One of South Africa’s richest business leaders talks about his commercial successes and failures, the debates about race and economics in South Africa and his criticism of the government
Christoffel ‘Christo’ Wiese is the man who bought Shoprite for R1m in 1979 and helped to turn it into a company now worth R110bn ($8.3bn) with 2,600 stores across 15 African countries. The deal is emblematic of the man. Wiese has stealthily emerged as the biggest individual player in the South African economy, which is still struggling to transform and democratise after the fall of apartheid in 1994. This brings with it a fair bit of weather, including accusations of representing the enduring hold of ‘white monopoly capital’.
Wiese was not always in the populist crosshairs. From the beginning of corporate development in South Africa until fairly recently, the Oppenheimer and Rupert families were the undisputed kings of the economy. Their groups – Anglo American and Rembrandt, respectively – held controlling stakes in nearly every industry, from mining to banks, cigarettes, chickens and paper. In the late 1960s, when they were already firmly entrenched, Wiese’s main business interest was in the low-price clothing retailer Pep Stores. At that time, you could have counted the number of its outlets on your fingers.
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