Ann Crotty Writer-at-large
Johann Rupert. Picture: BLOOMBERG/CHRIS RATCLIFFE
Johann Rupert. Picture: BLOOMBERG/CHRIS RATCLIFFE

Johann Rupert, SA’s second-richest man, said former president Jacob Zuma used five agencies and private detectives overseas to "get dirt" on him after he called for Zuma’s axing in 2016.

Speaking to shareholders at investment firm Remgro’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday, Rupert said he has been following the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture and has been "shocked" by its disclosures.

Zuma’s spokesperson and lawyer did not respond to queries on Rupert’s allegations late on Thursday. The former president, his son Duduzane and their associates, the Gupta family, are at the centre of allegations that they used their political influence to benefit commercially from government and state-owned entity business.

In 2016, after his calls for Zuma to step down, Rupert was singled out in a social media campaign directed by UK-based spin doctors Bell Pottinger, under contract from the Gupta family’s Oakbay Investments. The campaign was believed to be an attempt to deflect attention from state-capture allegations involving the Gupta family and their influence over Zuma. At the time, Bell Pottinger, which went bankrupt after the nature of its involvement with Oakbay and its campaigns for the Guptas came to light, had worked for several years for Rupert’s renowned luxury goods business, Richemont.

What really concerns me is that I’m not sure people realise the trouble we’re in; by 2020 most people believe the US will be in recession.

During the AGM Rupert, who has been nicknamed "Rupert the bear" for predicting the 2008 financial collapse and for his sustained bearish sentiments on international markets, again expressed concern over the economic outlook.

"What really concerns me is that I’m not sure people realise the trouble we’re in; by 2020 most people believe the US will be in recession," he said. US President [Donald] Trump is hell-bent on causing trade wars, and with populism and fascism on the increase, the world "is eerily like it was in the 1920s".

Rupert’s broad-ranging political and economic comments were interspersed by responses to probing questions from shareholder activists Chris Logan and Shane Watkins, who were concerned about the sluggish performance of the Remgro share over the past five years.

Remgro, whose portfolio includes stakes in Mediclinic, Rand Merchant Bank Holdings, FirstRand and Distell, has returned only 21.7% in dividends and share price growth to investors over the past five years, lagging the JSE’s all share index, which has returned 34.17%. The share is down 11% so far this year.

"Remgro is seen as offering long-term value, but record discounts are opening up within some of its holdings," said Logan. Remgro’s intrinsic net asset value per share was R256.97 at the end of June, significantly higher than the R210 at which the share is currently trading.

Rupert said he was not concerned about the discount, which he said was determined by investors.

"I care about sustainable cash flow and growing the businesses," he said.

Watkins, who is chief investment officer of All Weather Capital, wanted to know what the group intended doing with the R15bn cash on its balance sheet.

Rupert said the board was looking for opportunities but was reluctant to make acquisitions now, as "people are not scared enough yet".

Right now there was still too much cheap capital, he said, which meant potential acquisitions would be overpriced. Rupert said he wanted to wait for the froth in the market to subside and for "a bit of panic".

crottya@businesslive.co.za