Wednesday, 30 November 2022

In Business

Motsepification: The Story of Billionaire Patrice Motsepe

(Cabanga Magazine) - Patrice Motsepe is a story of when someone pays attention to the needs of the people, they are able to see opportunities; that is what he did in the 1970s as a teenage boy. 

When a black man crosses millions, many are not sure how he did it, and worse for one that crosses billions; there is a defacto assumption of corruption. Stop; can we not just look at a beautiful story of tact, discipline, vision and consistency, even within the black race? We can!

Born a few years before "Pata Pata", the global hit song from Miriam Makeba of the 1960s, Patrice Motsepe has an untold story of a young boy that paid attention, and half a century later it landed him into billionairehood, and brotherhood with the Presidency of a free and rainbow state of South Africa.

Turn awhile, and allow me to paint a picture of the Motsepe Family, from the beginnings, the careering, and the later days of the first Black Billionnaire in South Africa – a story of familycraft not statecraft. 

The Beginnings

Most wonder how Patrice Motsepe accumulated his wealth, yet do not take time to go back to the beginnings of his story. The 1970s for the majority of Africans, were about ‘freedom struggles’ and ‘economic empowerment’. In South Africa, the struggle was just as thick as it was for its neighbours, yet within such thickness, there were those that rose above the fear to start local businesses – Spaza shops mostly. The Motsepe family was one to take such a risk and route. 

In the Marketplace Africa, CNN wrote, He (Patrice) started working at an early age, during school holidays, in his father's Spaza shop, a type of convenience store popular in South Africa. It was situated in Hammanskraal, a small town North of Pretoria where his father, Augustine, had been placed following his criticism of the apartheid regime.

Augustine Motsepe was a small business owner that started with opening a  Spaza, grew the business to include a beerhall. Augustine became a successful liquor distributor by affiliating with South African Breweries. Throughout his youth Motsepe worked at his father’s store and beerhall, a job that gained him essential lessons in business management and exposed him to the lives of  mine workers who bought daily provisions from him. 

Patrice was not the only default family employee of his father’s businesses; his two older sisters were part of the story too – Tshepo and Bridgette. Tshepo Motsepe is now  the First Lady of South Africa, wife to Cyril Ramaphosa, and Bridgette Motsepe is a businesswoman and wife to Minister of Energy of South Africa, Jeff Radebe. 

With what has been made public, let’s just rewind the clock to the 1970s for a moment. 

Here are brother and sisters, children to a Spaza shop owner in a small community in Gauteng, and at the thick of the struggle they pursued different paths in life whilst helping the family. Entrepreneurship was default in them, for as much as they would have wanted to be free from responsibilities of the spaza, beerhall, and liquor distribution, they had to participate whether by observing or being actively involved on a daily basis.

The Careering

During this period, Patrice was actively helping in the family business, just as his sisters, whilst his older sister Tshepo began her medicine degree, and later on in the decade Bridgette started her career in mining as a common miner. Patrice, surrounded by active family, finished his school to start university, enrolling in a law degree – why not, son of an Activist and Entrepreneur!

CNN reports that Patrice said that largely because of his father’s opposition to South Africa’s segregated public school system, which provided black people in the country with poor educational opportunities, Patrice Motsepe and his six siblings attended a Roman Catholic boarding school in Eastern Cape province. 

Patrice Motsepe then earned a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Swaziland and a Law degree from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. As he was doing his degree in the early 1980s, his sister Tshepo was furthering her medicine degree, as Bridgette rose ranks in the mining industry. Bridgette Motsepe started out as a common miner in the 1980s; managing individual shaft mining operations and producing materials for the larger mine operations in South Africa while working under a contract; the beginnings of her entreprenuership journey. 

Patrice joined the law firm Bowman Gilfillan in 1988 and became the first black partner in 1993, having worked as a visiting attorney with the American law firm McGuire, Woods, Battle & Booth in 1991–92. At present, Bowman Gilfillan, is a law firm based in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, with offices in Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Durban, Kampala, Lilongwe, Lusaka, Moka and Nairobi. This in itself is a story that can be summarised with LinkedIn’s motto “Relationships Matter”. One would want to believe that of the many cases and transactions that Patrice handled at one of the oldest firms in South Africa, he built good relationships with all manner of people – business leaders, politicians, diplomats, and common folk. Lawyers are some of the most shrewd, but very friendly people in business you can interact with, especially the ones that operate in commercial law – they build relationships. Patrice, without a doubt built many, as did Shaka in the 1820s, as he rose ranks in society to establish his empire. 

Imagine this, if you can, in early 1990s, Patrice had two sisters already doing well in business – one owning a private medical pratice and consultancies in a few countries, and the other owning a mining business; would it not make sense to invest in something closer to home like mining, which is an industry they grew up supplying food , beverages and entertainment? 

He entered that space with ease and clear resolve.

The Latter Days

In 1994 Patrice Motsepe founded a mine services company, Future Mining, and applied all of his life experience—knowledge of the mining trade and its workers, school connections, understanding of political and legal structures, and a shrewd spirit of entrepreneurship—to his new work. During this period, his sister Bridgette, an experienced miner entered entrepreneurship in mining where she founded Mmakau Mining. 

Launched in the 1980`s, Mmakau Mining started from a contract miner by Bridgette Motsepe, managing shafts and procuring for the large mining houses, then the company graduated to ownership and development of its own mines in the early 1990`s. Today, Mmakau stands as a mining firm which initiates explorations and helps to produce platinum, gold, and chrome.

As Bridgette was thriving in her mining journey, in 1997 Patrice launched ARMgold, which in 2003 merged with Harmony and acquired Anglovaal Mining (Avmin). Patrice was named chairman of the newly reorganized ARM in 2004, and by 2006 the company had expanded beyond gold and other metals into coal mining. 

Whilst Patrice and Bridgette were crafting their stories, Tshepo, the older of the two, was doctoring her life with her participation in the private and public medical sectors, where she then met and got married to the then Secretary-General of the ANC, Cyril Rhamaphosa in 1996. 

The Motsepe family continued living their lives, growing their families and businesses. On the social tip, Patrice Motsepe’s growing wealth allowed him to purchase a 51 percent interest in the Mamelodi Sundowns association football (soccer) club in 2003, and the next year he gained full control of the club.

The Craftsmanship

The Sunday Times wrote that , “the Motsepes were one of the few black families to enjoy wealth under apartheid. The elder Motsepe was a school teacher who opened a spaza shop catering to mine workers”. Question is, who is stopping any teacher at present from enjoying the easy of opening a Spaza now as was in that era? None, but the issue with most that question the foundations of Motsepes is that it is a story as ordinary as any other’s but the difference is that Patrice and his sisters are now related to the president and cabinet of South Africa.

Except for pride, there is no one stopping a teacher today from going to a bank and getting a loan to start a spaza as Augustine started in the 60s or a young lady from getting a job at a mine as Bridgette did in the 80s. Except for pride and laziness, there is nothing stopping a young lady from attaining a medicine degree and marrying a future president. 

When we look at the Motsepe Family, we must not be quick to conclude that there was some third hand behind their wealth, except genuine hardwork and relationship development skills that have landed them where they are today.

Patrice Motsepe’s story is that of Bridgette Motsepe (Radebe) and that of Tshepo Motsepe (Ramaphosa), their inlaws and family, all working together to shape what we are now giving varied opinion as the richest black family in South Africa.

Patrice Motsepe’s story is incomplete without mention of his wife, Precious Moloi, the academic and business woman. Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe (MBBCh 1987) is the Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. Moloi-Motsepe is a business woman and philanthropist who started her career in medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). She worked in various public hospitals in South Africa as well as at the Medical College of Virginia in the USA. Together with her husband, Dr Patrice Motsepe, she founded the Motsepe Foundation in 1999, and in 2013 they became the first couple from Africa to join The Giving Pledge.

Lessons for Youths

It is possible to Motsepify Africa, especially by the youths. The teenage boy in any African city must know that whilst their sister is busy twerking, Patrice’s sisters were in mine shafts and medicine classrooms, hustling and grinding. The commitment and focus of these siblings is what has created what they have 50 years later, and nothing stops any youth from doing the same or more.

Patrice Motsepe worked for his wealth, with a backing of an organised family. It is not a crime, and we must celebrate such generational brilliance, and emulate to replicate it in more African communities.

Sources: CNN, Britanica, Sunday Times, Forbes, UCT

Cabanga Media Group publishes of thoughtful economic and business commentary magazines and online media, in several African markets, that include South Africa, Botswana, East Africa Community, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia.