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Mine Building Maverick

Few people would want to build a mine in a country in the grip of civil war; fewer still would even consider a vast mining operation in the conflict-prone eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Mark Bristow has.



The chief executive of Randgold Resources, Mark Bristow, is no corporate cypher in a pinstriped suit, making decisions from afar. “I don’t believe in big offices and bureaucracies,” says the man whose company has no head office—just an operating center in the Malian capital of Bamako. With the spirit of a true entrepreneur, he likes to be on the ground and appears to relish difficult conditions.

Mark Bristow, CEO of Randgold Resources. Johannesburg, 18 August 2011 – Photo by Brett Eloff.

And from the start, following the incorporation of Randgold Resources in 1995, the acquisition of BHP Mali in 1996 and the London Stock Exchange listing in 1997, Bristow set a cracking pace. Three operations were built in just 10 years: Morila in Mali; Loulo, a four-mine complex (also in Mali); and Tongon in Côte d’Ivoire. This period also saw the confirmation of a new discovery at Massawa in Senegal and the acquisition of a 45% interest in the Kibali project in the DRC.

Bristow may have raised the eyebrows and increased the pulse rate of investors along the way, but the story of the rapid rise of Randgold Resources cannot be gainsaid, and those who have kept the faith have been rewarded amply. In the 10 years to 2009, the company was the best performing stock in the STOXX600 Europe Index, recording a stellar rise of 4,776%. In the five years to 2010, basic earnings per share increased by 63%, from $0.70 to $1.14, and dividend payments went up by 100%. In the past three years, net profits have increased by 157%, from $47 million in 2008 to $120.6 million in 2010.

Conventional wisdom would have had the odds stacked against Randgold Resources from the start. The intention was that the company would confine itself to gold, so there was no possibility of spreading risk by mining other minerals. It was driven by explorers whose only experience

Was of deep-level mining in South Africa. At the time that it needed to fund the development of its mine, Randgold Resources had no revenue-producing operations and the gold price was at an all-time low. Finally, the assets of Randgold Resources were all in Africa—not everyone’s idea of a safe investment haven. Yet this Pan-African pure gold player is on the blue chip FTSE 100 and its stock trades at a premium to the market. Bristow recalls the early days of the company. “We were attracted to Africa beyond South Africa after the postcolonial era of nationalism, socialism and nepotism. These ‘isms’ had preserved Africa’s natural resources, gold in particular. We had no money but a lot of ambition,” he says.

Randgold Resources added to its already substantial holdings in the prospective region of West Africa in 1996 with the buy-out of BHP in Mali, gaining a collection of exploration tenements and the less-than-desirable (as it turned out) Syama mine. The turning point came the next year when the world-class Morila deposit was discovered. He views the establishment of this mine as his company’s greatest achievement to date.

“We had a stressed balance sheet and we had to persuade the bank to lend us 100% of the money to develop the deposit. This was at a time when the gold price had gone from $400/oz to $260/oz. We could so easily have lost the company,” he explains. People questioned whether Randgold Resources had the expertise to build a mine. These critics were silenced when Morila (including the construction of a 30 power station) was completed on time and on budget. The first gold was poured and a profit was made in the first quarter of operation, and since October 2000, the operation has produced 5.8 million ounces of gold and distributed more than $1.6 billion to stakeholders. “It’s been the most lucrative gold mine in the world in the last two decades,” he notes.

The development of a major mine in Mali, the third-poorest country in Africa, takes some nerve but Bristow, unsurprisingly, does not hold the conventional view that the continent is a difficult place in which to operate. “It’s a fine place to work and it’s not bound by hoity-toity corporate governance janitors. It’s a place for passionate, ambitious people who want to make a difference to other people’s lives,” he says.

His first core belief about doing business in Africa is the importance of establishing relationships. “If you want to invest in Africa, you can’t do it by remote control. You have to build partnerships and to do that, you have to travel. You have to get to know your team. You have to know the political, social and commercial environment of each country.” The holder of a pilot’s license, he usually flies himself to the company’s operations—the trip from Abidjan to Tongon in a Cessna 206 being a particular favorite.

The importance of relationships notwithstanding, Bristow makes no apologies for being uncompromising when necessary. “You can’t be nice all the time. That’s a mistake that many foreign companies make. Africa is not for sissies. We don’t bribe. We stick to our values and we don’t shy away from robust encounters with stakeholders and governments.” The story of Randgold Resources in Côte d’Ivoire illustrates his approach. Before the building of Tongon started, the company had talks with the government. In a nutshell, the message was: “We’ll come and invest, but you need to keep us safe.” That said, many would question the decision to do business in a country that was split between government and rebel forces after the 2002-04 civil war and was later divided between supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the winner of the presidential elections held at the end of 2010, and Laurent Gbagbo, the former president who refused to step down.

Bristow’s response is interesting. He says that Côte d’Ivoire has a “deeper institution” or regulatory framework than most African countries. “At all times, that institution has reinforced our deal and respected our contracts.” He admits that things became very difficult at the end of 2010. “We had to deal with social unrest and people wanted to steal,” he says. However, the mine did not arm its security forces even though there was one ton of gold piled up in the safe. “We made it clear [to both factions] that we would not be used as a political football. The response of both governments was to ensure security for the operation and the community. They kept their word.”

This gave him the confidence to continue. “Other companies withdrew their expatriates. At no stage did we feel that we needed to pull people out. Our view was that ifit became too dangerous, we’d close the mine altogether,” he says. They never had to make that decision.

He concedes that the circumstances were highly complex. “We were in the middle of a conflict area under UN watch. We’ve had to manage in a social and political environment that has been turned on its head: the good guys became the bad guys and vice versa. We’ve built relationships and we talk to everyone.” These partnerships are the key to the company’s ability to operate in this type of situation and they are the nub of what separates his company from many others on the continent. It starts with a commitment to using local businesses. Apart from the difference that this makes to the economy, it makes good sense because these businessmen can open doors to government contacts and it means that the company is viewed as “local” rather than “foreign”. Since the commercial ventures in the surroundings are benefiting from the operation, it is less likely that people will interfere in its running and more likely that locals will defend it from attacks.

Bristow is scathing about the “comfort blankets” that so many foreign mining companies “drag with them” when they come to Africa. “They bring service providers, logistical support, security personnel and contractors from around the world and they build a perimeter wall around their business.” By adopting this approach, they make no real difference to the economy of the country.

That brings us to his second core belief: that if a companymines gold assets in Africa, it is beholden to create value for all stakeholders. “You don’t own the mine; you rent it. The country only begins to benefit when you start construction,” he notes, adding that the real benefits only start when profits are made and taxes are paid.

He says any one of the Randgold Resources’ mines consumes goods to the value of $10 million to $15 million a month. “If you can cycle such costs in the local economy, can you imagine what you do to that economy?” he asks. In preparation for the start of mining at Kibali, 400 kilometers of roads in the north-east DRC have been opened up. “For the first time since 1955, a bus was driven from Uganda to Doko in the DRC in August last year,” he says.

Locals are already feeling the benefits of these developments with the cost of living having fallen by 50%. He is confident that the new operation, with estimated reserves of 10 million ounces, will be a “big engine” for growth in that part of the country. Expected to be one of the largest mines on the continent, it is anticipated that first gold will be poured by the end of 2013.

The biggest sing single risk for Africa, in his view, is thepressure of poverty. His message to the anti-mining lobby and the “greenies” is that this is more destructive to the planet than everything else put together. “Poor people don’t care about rules and regulations; they just want to survive for the day. That’s why they’ll chop down the last tree. Lift them out of poverty then they’ll start looking after the environment.” And he has no doubt whatsoever that the way to liberate Africa is to create jobs. Since 1995, Randgold Resources has directly created 9,000 jobs and, at full operation, he expects Kibali to employ about 3,000 to 4,000 people.

The Randgold Resources philosophy is that local people are employed wherever possible and not only at junior levels. There is only one expatriate on the management team at Morila and local people make up well over half of the team at Loulo. He is impatient with people who hold the view that Africans cannot deliver and perform at the highest executive levels. “There are plenty of highly skilled Africans.

If you are prepared to invest in people, they are here. We’ve just been on an employment drive to the southern DRC and we had people queuing up,” he says. He makes the point that in countries like Mali and the DRC, the intellectual elite is to be found in mining.

Bristow, who holds a PhD in geology—his thesis was on the “esoteric” topic of chrome seams in the Bushveld Complex—from the University of Natal in South Africa, says he did not set out to be successful. The circumstances in which he found himself helped. So did the fact that he likes winning, loves making a difference and enjoys working in a team. Above all, he really believes in Africa and its people. “It’s got to be the place to be in the next 10 years,” he says.

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Green-Sky Thinking



In Johannesburg, city-dwellers like Linah Moeketsi have taken the future of sustainable farming into their own hands. Where land is becoming scarce, they look to the skies.

Doornfontein is one of Johannesburg’s older inner-city suburbs with decaying buildings and dingy alleys that wear a dour, monochrome look.

Daily commuters and street surfers jostle with delivery vans and mountains of metal scrap but the grey of the concrete city makes it hard to believe that there could be a patch of green in a most unlikely location.

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Above the humdrum of life here is a rooftop hydroponics farm looking down on the city, but upwards to a new route to restoration and urban preservation.

Atop the eight-floor Stanop building – offering a breath-taking view of the city and the landmark Ponte Towers in the distance – one woman has made it her mission to turn a grimy grey terrace into a green lung on the city’s skyline.

“City life is taking on a totally new direction… even people who think they couldn’t one day farm, find themselves on rooftops,” Linah Moeketsi tells FORBES AFRICA.

Moeketsi grows herbs, used to treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), in a 250m x 500m greenhouse on the building’s terrace. But her rooftop farm is sans any soil – it uses a hydroponics system.

“I think because we are in the city and we would like to produce for people in the city, hydroponic farming is one of the answers because you can actually harvest more than twice the produce, and the growth rate is quicker and there is produce that you can have throughout the year that people demand because it is in a controlled environment,” she says.

On a windy Wednesday morning in October, we meet Moeketsi at her aerial green facility, a couple of days before she is to send some of her plant produce to the market.

She talks about her journey as an offbeat farmer. It all started when her father fell ill in 2013, when doctors failed to correctly diagnose his disease.

“They couldn’t see that he was diabetic. He didn’t show the signs of diabetes, but he had this foot ulcer that just wouldn’t go away,” she says.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle.

Moeketsi decided to do her own research, so she read up books on African medicinal plants and used some herbs that belonged to her late mother, who had been a traditional healer.

“It took me a good eight months to help my dad and I actually saved him from having an amputation.”

The news of Moeketsi curing her dad’s diabetes using herbs spread. Sadly, her father died in 2016, at the age of 87. But she is proud to have helped prolong his life.

“So he passed away in his sleep, not sick, nothing, he was just old. But he was always grateful; he was like, ‘even when I die, I’m going to die with both my limbs’, so we would make a joke about it.”

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After her father’s demise, Moeketsi rented some land and turned her knowledge on natural herbs into a fully-fledged farm. However, when the owner of the land returned, she was forced to vacate.

Land was always going to be a problem in the city. But instead of giving up, Moeketsi looked to the skies.

“Because of this passionate drive for an answer, I found myself researching what’s happening outside Gauteng and South Africa, and I saw in Europe, they were farming on rooftops,” she says.

In 2017, her dream became a reality when she secured a deal with the City of Johannesburg as part of an urban farming program, and started the rooftop project a year later.

When we visit her greenhouse, we are welcomed by the sweet lingering scent of herbs. It’s hot and humid, and two fans whir away to cool the air.

Moeketsi walks around the greenhouse wearing dark glasses and a white jacket, with a syringe in hand – she could easily pass off as a medical doctor.

She elaborates on the hydroponics system. There are four pyramids, each attached to their own reservoirs of water. On each pyramid, different plants, ranging from spinach, lettuce, sage, parsley, basil and dill, rest on beds with pipes connecting them to the reservoirs. Moeketsi plucks out one of the pipes and inserts the syringe; water spouts out of the tube and she returns it to the bed.

“Twice a day, you have to check that water is actually going through the pipes, because that’s how the plants get water and nutrients,” she explains, as she unblocks a pipe using the syringe. She says it’s one of the best ways to farm using little water.

“When you put in certain plants in the greenhouse, you know you are guaranteed sustainable farming because you can produce those plants and harvest them,” she says.

Moeketsi adds that this allows her produce to stay consistent season after season.

“So, from that point of view, it makes the city more sustainable in terms of food produce that is easily accessible and cost-effective for the consumer because not everyone around here can afford the high prices of food but they can at least afford what we sell, whether it is at R10 ($0.5) or R15 ($1).”

As Moekesti continues to tend to the plants, a farmer she works with walks in and begins filling up the reservoirs.

Lethabo Madela has known Moekesti for almost six years.

“When you look around Johannesburg, there is no space, so rooftops have saved us a lot, especially those of us that love farming,” says Madela. “I’m learning a lot and I think she [Moekesti] changed the whole concept of farming for me because I used to farm vegetables. I didn’t know culinary herbs or medicinal herbs.”

Moeketsi speaks of other farmers around the city who have taken to the rooftops to farm plants such as strawberries, lemon balm, spinach and lettuce.

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In a suburb called Marshalltown, a 10-minute drive from Moeketsi’s farm, Kagiso Seleka farms lemon balm also using hydroponics.

He produces sorbet and pesto from his produce which is then used to make ice cream.

“It [hydroponics] is great for farming sensitive plants in terms of temperature. Lemon balm does not like frost. But it’s better to grow even out of season so you can set a higher price,” he tells us.

However, he says hydroponics farming is a luxury not many farmers can afford.

“It [hydroponics] does have a bit of a higher capital upfront, but you get a higher yield and higher quality, so people are willing to pay more. Hydroponic planting saves about ninety five percent of water soil farming in a water-scarce country,” says Seleka.

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“We do have water shortages, and I know people are on the whole ‘organic trip’ but, is it more important to have an organic plant versus a water-saving environment?”

The Program Coordinator for Agriculture at the City of Johannesburg’s Food Resilience Unit, Lindani Sandile Makhanya, says there certainly are more rooftop farmers in Johannesburg now than ever before.

Converting idle terraces into avenues of profit is becoming a norm. There are new rooftop farms being set up every day, offers Makhanya.

He regularly visits Moeketsi’s farm to check on the progress and collect produce to sell.

“Urban farming in Johannesburg is rising, mainly because the idea of producing our own food is very important because most people are moving to urban areas and therefore it stands to reason that we have to try to produce as much as possible,” says Makhanya.

“[There is growth] even in animal production, although we are moving away from the bigger numbers, but we are involving the smaller ones; because of the space issue, they are increasing overall.”

For Moeketsi, her farm has changed her life and given her hope for a better future. In addition to the teas, tinctures, ointments and medicinal products she processes from her plants, she plans to include more by-products such as syrups in the future.

“The future of city farming is great simply because we have more and more young people getting into this space. Even though it’s farming, they are looking at it from a very different angle,” she says. “That is why the city is changing and rooftop farming is going to get bigger and bigger.”

Clearly, farming in Africa is covering exciting new ground.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020



FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.

JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.


Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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The Life And Wisdom Of Richard Maponya



He was one of the big names in business in Africa; as gentlemanly. as he was shrewd. He fought the odds and apartheid to stake his place in business and inspire millions of his countrymen to do the same.

Richard Maponya – the doyen of black business in South Africa – passed away in the early hours of January 6, after a short illness. Maponya turned 99 on Christmas Eve near the end of a long and fruitful life that saw him dine with the Queen, laugh with Bill Clinton and chauffer his old friend Nelson Mandela. Mandela asked Maponya, who owned a car dealership, to pick him up at the airport in Johannesburg after his release from prison in 1990.

Ï picked him up at the airport and that was the most frightening time of my life. We were chased by people on foot, helicopters, motorbikes and cars. Everyone just wanted to touch Mandela. They could kill him just trying to touch him,” Maponya recalled to Forbes Africa in a cover story in March 2017.   

Mandela was a close friend of Maponya since the 1950s. The future president, then a young lawyer   helped Maponya set up his first business against the restrictive apartheid laws that shackled black business.

Maponya wanted to open a clothing store in Soweto, Johannesburg; the authorities said no. Mandela lost the fight for the clothing store, but did manage to secure him a license to trade daily necessities. This opened the way for Maponya to start out with a milk delivery business that was to prove the foundation of his fortune.

More than half a century on, Mandela, then a former president of South Africa, beamed with pride, in 2007, as he opened the first shopping mall in Soweto.

Maponya Mall had taken the canny businessman a good deal of patience to put together. He acquired the land in 1979 – the first black man to secure a 100-year lease for land in Soweto – and spent many more years building up the mall.

“Ï fought for 27 years for that mall and was many times denied; they actually thought I was dreaming. When Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon to open the mall, that was the highlight of my life,” Maponya said years later.

It was a mile on a road less travelled by Maponya in a long journey from the tiny township of Lenyenye in Limpopo in northern South Africa where he was born. He moved across the province to Polokwane to train as a teacher and then, like many young men of his generation, moved south to Johannesburg in search of his fortune.

In those days, the gold mining city was booming, but only the few saw the fruits. Maponya was blocked at every turn as he tried to make his way in business; he won through making a fortune from property, horse racing, retail, cars and liquor.

Maponya mentored many black entrepreneurs and inspired many millions more he had never met. One of them was Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, who made his own fortune with hair care products.

“To myself and the people I grew up with he was an inspiration to all of us to get into business…If he had started out in business in a normal world there is no doubt he would have been even bigger than he was,” Mashaba told CNBC Africa.

Maponya will be mourned by the millions who were inspired to follow him and by a business world that is richer, in more ways than one, for his nearly a century of hard work in which retirement was never an option.

“People who retire are lazy people. You retire and do what? Bask in the sun?  I am not that type of man,” he said in 2017 at the age of 96.

He could never be.

By Chris Bishop  

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