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The Brothers Who Bought South Africa

The continent’s most important economy now appears to function for the benefit of one powerful family.
A protester in Pretoria.

A protester in Pretoria.

Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images

The beginning of the end of Nhlanhla Nene’s political career came on a warm Monday morning. He was catching up on email in his office in Pretoria’s neoclassical Old Reserve Bank building, where he was serving as South Africa’s minister of finance, when his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, asked for an urgent meeting. Jonas had been desperate to speak to his boss for days, but what he wanted to tell Nene was far too sensitive to discuss by phone.

Nene, a veteran trade union activist, has heavily lidded eyes, the build of a retired rugby player, and a preternatural calm. He suggested to Jonas that they step onto an adjoining balcony, the better to avoid any listening devices. There, Jonas began his tale.