Fact check: Rupert’s Alleged Opposition to Apartheid debunked


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Graphic attempting to show some of Rupert holdings, source Twitter

THERE is no evidence that the Ruperts were during the 1980s, for all intents and purposes, in favour of anything more than apartheid euphemism and cant — the shallow transformation which characterised PW Botha’s much-vaunted tricameral Parliament and which for a short time, allowed for separate houses of parliament for citizens classified as Indian and Coloured. This while maintaining a bantustan system which disenfranchised, de-emancipated and dispossessed black South Africans.

The families’s own submission to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission demonstrates a willful obfuscation of the truth, and despite elegant pleading, contains a number of half-truths and a strange anomaly. On the one hand, it is claimed that they were opposed to apartheid which they considered ‘an immoral, oppressive attempt at social engineering’ and consequently had chosen the path of ‘loyal resistance’ to ‘fight the system from within’, writing letters to NP officials stating that apartheid in its then form, was unsustainable since the Afrikaner was being crucified: “it is destroying our language, it is degrading a once heroic nation to be the lepers of the world.”

On the other, the submission, fails to explain what they were doing inside the system, in the first place, and thus why Rupert maintained a loyal membership of the National Party to the very end, refusing to break ranks by siding for instance, with the then all-white opposition Progressive Federal Party? A party which as its name suggested promoted a federal solution and held seats until 1989 when it became the DA?

Johann Rupert  (JR) went so far as to claim at the TRC, that he was unaware of any financial contributions to the National Party, despite there being extensive evidence of his corporate involvement with the system. His assertions have not been tested in a court of law. This despite Remgro (former Rembrandt Group) being fingered in an apartheid bail-out scandal.

The letters between Anton Rupert and various National Party leaders such as PW Botha, all point to the fact that the Ruperts business partners included apartheid finance minister Owen Horward and titular head of the country, Nico Diedrichs. Far from advocating a ‘one-person, one vote’ democracy and majority rule, as Johann Rupert would like us to believe — which would have made him a champion of the cause and policies of the ANC and PAC — the truth is rather different.

The Rupert’s though critical of the policy of separate development, instead advocated a form of “Volkstaat” in the form of a Swiss Canton System, which would have kept large swathes of the country under white rule. The logical extension some might say to the policy of apartheid bantustans, and which would, in the Rupert’s view, have been maintained in comparison to the federalist position, a position which resulted in the system we have today.

In essence they had argued for a more refined version of the plans laid out by the infamous Rubicon speech of PW Botha, a proposal which would have maintained the boer republics of old, had it not been for the guarantees on property rights issued by the ANC.

This telling fact can be seen at pages 288 and 289 of Anton Rupert, a Biography by Ebbe Dommisse.

Johann has gone so far as to claim at the TRC and without any evidence, that he had the confidence of the BC leader Steve Biko, whilst he was head of student organisation SASO, but has shied away from quoting his own father on the subject of what was to be done about the situation. Significantly, JR dropped out of university to pursue a career in business and did not figure in university politics.

The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) on Monday said “Biko never even met Rupert and they have records of the Struggle icon, which will back this up.” Medialternatives has covered previous Rupert gaffes, such as his specious claims about being on the receiving end of Magnus Malan’s death squads.

To say the Ruperts were “openly critical of the apartheid system, both at home and abroad” as a current article on Wikipedia does, and that they have been lauded by President Thabo Mbeki for calling upon the Apartheid leadership to “do something brave” by creating a partnership with the black majority in the ’80s,” ignores the fact they were the financiers behind apartheid, and consequently demonstrated an absence of any tangible and practical support for democratic forces within and outside the country. Witness the sad fact of their proposed ‘canton model’, the self-same politics which produced the white enclave of Oranje.

One does not therefore, hear Johann Rupert taking any credit for this small and somewhat discredited achievement, and his submissions to the TRC  as a cherry-picker of facts, surely need to be revisited, if only to set the matter straight. If anything JR, like his father, favoured a gradualist approach to the problem of loss of white minority power, preferring a plan which would have maintained the status quo indefinitely had it not been for the momentum of history which resulted in the CODESA negotiations.

Bear in mind that it was Verwoerd, the architect of grand apartheid who explained apartheid as simply ‘good neighbourliness’, and who like Rupert snr, was more than prepared to accept that all human beings are equal, so long as race segregation and partition of power could remain in place. The ‘separate but equal’  madness of the multiracialist school of thought, which epitomized the regime’s many racist adherents.

Neither completely ‘verlig’ nor totally ‘verkrampt’, as the Afrikaans terms of the day for liberal and conservative suggest, Rupert is better cast as himself, in an obscene privileged position, pulling the National Party purse strings as it were, whilst maintaining his own ill-gotten advantage — all-important brokers behind the apartheid system. An unmatched aegis without which nothing would have happened at the negotiating table.

Far from being allies of opposition politics as some would have it, nor positioned like myself and many of my fellow South Africans, within the internal and external freedom struggle, the Ruperts, were in reality part and parcel of the apartheid state apparatus to the very end, negotiating a deal, which resulted in an interim constitution and various ‘sunset clauses’.

In this respect they benefited immensely as kingpins, financiers and powerbrokers from the super-exploitation of labour which continued past 1994, so too the sanctions busting era, which occurred alongside the dirty tricks campaigns against opposition leaders and the likes of Winnie Mandela. After their successes in global financial circles, to their own benefit and the benefit of the NP, the Ruperts bailed out apartheid’s banks to form Amalgamated Banks of SA, giving the lie to claims made about the lack of money available for such an endeavor.

The Rupert hagiography, refers to humble beginnings in the Tobacco industry. JR, is current chair of several JSE listed companies, including Richemont, Reinert, Remgro and Mediclinic. The truth behind the apparent success — the family succeeded in extracting capital garnered from the Rupert’s cosy relationship with the state, (State Capture 1.0) and with the help of Horward and Diederichs, achieving the truly remarkable — sequestering apartheid slush money in Switzerland, while granting an unfair advantage when it came to the post-democratic period.

This is quite the opposite of the strange claim that there were ‘no sweetheart deals’ with the regime.The Ruperts are named in the CIEX report commissioned in 1997 to investigate the theft of R26 billion of state money during apartheid.

In 2017 Medialternatives exposed a cartel active within South Africa’s media, the result of a cross-networked entity with Rupert at the helm, and with assets comprising investments in Remgro, Kagiso, Caxton and Naspers. The resulting corruption and influence peddling, included the rigging of a 2010 labour case involving Media24 — a company which had previously attempted to gag me from speaking out about racism, race profiling and de facto newsroom segregation at its community newspapers division.

The case remains unresolved.

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