Rob Rose Editor: Financial Mail

Renier van Rooyen isn’t a household name like Anton Rupert, Harry Oppenheimer or Patrice Motsepe, but it is no stretch to describe him as the forgotten colossus of SA business. Most people don’t know it today, but Van Rooyen, who passed away in Durbanville in Cape Town at the age of 86 this month, is the true invisible hand that shaped Pep, the clothing retailer so nearly brought to its knees by the 2014 merger with Steinhoff. It’s a tale that echoes that of many other entrepreneurs, who built up durable SA brands, but who’ve been entirely misplaced in the swirl of history. The story began in the little Northern Cape town of Kenhardt in 1931. As the child of a poor livestock speculator, Renier took a series of odd jobs, including working as a part-time court messenger in Upington, where he saw the ruinous impact of debt orders. "Not only were people being enticed by easy credit to buy things they couldn’t afford, but in most cases, companies that were forced to issue debt summonses ...

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