Wealthy dynasty built on SA gold

Mining merger: After 81 years, Anglo re-invents itself for the post-apartheid era

STRENGTH THROUGH diversity has been the watchword of Anglo American since it was founded in 1917 by Ernest Oppenheimer, a German-born diamond merchant who arrived in South Africa in 1902.

For 81 years three generations of Oppenheimers have built a business set up with pounds 1m into a unique company - a pounds 6bn conglomerate whose interests range from gold, platinum, diamonds, coal and copper into manufacturing, banking and financial services, in South Africa and abroad.

The company has grown into a complex network of inter-dependent companies, reinforced by crossholdings of shares and interlocking directorships.

The Oppenheimers kept open links with the world outside apartheid South Africa. At home they established an impressive network of contacts in politics and finance, employing Rhodes scholars and acting as a pillar of the English-speaking business community. They co-operated with the post-1948 Nationalist governments, yet maintained a reputation as the conscience of liberal capitalism.

Sir Ernest built the company mainly on gold mining. In the 1920s he moved back into diamonds and set up a rival to the Diamond Syndicate and the leading producer, De Beers. By 1929 he had become chairman of De Beers and established the Diamond Corporation, which had a global monopoly in the marketing of diamonds.

In 1928 Anglo American acted as consulting engineers to a group of companies developing the copper mines of Northern Rhodesia, then absorbed them into a new company, Rhodesian Anglo American, which became Mineral and Resources Corporation, and finally Minorco.

The gold, diamond and copper mines were reorganised into holding companies with their own access to outside capital, as Anglo diversified into manufacturing, brewing, banking and financial services.

The Nationalist government elected in 1948 encouraged the establishment of rival companies controlled by Afrikaners. But Harry Oppenheimer, Sir Ernest's son who succeeded as chairman in 1957, kept Anglo's relations with the government sweet while maintaining links with the outside world.

In 1965 Anglo merged its mining interests to form Charter Consolidated, which gave it investment opportunities outside South Africa. In 1971 the newly independent government of Zambia nationalised the country's copper mines, but Anglo American used the $75m it received in compensation to create Minerals and Resources Corporation as a mining investment trust.

As South Africa became isolated Anglo grew nervous about its position and the Oppenheimers began to criticise apartheid. In 1985 Gavin Relly, who succeeded Harry Oppenheimer as chairman in 1982, met representatives of the ANC.

In 1987 the Minerals and Resources Corporation was renamed Minorco, moving to Luxembourg. Minorco was given control of all Anglo's assets outside Africa in return for a 45.6 per cent shareholding.

After majority rule in South Africa, the dual structure is superfluous and Anglo American has been wary of being isolated from markets and sources of finance outside South Africa. This led to yesterday's decision to reintegrate Minorco and move the domicile of the entire company to London.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Reporting Manager

£70000 - £90000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Financial Reporting Manager i...

Recruitment Genius: Payments Operations Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They win lots of awards for the...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Debt Negotiator

£13500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This nationwide enforcement com...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific