Serge Belamant.
Serge Belamant.

Serge Belamant, the raffish 63-year old Frenchman who built Net1 into what some might argue is the unacceptable face of modern SA capitalism, has retired early due to pressure from the company’s shareholders.

But let’s not bill this as a wholesale victory for shareholder activism just yet. Net1 has a unique position, responsible for distributing 17m social grants every month to SA’s most vulnerable. It’s a responsibility that Net1 has abused — using its privileged position to flog airtime, microloans and even funeral policies to people living off state handouts.

Belamant may be gone, but those shareholders are fooling themselves if they believe his departure will magically solve all the company’s reputational problems. They need to do more: insist that Net1 immediately stop selling these financial products to people living off social grants funded by taxpayers.

Net1’s culture will need to change too. Questions over its fishy empowerment deal have lingered for months, while Net1 has also taken an ill-tempered and arrogant approach to people who rightly question its ethical outlook, going so far as to threaten to sue them for defamation.

For this reason, among many others, Belamant’s departure is welcome — even if the company will unarguably miss his strategic nous. But it’s not the panacea. Its odious legacy must be unpicked too.

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