ANC leader Ramaphosa and the tidy legacy of Lonrho's Rowland

Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC's newly elected president, arrives to take part in the fourth day of the party's annual national conference on December 19, 2017 in Johannesburg. Mr Ramaphosa is the majority stake owner of what remained of Lonhro empire in South Africa. PHOTO | MUJAHID SAFODIEN | AFP

What you need to know:

  • While for years he was the mask of Lonrho’s mines (renamed Lonmin), Mr Ramaphosa is now its face.
  • In South Africa, Mr Rowland was one of the secret financiers of African National Congress.
  • When Mr Ramaphosa wins the South African presidency — it will be hard for him to undo the apartheid era economic excesses.

Dollar millionaire Cyril Ramaphosa, the new African National Congress (ANC) president, is on the road to becoming South Africa’s president - perhaps.

Had British mining billionaire Roland “Tiny” Rowland — his business mentor — been alive today, he would have toasted to a super victory.

Mr Rowland always moulded his trusted lieutenants in his own lavish image.

When he died in 1998, Mr Rowland was eulogised as “secretive, ruthless and contemptuous of anything that smacked of Establishment hypocrisy”.

In Tom Bower’s biography, Mr Rowland is said to have made a remark aboard one of his Gulfstream Jets as he looked down on vast lands in Africa:

“These African leaders are so corrupt that there’s not a single one of them whom I could not buy.”

In all the countries that his company Lonrho operated, Mr Rowland knew how to connect business with political power.

Today, Mr Ramaphosa is the majority stake owner of what remained of Lonrho empire in South Africa — the world’s third largest platinum mine in Highveld platinum belt.

While for years he was the mask of Lonrho's mines (renamed Lonmin), Mr Ramaphosa is now its face.

Lonmin was the scene of Marikana massacre of August 2012 when police shot at striking mine workers.

It was later found that it was Ramaphosa who in a chain of emails released to the Farlam inquiry who called for the police to move in.

He wrote: “The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such...”


In his tenure, Mr Rowland left a legacy in Lonrho where the company balanced both the political and business interests by seeking services of those close to the political elite.

In Kenya, and when he reigned in wealth and power, Mr Rowland’s Lonrho empire was always at the hands of those close to State House.

In the Jomo Kenyatta years, he had picked Udi Gecaga, Kenyatta’s son-in-law, to manage his local interests.

But as soon as Kenyatta died in 1978, Mr Rowland quickly fired Mr Gecaga, easily forgetting that this was the man who once saved him from a boardroom coup in London in 1973 led by Sir Basil Smallpeice, administrative adviser to the Royal Household, and Nicholas Elliott, the former head of M16.

He even went further to disparage Mr Gecaga describing his tenure as “a mistake I truly regret”.


In South Africa, Mr Rowland was one of the secret financiers of African National Congress and when Oliver Tambo had a heart attack on August 12, 1989, a Lonrho jet was sent to take him to London for treatment.

The Executive Intelligence Review later reported that in 1992, a year before he was forced out as CEO, Mr Rowland purchased a mansion in the Sandhurst section of Sandton, a posh Johannesburg suburb, for Cyril Ramaphosa, then ANC’s secretary general.

When he died of cancer in 1998, Nelson Mandela described him as “a long-standing friend in the struggle against apartheid”.

But he was a double-dealer whose efforts on behalf of the British establishment was to make sure that ANC did not disrupt or nationalise the apartheid economic systems including the mines and farms.

But to understand how Mr Rowland and Lonrho worked, let us bring the story closer home.

After Mr Gecaga was forced out, Mr Rowland picked President Moi’s homeboy, Mark Too, who was known as Bwana Dawa because he could help fix any problem.

Mr Rowland did not know Mark Too, though he was an employee in Lonrho's Uasin Gishu-based East African Tanning and Extract Company (EATEC).

On the day they met, Mr Rowland was at the Norfolk wondering who could connect him to President Moi.

Somebody pointed to Mark Too who made the call and Mr Rowland got an appointment.

For that call — and no other qualification — he became Lonrho's point man in Kenya.

Apparently, Mr Too, a man who could leave Moi in stitches, was the only person who was allowed to see President Moi after six o’clock in the evening or “even after midnight” - according to David Kimaiyo, then head of Presidential Escort.

In firing Mr Gecaga, and by picking Mr Too, the mining baron hoped to have direct contact to the political elite.

And that is why he donated 1,000 acres for the construction of Moi University and managed to bring in British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to sponsor the building of the university library, which is named after her.

There was a reason for this. Mr Rowland — on behalf of Thatcher’s government — was in covert business in southern Africa by delivering arms to the apartheid regime, and being the contact person for National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) rebels in Angola - according to Hennie van Vuuren’s new book Apartheid, Guns and Money: A Tale of Profit.


He would always arrange international travel for Unita rebels and then transfer them back to their bolt-holes in Cuango Valley where illicit mining of diamond had become the lifeline of both guerrillas and some international wheeler dealers.

Mr Rowland also donated the land on which Moi International Airport is built, albeit with some controversy.

While this land was a donation to “the President”, the government sent its valuer to value it.

He came up with a figure of Sh150 million. Parliament was later told that Lonrho sent another valuer who gave a figure of Sh310 million.

The next was a circus because the government opted to purchase the gift from “the President” and it went with Lonrho's figure — an illegality since the government does not rely on private valuers.


While it paid Sh200 million for the land, the government decided to offset the balance by giving Tiny Rowland the Uplands Bacon Factory land in Kiambu, which was owned by a private organisation — Uplands Pigs Producers Association. The rest is a story for another day.

But when Mark Too fell out with President Moi, he was tossed around like a ball and finally, he was forced to resign by the new Lonrho chief executive, Mr Keith Atkinson, who said that Mr Too left due to “pressure of work”. It was a lie.

Mr Rowland was also the king of dirty games, too.

When he fell out with Moi, his Observer newspaper ran a string of articles exposing corruption and political assassinations in Kenya under Moi, especially that of Dr Robert Ouko.

Again, when the British government once decided to investigate the affairs of Lonrho, the investigators, Allan Heyman and Sir William Slimmings, reported in a 1000-page dossier that the company was guilty of “bribery, larceny, sanctions busting, and corruption”, which characterised the years that Mr Rowland was in charge.

Interestingly, it was reported that most copies of this report, which was printed in Her Majesty’s letterhead, were instantly purchased by Lonrho and most people did not manage to get to know its content; a series of payments from Mr Rowland’s private accounts disguised as “special payments” and which the investigators said they were bribes.

As the Independent newspaper once wrote: “He was a master at seducing the British establishment.

"By a mixture of charm and financial inducements he persuaded a parade of well-connected, if second-rank, politicians on to Lonrho’s board, from Duncan Sandys to Sir Edward du Cann.”

That is the man who bankrolled some ANC bigwigs with fast cars, land, cash and houses.

Even during apartheid years, ANC leader Oliver Tambo — who was in exile for over 30 years — had unrestricted use to the Lonrho jet.

With the end of apartheid, the new ANC government came up with a Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which allowed multinationals operating there to give a slice of their stake to Africans.

In 1994, Ramaphosa had just lost out to Thabo Mbeki for the position of ANC deputy president.

According to Anthony Butler’s biography, Ramaphosa sulked and declined President Nelson Mandela’s offer to be foreign minister.

He also did not attend Mandela’s inauguration on May 10, 1994.

He left to join the likes of Dr Nthato Motlana, Mandela’s doctor, to form the black-owned companies, which were to line up and get shares in the multinational corporations – for a song.

These companies were owned by the elites within ANC and that is how the majority were short-charged in South Africa.
Critics have ever since dismissed this policy as “a token corporate blackwash” and said that it only enriched a few individuals at the expense of majority.

And that explains the kind of problems the ANC has been having with Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which has been promising to scrap the programme.

The second notable critic is retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said BEE only serves a few black elite and left millions in “dehumanising poverty”.

And the third is former President Thabo Mbeki’s brother, Moeletsi Mbeki, who says BEE is “a device for white-dominated corporations to build bridges with the ANC elite … It doesn’t create wealth or add value to the economy”.

Mr Moeletsi’s main concern is that a “new class of rich blacks, many of them ANC politicians and former politicians, has emerged in South Africa whose interests are virtually indistinguishable from those of the old economic oligarchy…”

The jury is still out on whether BEE or what the South Africans now call Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBEE) has achieved its aims among the poor South Africans or whether it perpetuates “institutionalised corruption” as Mr Moeletsi puts it.

To take advantage of this state policy (forget the ANC politics), Mr Ramaphosa first joined New Africa Investment Limited (NAIL), which was brokering deals, and had an investment banking company called Pleiade Investment Corporation.

He later formed his own Shanduka Resources, which became the BEE partner of Lonmin — the new name for Lonhro’s mining unit.

For a man who in 1982 was only a secretary general for 300,000-strong National Union of Mine Workers (NUM), his rise into wealth is also the story of South Africa’s black elite.

It is also the story of many other politicos in Africa.

To cut a long story short, in 2010, Mr Ramaphosa joined the board of Lonmin as a non-executive director after his Shanduka Resources took majority control by owning 50.03 per cent in R2.8 billion (Sh280 billion) transaction.

Those who have gone through the works of Prof Steven Langdon on how multinationals behave in Africa, will quickly place Mr Ramaphosa within the league of “African insiders” who are given shares by the multinational corporations (MNCs) in return for political and business support.

It is a known practice among the MNCs and has been prevalent since the 1960s.

For instance, when the American tyre giant, Firestone, was negotiating to set up a factory in Nairobi and had their first meeting with Mr Mbiyu Koinange, then a powerful minister of State, they only later got their licence after they agreed to give the government some control over appointment of distributors and the appointment of some of the directors and managers.

And that was the only reason that they managed to beat Dunlop, which was promising lower priced tyres.

What followed next was a ban on all imported tyres and only Firestone East Africa (1969) limited had that monopoly. Several key politicians became tyre distributors too.

Also, as Prof Peter Anyang Nyong’o once wrote, these MNC’s took advantage of the africanisation policy as a form of corrupting government officials with key appointments as directors and distributors.

While most of these are informal arrangements — it led to the creation of African bourgeoisie and a rather awkward corporate capture.

These individuals were always on call to defend the policies of companies where they had interest in.

When Mr Ramaphosa wins the South African presidency — it will be hard for him to undo the apartheid era economic excesses.

He also loves Uganda’s long-horned Ankole cows, which he bought from President Museveni for his Ntaba Nyoni.

And since they could not be shipped directly to South Africa, they are usually quarantined at Ol Pejeta where South Africa’s Embryo Plus runs an embryo quarantine station for Boran cows.


Ramaphosa’s auctions are elitist and an Ankole bull can fetch as much as Sh6.4 million.

Of late, he has become a game breeder too — joining the ranks of South Africa’s elite who dominate that market.

When he bid to buy a buffalo for Sh195 million it exposed the kind of money he had.

“It was a mistake. I regret it. It was even a mistake to put my hand to do so,” he said in an apology.

But the damage had already been done. Although the bid was not successful and the buffalo was bought by Boet Troskie, a film and real estate tycoon, what followed was a litany of accusation from the radical left on Ramaphosa’s wealth.

Mr Malema, perhaps the most radical voice in South Africa, described Ramaphosa as a “puppet of white business and foreigners”.

“Every mine has a politician inside. They [whites] give them money every month, they call it shares.

"But it is a protection fee to protect whites against the workers,” Malema said.

[email protected] @johnkamau1