The Competition Commission has prohibited Grand Parade, a JSE-listed company, from selling its assets and obligations in the Burger King franchise to a private-equity company. The reason the transaction was prohibited was, to quote the media release, because ” ... the Commission is concerned that the proposed merger will have a substantial negative effect on the promotion of greater spread of ownership, in particular to increase the levels of ownership by historically disadvantaged persons in firms in the market as contemplated in section 12A(3)(e) of the Competition Act. Thus, the proposed merger cannot be justified on substantial public interest grounds”  Historically disadvantaged people (HDPs) comprise 68% of Grand Parade’s shareholders,  ECP Africa Fund IV has none.

The qualifier substantial public interest grounds, not just an unqualified and damaged public interest is revealing. The problem with public-interest arguments is that the public comprises a variety of priv...

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