South Africa’s 10 greatest business people of all time

New World Wealth has released its list of the top 10 business people in South Africa’s history – showing which business leaders have had the greatest impact on the country, and the world.

The criteria used to determine the top 10 looked at how the listed individuals influenced the country and the international business community, innovated in their field, created jobs, and overcame challenges and obstacles.

Sol Kerzner, the hotel mogul behind the world-famous Sun City, was ranked as the country’s top businessman of all time. Kerzner’s top placing was not only for building the country’s most iconic hotels and resorts, but for the impact they have had on surrounding areas – effectively putting them on the map.

Kerzner has recently come out of retirement to help his daughter develop prime property in Llandudno in the Western Cape.

Other business people ranked include ‘legacy’ billionaires such as the late Anton Rupert and as well as the late Harry Oppenheimer – with self-made billionaire Patrice Motsepe also featuring.

Pam Golding, founder of Pam Golding property group is the only woman listed in the top 10, ranked 5th overall for building the biggest real estate group in the country.

Here are the 10 most successful business people in South Africa of all time.

1. Sol Kerzner

Sol Kerzner’s impact on South Africa has been massive. Most of the top luxury hotels and resorts in the country were built by him. Some notables include: Sun City, the Lost City, Sandton Sun, the Beverley Hills Hotel, the Elangeni and the Beacon Island Hotel.

What is interesting about these hotels is not so much their success, but rather the impact they have had on the surrounding areas.

Then there is of course Sun City. The resort, which was built by Sol Kerzner in 1979, set the benchmark for casino and golf resorts worldwide. The resort includes the spectacular Lost City, which was added in the 1990s.

Since his success in South Africa, Sol Kerzner has built several successful hotels worldwide including: Atlantis Bahamas, Atlantis Dubai, the One & Only Mexico, the One & Only Australia, the One & Only Mauritius and the One & Only Bahamas.

2. Donald Gordon 

As the founder of Liberty Life, Donald Gordon will always be remembered for what surely remains his greatest achievement – the shopping centre that set the benchmark for luxury and class worldwide.

The shopping centre that the richest city in Africa is now built around the monolith, Sandton City.

3. Richard Maponya

Despite the many obstacles of the Apartheid government, Richard Maponya became a beacon of hope to the people of Soweto, starting several successful business in the area (predominantly in the retail and property space).

He recently helped to develop Maponya Mall, which is one of the largest shopping centers in the country.

4. Harry Oppenheimer

Harry Oppenheimer led South Africa’s two biggest companies (De Beers and Anglo America) through their most successful years and created more jobs than any other South African businessman in history.

Harry Oppenheimer and his wife Bridget were also keen horse breeders. They bred Horse Chestnut, which is arguably the most exceptional race horse ever bred in South Africa. Chestnut was known for winning races by large margins – he won the J&B Met by over 8 lengths.

5. Pam Golding

Pam Golding formed Pam Golding Properties in 1976 and turned it into the largest estate agency in the country. Her company has since gone onto transform the luxury residential landscape in South Africa, especially in Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard.

6. Adrian Gore

Adrian Gore founded Discovery Health in 1992. His company went on to change the health insurance space in SA forever with innovative products such as Vitality. Many insurance companies overseas have now begun to copy the Discovery model and Discovery themselves have taken their products abroad with good success.

At the end of 2015, Gore featured at no. 12 on the Sunday Times list of wealthiest businessmen, with R7.2 billion fortune due to his holding in the financial services firm.

7. Nthato Motlana

Dr. Nthato Motlana is ‘the renaissance man’ of South Africa, with successful careers in politics, medicine and business. He was the founder of NAIL and a mentor to many of the top business leaders in South Africa today. He is considered by many to be the father of economic empowerment in South Africa.

8. Patrice Motsepe

After a successful career as a lawyer at Bowman Gilfillan, Motsepe founded ARM (African Rainbow Minerals) in 1997 and turned it into one of the largest mining and mineral groups in the world.

He has since diversified into a number of other key sectors. Motsepe is ranked as South Africa’s fifth richest person, with a fortune exceeding R1.3 billion in 2017.

In December he invested in a $1-billion fund as part of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, launched by Bill Gates.

9. Anton Rupert 

Dr. Anton Rupert founded the Rembrandt Group in the 1940s. After initially focusing on the tobacco industry (Peter Stuyvesant), his company soon moved into industrials and luxury goods. Rembrandt has since been split into Remgro (an investment company with financial, mining and industrial interests) and Richemont (a Swiss-based luxury goods group).

Rupert was also a founding member of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) in the 1960s. His son Johan has since turned Richemont into one of the largest luxury goods companies in the world.

10. Douw Steyn

Douw Steyn founded Auto General Insurance in 1985 and turned it into one of the largest insurance companies in South Africa. He has since started similarly successful businesses in the UK (Compare the Market, Budget Insurance).

He recently helped to develop Steyn City in Johannesburg, which is one of the most impressive residential estates in the world.

Read: These are the richest billionaires in South Africa in 2017

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Follow us


South Africa’s 10 greatest business people of all time