South Africa’s richest people recover some lockdown losses

South Africa’s richest people have seen their fortunes recover over the last month – but many are still worse off than before the global coronavirus pandemic hit home, forcing the country into a nine-week high level lockdown.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that the whole of South Africa will be moving a lockdown level 3 from 1 June 2020, which will bring with it eased restrictions for individuals, and vitally, more room to open up the economy and get the country productive again.

The previous nine weeks have seen many industries in the country effectively shut down, with five weeks of only essential services being allowed to operate, followed by four weeks of only select industries being allowed to function with limited capacity.

This lockdown has done a number on businesses, which have had to contend with a loss of income, increased costs to keep employees safe from the virus, or at worst, facing closure or liquidation.

This, in turn, has done untold damage to the wider economy, which for South Africa was not in a healthy position to begin with.

According to projections from various economists and financial bodies (including the Reserve Bank), South African now faces a year of recession, with a GDP decline expected anywhere between 7% and 16% for the year.

This will be felt at all levels, across all social classes and levels of wealth.


According to Forbes, the globe’s super rich are not immune to the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on markets and economies.

“As the pandemic tightened its grip on Europe and America, global equity markets imploded, tanking many fortunes,” it said. “When we finalised (the 2020 Billionaire) list, Forbes counted 2,095 billionaires – 58 fewer than a year ago and 226 fewer than just 12 days earlier (March), when we initially calculated the 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 slipped off the list having seen his 2019 estimated net worth of $1.2 billion fall below the billion-dollar mark.

The table below shows how the lockdown initially affected billionaire wealth in South Africa, with data from before the lockdown took effect (early March) and when Forbes published its official list in April.

Billionaire March April Loss %
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

After the initial impact on the collective net worth of South Africa’s four listed billionaires (which saw about $2 billion wiped), markets have staged an uneasy recovery, which has seen about half the damage (ie, $1 billion) reversed.

However, South Africa’s billionaires are still largely counting losses from the situation – particularly luxury goods tycoon Johann Rupert, who has only regained around $100 million from the $1 billion he lost in his net worth between March and April.

Naspers chair, Koos Bekker, stands out however, with his wealth initially declining by $300 million, but now sits $400 million higher – a net gain of $100 million over the last two months.

The table below outlines how billionaire wealth has changed since Forbes published its ranking in April.

Billionaire April May Gain %
Patrice Motsepe $1.4 billion $1.8 billion ~$400 million +28.6%
Koos Bekker $2.0 billion $2.4 billion ~$400 million +20.0%
Johann Rupert $4.6 billion $4.7 billion ~$100 million +2.2%
Nicky Oppenheimer $7.4 billion $7.5 billion ~$100 million +1.4%
Total lost ~$1.0 billion

Uncertainty ahead

Forbes’ daily tracking of billionaire wealth is tied to market conditions – and the public holdings of the individuals listed – thus making it difficult to call the movements monetary gains or losses.

A gain or loss would only be cemented if the aforementioned billionaires bought or sold their respective holdings at any given point.

However, persistent market conditions do give insight into how good or bad things look for South Africa’s richest people.

Rupert wealth is tied up in various investments, most notably in Remgro and Swiss luxury goods firm Compagnie Financiere Richemont  – the latter of which saw net profit for the year to the end of March fall by 67%, even before counting the effects of global lockdowns.

Rupert, speaking as chairman of the group, said that while predicting markets is difficult, he is certain that the impact of the coronavirus will be felt.

“The closures of our internal and external points of sales, changing attitudes towards consumption and subdued consumer sentiment will weigh on this year’s results,” he said.

This trend is not only limited to the luxury goods market, but to most sectors, with economists predicting a global recession in 2020, followed by a slow recovery.

The International Monetary Fund projects global growth in 2020 to fall to -3%. This is a downgrade of 6.3 percentage points from January 2020, a major revision over a very short period.

“Assuming the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and that policy actions taken around the world are effective in preventing widespread firm bankruptcies, extended job losses, and system-wide financial strains, we project global growth in 2021 to rebound to 5.8%,” it said.

Read: A snapshot of the coronavirus looking at 1% of South Africa’s population

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South Africa’s richest people recover some lockdown losses