Johann Rupert. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LOUISE GUBB
Johann Rupert. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/LOUISE GUBB

Johann Rupert has been cast as the poster boy of “white monopoly capital” by pro-Gupta voices. But the Remgro chairman, whose listed equity holdings of R3.18bn put him 22nd on the latest Sunday Times Rich List, scoffs at the idea that he wields monopolistic power.

“I’ve tried all my life to get a monopoly but I’ve never succeeded,” he says. “I’ve always fought against people much bigger, from Rand Merchant Bank when we were the smallest, until the 1990s when I was still in tobacco and Philip Morris was a multiple of our size. And now Louis Vuitton is bigger than us globally, so I don’t know where this monopoly comes from. I guess it suits the narrative.”

Rupert is less amused by more insidious “alternative facts” about him that have been circulated in what he sees as a concerted smear campaign by the UK PR group Bell Pottinger, who used to work for him. (He ditched them after they signed up with the Guptas.)

“They altered my Wikipedia page,” he says. “I e-mailed [Wikipedia founder] Jimmy Wales, a friend of mine, and they fixed it. They also photoshopped [ex City Press editor] Ferial Haffajee sitting on my lap — I’ve never met her. So she is now furious with these trolls. They’re attacking Peter Bruce. Everybody who dares raise the truth is attacked. And I’ve never spoken to Julius Malema but I was not surprised by his statement that the minister of state security is paying people to find dirt on me. Instead of looking for real terrorists, this is what they’re doing.”

Rupert says this reminds him of the apartheid regime. “Remember that the National Party shut down Remgro’s import permits for 10 months in 1988. And I was threatened by Magnus Malan with his hit squads. He said I was costing them votes because a number of us were speaking out against the NP. So what’s happening now is nothing new. Then it was because I was against apartheid,
now it’s because I’m against state capture or cronyism. The worst thing is to invest loyally in SA and create jobs and be criticised for it.”

While he concedes the ANC has not penalised wealth, he believes its attitude to capital needs a reboot. “I am welcomed, throughout Africa, Asia. People ask, how can we help you create jobs and invest? I’ve never had that in SA. On the contrary.”

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