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The Billionaire Diving Into The Depths Of The Diamond Business

Why is one of Africa’s richest men ploughing millions of dollars into a business many are running from?

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When he talks, people listen; when he moves money, markets react and when he invests, many follow.  He is Christo Wiese, Africa’s third richest man after Aliko Dangote and Nicky Oppenheimer & family, according to FORBES’ list of Africa’s 50 richest, and the creator of Africa’s largest retail store. He is ever busy as he adds to his $6.5 billion fortune, but his last investment raised a few eyebrows.

As we meet, Wiese is dressed in black pants and a black sweater; you may mistake him for an ordinary bloke on the street in Cape Town, South Africa. But, there is nothing ordinary about this man when it comes to business. His creation, Shoprite, earns revenue of $9.9 billion a year, at a time when retail is struggling. Steinhoff, the parent company of Wiese’s retail company PEP, brings in $11.8 billion. Combined, they net almost $2 billion in annual profits, operate more than 9,000 stores in 30 countries and employ over 200,000 people. He made his fortune from smart investments that earned him billions. So, why is he looking to venture into Africa’s glittering, but struggling, diamond industry?

The family businesses, Cream Magenta 140 Proprietary Ltd. and Metcap 14 Proprietary Ltd., bought close to 50 million shares (23.54% each) in diamond company Trans Hex. This adds up to a dominant stake of just over 47%.

This isn’t entirely new territory for the risk taker. Wiese was in diamond mining in the late 1990s through an investment in Ocean Diamond Mining Holdings (ODM). He sold ODM to Namibian-based diamond miner Namco.

“I used to be in the diamond industry 40 years ago and the opportunity arose to acquire a controlling stake in Trans Hex which is one of the junior diamond mining companies and one I think has potential,” says Wiese.

The cold fact is South Africa’s once thriving diamond industry is suffering atrophy. It has no more than 200 diamond beneficiators remaining from a historical peak of about 4,500 and a decline in investment, according to Mining Weekly.

“Rough-diamond prices are too high for manufacturers, who cannot profitably polish goods at such levels. Polished-diamond prices have declined, in turn, reducing demand for diamonds from South African mines, as well as throughout the world,” it says, quoting World Federation of Diamond Bourses president Ernie Blom.

Trans Hex has not been immune. Their 2016 results suffered heavily from a sharp decline in rough diamond prices.

“The diamond market was severely impacted by excess stocks in the polishing industry and a resultant decline in demand for rough diamond. Average prices received for rough thus decline by 23.5% year-on-year. As a result, the Lower Orange River operations, which are earning the end of their reserves, moved into loss overall,” says Bernard van Rooyen, Trans Hex Chairman in the company financials.

Piet Viljoen, Alternate Director at Trans Hex, says its share price has come under pressure but the business has tried to ride the storm.

“The problem creates value in a very lumpy way. It earns a lot of money one year and then makes big losses the next year… so its share price doesn’t seem to go anywhere ever, that’s why it creates the impression that the business is under pressure,” he says.

Viljoen says it helps to have shareholders like Wiese who have vision.

“The shareholder reference can act as a provider of capital when the business needs it, do acquisitions or to fund projects.”

Trans Hex Group incurred a disappointing loss of R100.8 million ($7.3 million) and Viljoen has called it “a difficult year” but Wiese is optimistic.

“It is going well, except the exchange rate is not in favor of diamond exports because the rand is stagnant. With the diamond industry, you are not running a shop where you always know what your sales are going to be,” says Wiese.

Wiese is known for taking risks and smart investments. More than 60% of his wealth is in Shoprite and Steinhoff, while another 30% or so comes from his shares of investment company, Brait. His stock in Tradehold, a real estate firm, accounts for much of the remaining 10%. He has made investments in the United Kingdom (UK) such as clothing retailer New Look and gym chain Virgin Active. He says there is no secret behind the success.

“In this company, we have always had a philosophy, in terms of which we run our group of companies. These are the five pillars as we call it; faith, positive thinking, enthusiasm, compassion and hard work. Hard work is probably important but you’ve got to be a positive person and able to put teams together and motivate them. I am not a person running the business, I play a different role. The good business leaders like Whitey Basson and Markus Jooste are people who can put teams together, motivate them and steer them in the right direction,” he says.

There have been several enormous setbacks like the currency upset in 1985 when the rand lost about 50% of its value in less than a year, Brexit, which badly affected the share price, and great disappointments in people. It is wealth that hasn’t come easy.

“Oh yes, plenty [of bad investments]. I can’t even remember the worst one but there are many adventurous investments that just didn’t work out. I am heavily invested in wine farming and that’s not a very big lucrative business but it gives other pleasures such as the beauty of it…”

“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world,” goes the proverb. According to Wiese, success is more than how much money you have, it is about whether you can look at yourself in the mirror and say maybe it’s very small but my contribution made life or the world a slightly better place. Following this mantra, he is helping the poor gain title deeds to their homes. He is a sponsor of the Free Market Foundation, which is working with First National Bank to give people land tenure, and gave more than 100 title deeds to residents of Ngwathe, a municipality in South Africa’s Free State province.

“The Free Market Foundation looked at South Africa and found that there are between seven and 11 million households where the occupants own the structure on the land by they do not own the land, so they launched an initiative cooperating with the local, provincial governments to give people title to their homes. My family decided to get involved in that to make financial contributions in order to help people to acquire the title deeds to their homes,” he says.

“It is an enormously important thing for people to have a sense of ownership. People that are used to owning things do not realize how much it adds to a person’s dignity if he can say ‘this is my home. It may be a modest little home, but it’s my home and I can leave it to my children and be assured they have a roof over their heads.’”

Wiese says positivity rules his life.

“If you are positive about life, you ignore the unfair criticism. A lot of the criticism is totally justified but you don’t focus on either the nice things people say to you or about you too much or equally you don’t concern yourself too much about the bad things people say…”

“I don’t remember anything bad people say. I always say to entrepreneurs, ‘if you start rising above the average, you become a target’. People say, ‘but that guy is not cleverer than I am, why does he make a success and I’m so clever and I don’t make the same financial successes?’ You have to know you will have people tear you down; it’s part of the game,” says Wiese.

We leave him preparing to jet off to the UK for meetings. Some may not understand his decision to dive back into diamonds, but Wiese seems to see money where others don’t.  Maybe the smart investor should take a look at the diamond business.

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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