Billionaire Johann Rupert changed telecoms in South Africa

South Africa’s richest man, Johann Rupert, transformed telecommunications in the country by investing in game-changing companies, including Vodacom, Seacom, DFA, and Vumatel.

The Forbes and Bloomberg billionaire indexes list Rupert as the richest South African, with an estimated net wealth of between R210 billion and R250 billion.

Most of Rupert’s fortune comes from Cie Financiere Richemont, one of the world’s largest luxury goods manufacturers and retailers.

Richemont owns leading global luxury brands like Cartier, Montblanc, Dunhill, Vacheron Constantin, Chloé, Panerai, and Delvaux.

He also has a large shareholding in Remgro, with investments in healthcare, finance, industrial companies, consumer products, media, and infrastructure,

Through Remgro, Rupert has stakes in Mediclinic, Outsurance, Heineken, eMedia, RCL Foods, TotalEnergies, FirstRand, Discovery, Momentum, and Metropolitan.

He further owns a big stake in Reinet, an investment vehicle created due to the restructuring of Richemont.

Reinet’s principal asset was the former Richemont’s interest in cigarette maker British American Tobacco.

Today, Reinet has interests in the Pension Insurance Corporation Group, British American Tobacco, private equity, specialist investment funds, and land developments.

Rupert is best-known for being South Africa’s richest person and has become the face of big business in the country.

However, it is important to understand his heritage. He is the eldest son of Anton Rupert, whose ventures in the 1940s are the foundation of the Rupert family’s wealth.

Anton Rupert established the tobacco company Voorbrand in the 1940s. Voorbrand became Rembrandt, which entered the South African cigarette and tobacco industry in 1948.

Rembrandt was a runaway success, and less than a decade after its founding, it was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

Johann Rupert entered the South African business world in 1979 when he started Rand Merchant Bank (RMB).

He served as RMB CEO until 1984, when RMB and Rand Consolidated Investments merged to form RMB Holdings. He left the company to join Rembrandt.

Fast forward forty years, and Rupert has built a global business empire. Today, Rupert is the chairman of Remgro, Richemont, and Reinet Investments.

Johann Rupert’s impact on South Africa’s telecommunications market

Johann Rupert
Johann Rupert

Johann Rupert, through his investment companies, had a big impact on the South African telecommunications market.

He funded many of South Africa’s transformative companies, including Vodacom, Seacom, DFA, and Vumatel.

Each of these companies changed the industries they operated for better and improved telecommunications services in South Africa.

For example, Vodacom pioneered mobile telecommunications and helped bring communications to millions of South Africans.

Seacom helped to break Telkom’s monopoly on undersea cables in South Africa and enabled affordable uncapped broadband in the country.

DFA revolutionised metro fibre deployments and popularised open-access telecommunication infrastructure, providing the foundation on which South Africa’s last-mile fibre industry is built.

Vumatel pioneered open-access fibre-to-the-home networks in South Africa and is credited with the fibre revolution over the last decade.

One common thread is that Johann Rupert’s investment companies, Remgro and Venfin, helped to grow these companies.

Here is a look at how he and his investment vehicles helped to change South Africa’s telecommunications market by investing in these companies.


Vodacom

Vodacom was founded in 1993 as a joint venture between Telkom, Vodafone, and Johann Rupert’s VenFin. In 1994, Vodacom launched the first GSM network in South Africa.

VenFin was a JSE-listed active private equity and venture capital investment company focusing on high-growth investment opportunities.

Vodacom was a perfect fit for VenFin, which invested in the mobile operator from the outset. This money was a valuable asset to the mobile operator when it launched.

Rupert’s VenFin helped Vodacom become the leading mobile operator in South Africa and helped bring communications services to millions of South Africans.

In 2006, Johann Rupert’s VenFin sold its 15% stake in Vodacom Group to Vodafone.


Seacom

Seacom, a privately owned and operated company, launched Africa’s first broadband submarine cable system along the East Coast in 2009.

It provided South African companies with fibre-optic pairs from Mtunzini in KwaZulu-Natal to Europe for much cheaper than what was available then.

It broke the Sat-3 monopoly, which was blamed for South Africa having some of the highest broadband prices in the world.

Seacom’s launch helped ISPs like Mweb and Internet Solutions launch affordable uncapped broadband services.

Johann Rupert’s Remgro has an effective economic interest of 30% in Seacom.


DFA

Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) started rolling out its fibre network in South African cities in October 2007. To date, it has installed 15,000 kilometres of fibre infrastructure nationwide.

DFA finances, builds, installs, manages, and maintains its dark fibre network to transmit metro and long-haul telecommunications traffic in South Africa.

Its open-access dark fibre business model enables South African companies to scale up their operations without spending large sums to expand their infrastructure.

Its clients include mobile operators, Internet service providers, large corporations, municipalities, education institutions, and government organisations.

DFA levelled the fibre infrastructure playing field and enabled increased competition in the South African telecommunications market.

Johann Rupert’s Remgro owns a majority stake in DFA through Maziv, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CIVH.


Vumatel

Vumatel was founded in 2014 by industry veterans Niel Schoeman and Johan Pretorius, opening the floodgates for fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) investment in South Africa.

Since then, Vumatel has connected homes to high-speed open-access fibre broadband across South Africa.

Vumatel also connects homes in lower-income areas through its Vuma Reach and Vuma Key services.

Since launching the business in 2014, Vumatel has sparked a fibre revolution in South Africa that brought millions of people fast and affordable broadband.

Johann Rupert’s Remgro owns a majority stake in Vumatel through Maziv, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CIVH.

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Billionaire Johann Rupert changed telecoms in South Africa