an old car through the sugarcane fields, you don’t feel anything, you don’t feel the bumps, it’s just incredible!” 

Renuka Methil

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Cover Story

Forbes Africa | 8 Years And Growing

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As FORBES AFRICA celebrates eight years of showcasing African entrepreneurship, we look back on our stellar collection of cover stars, ranging from billionaires to space explorers to industrialists, self-made multi-millionaire businessmen and social entrepreneurs working for Africa. They tell us what they are doing now, how their businesses have grown, and where the continent is headed. 

Since its inception in 2011, and despite the changing trends in the publishing industry, FORBES AFRICA has managed to stay relevant, insightful and sought-after, unpacking compelling stories of innovation and entrepreneurship on the youngest continent, in which 60% of the population is aged under 25 years.

 Many of those innovations have been solutions-driven as young entrepreneurs across the continent seek to answer questions that have burdened their communities.

 Always on the pulse, FORBES AFRICA has chronicled and celebrated those innovations – prompting the rest of the globe to pay attention and be fully engaged.

 A prime example of this is the annual 30 Under 30 list, which showcases entrepreneurs and trailblazers under the age of 30 from business, technology, creatives and sports. In 2019, we had 120 entrepreneurs on the list, finalized after a rigorous vetting and due diligence process to well laid down criteria.

 We have always maintained the highest standards of integrity in all our reporting.

 As we transition into the next milestone, FORBES AFRICA reflects on the words of civil rights activist Benjamin Elijah Mays, who once said: “The tragedy of life is not found in failure but complacency. Not in you doing too much, but doing too little. Not in you living above your means, but below your capacity. It’s not failure but aiming too low, that is life’s greatest tragedy.”

 With the transformation in the media landscape, the recent awards given to the magazine for the work done by a hard-working, determined and youthful team, serve as a reminder that we are doing something right.

 Early this year, FORBES AFRICA journalist Karen Mwendera received a Sanlam award for financial journalism as the first runner-up in the ‘African Growth Story’ category. In January, FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, received the ‘World Woman Super Achiever Award’ from the Global HRD Congress.

 In reflecting on the last eight years, this edition revisits a few of the strong, resilient men and women who have graced our covers.

For some, fortunes have literally changed, as witnessed in the fall of gargantuan African empires such as Steinhoff. Of course, there have been massive moments of triumph too, which have seen some new names feature on the annual African Billionaires List. There have also been moments of tragedy with former cover stars passing away.

 Africa is ripe for the taking and is seen as the next economic frontier. The unique position the continent finds itself in will no doubt give FORBES AFRICA plenty to report on. Here’s to more deadlines and debates for the next eight years.

– Unathi Shologu

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Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

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Mastercard knows only too well that technology can drive inclusive financial growth with simpler and more efficient ways to do business and life. And Raghu Malhotra, the man spearheading this trajectory in Africa, is also focused on social progress.


In many ways, Raghu Malhotra is like the brand he works for, leaving his footprints in different parts of the world, and in some cases, the most unlikely corners.

On a scorching summer’s day in June 2016, Malhotra traveled 100km east of Jordan’s capital city Amman, to a camp with white tents named Azraq built for the refugees of the Syrian Civil War.

In the desert terrain and hot, windy conditions, people had to queue for hours on end for plates of food handed out of visiting trucks. But some of them, displaced and homeless overnight, expressed their gratitude to Malhotra, President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa (MEA).

Mastercard, a technology company that engages in the global payments industry, had distributed e-cards, as part of a global collaboration with the World Food Programme, to the refugees that they could now use to purchase food and other supplies from local shops.

READ MORE | The Big Bank Theory: South Africa’s Banks Of The Future

 “I spoke to the people myself and saw what their lives were… Even those who were doctors with their families and were displaced… They said to me ‘you have restored dignity to our lives; you have no idea how demeaning it is to queue up to be given food’… We actually digitized how that subsidy for food was given. Some of these things go beyond economics,” says Malhotra. 

Beyond economics.

That very simply sums up Malhotra’s mandate for Africa as well.

The New York-headquartered Mastercard, ranked No. 43 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, with a market cap of $247 billion, which connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and business, is fostering key partnerships across the African continent to help drive inclusive economic growth.

The idea, Malhotra says, “is to get our global skill-set to operate in its most efficient form in every local economy, at the same time, we must do good, and it must be sustainable.”

He calls Africa the next bastion of growth for various industries.

“As a company, we have stated we are going to get 500 million new consumers globally. And Africa plays a big part of that whole story… We want to be an integral part of various economies here,” says the man responsible for driving Mastercard’s global strategy across 69 markets.

Raghu Malhotra President for Mastercard in the Middle East and Africa. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“It probably took us over 20 years to get the first 50 million new consumers, in my part of the world, which is the Middle East and Africa (MEA). It took us probably five years to get the next 50 million, and last year alone, we put over 50 million consumers [in the formal economy] in MEA. That is part of our whole African story, so this is just not rhetoric; we are actually building our business on that basis.”

Home to four of the world’s top five fastest-growing economies, Africa has the fastest urbanization rate in the world, the youngest population, and a rapidly expanding middle class predicted to increase business and consumer spending.

It’s a continent of opportunity for global players like Mastercard with an eye on the potential of a booming consumer base and small and medium entrepreneurs, most of whom are still not a part of the formal economy. A large proportion of Africa is still unbanked. There is enough business opportunity in offering people digital tools so they can lead respectable financial lives.

READ MORE | The Monk Of Business: Ylias Akbaraly Talks About Secret To Success And Plans To Take Africa With Him

But it is in knowing that financial inclusion is not just about technology, but more about solving bigger problems, as the World Bank says in its overview for Africa: “Achieving higher inclusive growth and reaping the benefits of a demographic dividend will require going beyond a business as usual approach to development for Africa. Going forward, it is imperative that the region undertakes the following four actions, concurrently: invest more and better in its people; leapfrog into the 21st century digital and high-tech economy; harness private finance and know-how to fill the infrastructure gap; and build resilience to fragility and conflict and climate change.”

And in order to enable financial access, Mastercard has a balanced strategy in place, with the right partnerships for inclusive growth on the continent, Malhotra tells FORBES AFRICA.

“Every emerging market has different segments of people and you need to get the right product for the right segment. What we do is a balanced growth strategy across the continent based on timing, opportunity etc… Of course, because the bottom of the pyramid is much bigger, I think what we need is to adapt things differently; that is where the inclusive growth story comes from. That is where the opportunity is, but there is a second part to it…” And that, he summarizes, is advancing sustainable growth, doing good and bringing more transparency and efficiency.

The new pragmatic dispensation of governments in Africa towards ideas, technology and innovation has surely helped open up the stage to newer segment-driven products, especially as Africa already has such global laurels as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer and micro-financing service M-Pesa that took financial access to a whole new level. Also, sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the fastest-growing mobile markets in the world.

READ MORE | Feisty And Fearless Pioneers Thandi Ndlovu & Nonkululeko Gobodo

Malhotra says he finds African governments consistent in how they are rolling out their digital vision, and in trying to collaborate towards creating better ecosystems for their economies, though each is unique with its own dossier of problems.

“When I speak to various governments around Africa, I see a commonality of what their needs are and I also see a commonality in how they are trying to respond. So I think a lot of them realize running cash economies is a very inefficient way of doing things… Also, the consumer base is much more open to new technology because there is no bedded infrastructure or legacy infrastructure. I think where governments need to start thinking a bit more is how much do they want to do completely on their own.”

Part of this transformation on the path to financial progress is alleviating the burden of cash. Cash still accounts for most consumer payments in Africa. Mastercard, which started out as synonymous with credit cards, continues its efforts to convert consumers from cash to electronic transactions, and move beyond plastic.

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