Blacks buy stake in Anglo-American

Click to follow
The drive to transfer economic power to blacks in South Africa has reached a milestone with the decision by Anglo American, the country biggest corporation, to sell the bulk of its stake in the industrial and media group, Johnnic, to black investors.

The deal, which is politically rather than commercially motivated, mirrors Anglo American's decision in 1964 to sell General Mining to Boer businessmen, following the rise of Afrikaner nationalism. Then, the country's business sector was dominated by the English. General Mining became Gencor, today a multibillion-rand empire, and provided the foundation for the Afrikaner advance into the business sector.

"This deal has to succeed," said one analyst yesterday. "Black businessmen have to show they can do it, too."

The 1.5bn rand (pounds 215m) deal between Anglo American and the National Empowerment Consortium, representing 50 black economic interest groups, took two years to reach fruition. It gives the NEC a 47.7 per cent stake in Johnnic. Anglo American, like every other big white business in South Africa, has been under intense political pressure to make a contribution to black empowerment. As the biggest, its contribution had to be the greatest.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC secretary general who recently put his political career on hold to enter the private sector and become NEC chief negotiator, said the deal was an "historic transaction for the whole of Africa". In other parts of the continent, nationalism has been the fate of business after black liberation.

The ANC, like the Afrikaner Nationalists, came to power threatening nationalisation but then opted for a more free-market approach. Celebrations of the deal were marred by concern about media ownership and editorial independence at Times Media, part of the Johnnic group, which publishes Sunday Times, Business Day and Financial Mail newspapers.

Mr Ramaphosa is a leading light in New Africa Investments (Nail), the NEC's most influential member. His departure from politics is thought to have been prompted by President Nelson Mandela's decision to annoint Thabo Mbeki, the deputy president, as his unofficial successor. A media empire could be priceless to Mr Rama- phosa, 10 years younger than Mr Mbeki, in establishing an alternative power base.

In the later stages of negotiations between Anglo American and the NEC, a row erupted at Times Media over last minute attempts to establish an editorial charter. Journalists were not consulted about the charter, drafted by Nigel Bruce, editor of the Financial Mail.

Black journalists were insulted that a charter, including clauses protecting editors' jobs in the face of editorial interference from future owners, had not been considered necessary before. They complained there was a racist assumption that black owners were more dangerous to a free press than white ones.

Yesterday, Mr Bruce said he feared Mr Ramaphosa and the NEC would interfere with the titles' editorial stance. He said Anglo American bought Times Media in the 1970s to prevent Nationalist businessmen buying the group and using it to support apartheid.

"It has become clear that the objective of this deal is political rather than commercial," Mr Bruce said. "Times Media only constitutes 1-2 per cent of Johnnic's profits, but the new owners consider it one of the most desirable assets."

There are other misgivings. In a country where a few white businesses dominate the commercial sector, there is a fear that black empowerment will do no more than replace six fat white cats with six fat black ones. President Mandela refers to it as "black enrichment" which aims to to spread economic benefits more widely among blacks.