Johann Rupert.   Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Johann Rupert. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Remgro chairman Johann Rupert has warned that South Africans need to pull finger ... and quick.

Speaking at Remgro’s AGM last week, Rupert — vilified as the personification of "white monopoly capital" by some political factions — said South Africans still argue about the wrong things.

"I would say it’s time — and it does not matter who wins [at the ANC elective conference] in December — for serious people to get together and discuss serious issues ... We have growing unemployment, almost zero economic growth ... people get poorer and poorer and poorer, and there’s a huge disparity in income."

Rupert said he believes the situation will get worse. "The 0.1% will take more and more in the future, because when an Amazon or an Apple is created you realise that information technology is replicable at virtually zero marginal cost.

"In the old days a bricklayer who laid 60 bricks an hour compared with someone who could lay 100 bricks an hour still had a job — though they did not get paid the same. But the guy who writes software programs at 60 bricks an hour compared with a guy who can do 100 bricks an hour does not have a job. The winner takes all."

Rupert said luxury brands conglomerate Richemont, which is controlled by the Rupert family, has adopted a hiring rule that stipulates employees must be multiskilled.

"I cannot guarantee them a job any more, because between new machinery, new techniques and AI [artificial intelligence], these employees’ jobs could be wiped out in five to eight years. In SA, they want to take the land ... to do what with?"

Rupert suggested SA convene an economic Codesa. "We need something that will get people together — seriously open-minded people who are able to address the real issues. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, because if we carry on having these rates of economic growth and levels of unemployment we are going to have real problems."

Rupert also defended Remgro against accusations that it was an apartheid beneficiary. He pointed out that the late Anton Rupert, the founder of Remgro, had played a key role in starting Business Partners (the old Small Business Development Corp) to help black entrepreneurs.

He estimated that the value created by Remgro from 1994 to 2017 topped R327bn in capital growth and almost R30bn in dividends. Along with corporate cousin Richemont, dividends and distributions repatriated topped R81.5bn, while excise duties and taxes amounted to R197bn.

"So we pay tax. We have 152,000 employees working for us. We create jobs. We bring money back to SA, we don’t take it out. You’d think people would say thank you. But no."

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