Wiese, Worth $7 Billion, Helps S. Africans Own Land for $156

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Billionare Businessman Christo Wiese
Billionare businessman Christo Wiese, said, “the terrible irony is that after 21 years of post-apartheid rule not a heck of a lot has been done in this respect.” Photographer: Hetty Zantman/Financial Mail/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Christo Wiese, who led a $1 billion takeover this month, says he’s also focused on helping millions of South Africans make a more modest purchase: The 1,850 rand ($156) they need to secure the title to the land on which they live.

Wiese, South Africa’s fourth-richest man with a personal fortune of $7 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, says that more than two decades after the country’s first democratic elections millions of South Africa’s citizens have no legal right to their dwellings.

“The terrible irony is that after 21 years of post-apartheid rule not a heck of a lot has been done in this respect,” the 73-year-old said by phone from Cape Town last week. “I’m hoping that we can get to the objective of having every house being entitled. Be it a modest shack or a little home in a township.”

South Africa has about a million households where the residents don’t own the dwelling, according to the country’s Statistics agency. That’s a relic of apartheid where many blacks were deprived of land tenure and has made it difficult for the country’s poorest to pass on their property to their children or to raise money to improve their houses or start businesses.

The white minority government passed The Natives Land Act in 1913, which prevented Africans owning or renting land in over 90 percent of South Africa, according to independent research website SAHistory.org.za. The act sought to racially and spatially separate the country and remained a cornerstone for further segregationist policies under apartheid rule.

‘My House’

Wiese owns the 4,000 hectare (9,884-acre) Lourensford Wine Estate that’s a 45-minute drive east from Cape Town. He owns 35 percent of Brait SE, which bought 80 percent of U.K. gym chain Virgin Active for 682 million pounds ($1 billion) this month. That was funded by selling his discount retailer Pepkor Holdings Ltd. to Steinhoff International Holdings Ltd. for $5.7 billion, the biggest deal in South Africa for a decade.

Brait gained as much as 0.9 percent and was up 0.1 percent to 90.10 rand as of 9:45 a.m. in Johannesburg. Wiese’s net worth has increased 17 percent, or $1 billion, so far this year, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index

He is a sponsor of the Free Market Foundation, which is working with First National Bank to give people land tenure, and gave more than 100 title deeds to residents of Ngwathe, a municipality in South Africa’s Free State Province, according to the Foundation’s website.

The foundation’s Khaya Lam land reform project seeks to give freehold and title deeds for all municipal-owned rental homes from the apartheid-era to the registered occupants. The phrase translates roughly as “My House” in Zulu and Xhosa, which are two of South Africa’s 11 official languages.

Inherited Home

Title deeds will enable South Africans to access finance to develop their properties or move into larger homes, according to Simphiwe Madikizela, a managing executive for housing finance for Johannesburg-based FNB.

“They can now be able to leverage the property, to be able to trade with the property, to be able to access funds,” Wiese said by phone on April 29th. “They can sell this house now because they’ve got title deed, it’s got value, they can buy something bigger or they can remain where they are.”

FNB, which is the retail banking unit of FirstRand Ltd., has funded the transfer of around 300 title deeds so far, Madikizela said.

“When we handed out these title deeds in the Free State last week there was a lady who was close to her nineties who burst into tears,” Wiese, who declined to specify how much he donates, said. “She said she’s nearing the end of her life but at least she now knows that if she dies, her children will not be out on the street.”

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