Hamza Farooqui: Serial entrepreneur and prospective bank owner. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Hamza Farooqui: Serial entrepreneur and prospective bank owner. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Hamza Farooqui is a family man, with “strong subcontinental roots”. He is also a businessman and part of a bid to buy Habib Overseas Bank with Gupta-family associate, Salim Essa.

He lives “under one roof” with his entire family — including parents, siblings and their respective families.

“Being close [to my parents] has kept my feet on the ground. That’s how you learn a lot of wisdom,” says Farooqui, who is married with two young sons.

Farooqui was born in Swaziland, but both his parents are from the Indian subcontinent. His father, born in East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), lived in Pakistan before moving to Swaziland.

When the family moved to SA after 1994, Farooqui attended Crawford College, Johannesburg, later graduating from Wits with a BCom.

A serial entrepreneur who started his first business, a cricket-scoring platform, at age 12, Farooqui’s business interests span retail, property, media and financial services, and are housed in Cii Holdings.

Among the group’s businesses are an Islamic radio station, upmarket clothing stores and hotels. Now Farooqui has set his sights on SA’s banking sector, which he believes is too tightly controlled by too few institutions. He says he’s always had an interest in Habib Bank, where his father, Javaid, worked for 22 years. Javaid, previously employed at Credit Suisse, will take an active role in the bank, Farooqui says.

Through a joint venture called Vardospan, entities owned respectively by Essa and Farooqui will control Habib.

The problem is, however, that the Reserve Bank has recommended that the sale be blocked. It isn’t clear yet how this will play out.

It is predominantly a commercial bank with Muslim customers but the plan is to target black entrepreneurs who, says Farooqui, have insufficient access to loans and mentorship.

“The average black entrepreneur wants to go into a bank that talks his language and understands what he wants. Investec did that for professionals in the 1970s. The time is right to build a bank with black entrepreneurs as the foundation,” he says.

Farooqui is not concerned with Essa’s connection to the Gupta family.

“It’s unfortunate that [Essa] has been tainted as he has. My view isn’t jaundiced by a news report or public protector report. We’ve always spoken about doing something together,” he says. They have known each other for 18 years.

Farooqui, who knows the Guptas but has never done business with them, says there is no conclusive evidence against the family. “You can’t make business decisions based on a media narrative that has been purely perception-driven.” Asked if he would bank the Guptas, Farooqui says he will bank anyone, as long as legislation, and the bank’s risk framework, doesn’t prohibit it.

As an independent institution, he hopes the SA Reserve Bank does “the right thing” by approving his application to purchase the bank, Farooqui says.

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