How the coronavirus crisis has hit South Africa’s richest people

While one South African has lost his dollar-billionaire status, according to the annual Forbes billionaire ranking for 2020 – all of the country’s billionaires, and indeed the super wealthy globally, have suffered financially from the global coronavirus pandemic.

According to Forbes, it originally compiled its annual list of global billionaires in early March. Markets however, collapsed, forcing the group to recalculate the wealth of the world’s super rich by the middle of the month, with very different results.

Overall, billionaires saw their combined net worths decline by $700 billion compared to 2019’s ranking.

“The richest people on Earth are not immune to the coronavirus. As the pandemic tightened its grip on Europe and America, global equity markets imploded, tanking many fortunes,” Forbes said.

“As of March 18, when we finalised this list, Forbes counted 2,095 billionaires, 58 fewer than a year ago and 226 fewer than just 12 days earlier, when we initially calculated these net worths.”

South Africa’s billionaires were not immune, either.

In 2019, Forbes ranked five South Africans among global billionaires – in 2020, only four remain. Capitec co-founder Michiel le Roux has slipped off the list having seen his 2019 estimated net worth of $1.2 billion fall below the billion-dollar mark.

Other South African billionaires have been able to weather the storm somewhat, but are still financially worse off than a year ago. Combined, South Africa’s richest people have seen their fortunes shrink by $2 billion (R37 billion) over the last year.

Diamond magnate Nicky Oppenheimer is the richest man in the country, with a net worth of $7.4 billion – down from $7.6 billion recorded in 2019.

Luxury goods tycoon, Johann Rupert, who was hardest hit over the last year, remains in second place, with a net worth of $4.6 billion – despite the loss of $1 billion over the last 12 months.

Koos Bekker and Patrice Motsepe follow, with net worths of $2 billion and $1.4 billion, respectively, also down from last year.

The table below outlines how South Africa’s billionaires have fared:

Billionaire 2019 2020 Decrease %
Johann Rupert $5.6 billion $4.6 billion ~$1 000 million -17.9%
Patrice Motsepe $1.9 billion $1.4 billion ~$500 million -26.3%
Koos Bekker $2.3 billion $2.0 billion ~$300 million -13.0%
Nicky Oppenheimer $7.6 billion $7.4 billion ~$200 million -2.6%
Total lost ~$2.0 billion

It might seem out of touch to focus on billionaire wealth at a time when countries are being beaten down by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many governments to shut down entire industries through national lockdowns.

In South Africa, however, and despite losing personal wealth over this extraordinary time, the listed billionaires have all pledged donations and loans to help struggling businesses as well as general aid..

Collectively, South Africa’s billionaires and their associated businesses have offered up R5.5 billion in donations and business funding during the crisis.

The Oppenheimer family has put forward R2 billion in the form of a R1 billion donation to the country’s Solidarity Trust, and a R1 billion SME fund that will loan money to businesses hit by the coronavirus lockdown, interest-free for 5 years.

The Ruperts, too, have put down R1 billion in funding for businesses, through a trust which is already oversubscribed.

Patrice Motsepe and his associated businesses have also made R1 billion available to assist healthcare workers and vulnerable communities – while Naspers (of which Koos Bekker holds significant interest) has donated R500 million to the Solidarity Trust, and will spend R1 billion procuring medical supplies in the fight against the virus.


Read: Johann Rupert’s R1 billion coronavirus fund hits capacity in three days

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How the coronavirus crisis has hit South Africa’s richest people