Anton Rupert Dies in his sleep
WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) South Africa is saddened to hear of the death last night (Wednesday, 18 January 2006) of its Founder and Patron, Dr Anton Rupert.
Tony Frost, Chief Executive of WWF in South Africa, says: “The world has lost one of its most dedicated conservationists, but one who has made an invaluable contribution that will benefit conservation for years to come.
“Many us have also lost a dear friend and a mentor, but one who will continue to inspire us with memories of his zeal, wisdom and kindness. When I last saw him a few weeks ago he was as fired-up about conservation as he was when I first met him.
“While we mourn the loss of a great South African, an astute entrepreneur and an icon in conservation, our thoughts and prayers are with the Rupert family at this time.”
Mr Frost notes that Dr Rupert was ahead of his time in much of his thinking on conservation and that he has done much to help secure environmental sustainability for the world and for South Africa.
In 1968, at the invitation of WWF Founder President Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, Dr Rupert founded the SA chapter of WWF, initially called the SA Nature Foundation. He served as the organisation's President until 2003.
In 1971, Dr Rupert launched the 1001: A nature Trust, a highly successful trust fund which saw 1000 men and women from over 50 countries around the world each contribute $10 000 to create a $10 million capital fund to cover WWF’s operating and conservation costs. In total 71 South Africans joined the 1001, placing SA fourth on the list of contributing countries.
During the 1990s Dr Rupert brought his philosophies together in one major initiative to create and support trans-border protected areas. This led to the founding of the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) in 1997, in a remarkable partnership between Dr Rupert, Dr Nelson Mandela and Prince Bernhard.
Dr Rupert also influenced conservation globally through his work in establishing and supporting the WWF Network. Specifically, he helped establish WWF national organisations in Canada, Malaysia and Australia. Through his work with the PPF, he has been dedicated to conservation in the whole southern African region and increasingly through PPF in Europe, South America and South East Asia.
It was due to a lifetime’s contribution to nature conservation that he was awarded the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award in 2003.
Johannesburg - Tributes flowed in on Thursday for business tycoon Dr Anton Rupert, who died in his sleep on Wednesday night.
President Thabo Mbeki said Dr Rupert played a pivotal role in the development of South Africa's industrial and commercial sectors.
In a message of sympathy Mbeki said he had learnt with sadness of the death of one of South Africa's legendary business stalwarts.
"Not only did he distinguish himself in the Afrikaner community, but also played a significant role in supporting and initiating significant transformation of South Africa's business.
"He was a pioneer in the establishment of South Africa's footprint in the global financial and commercial world. Not only will he be remembered for his business acumen, but also for his total devotion to nature and environmental conservation as shown by his immense contribution to the establishment of numerous transfrontier parks. A true philanthropist," said Mbeki.
The president conveyed his heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the Rupert family on the loss "of their beloved father and great South African".
"We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends," UDM leader Bantu Holomisa said, adding that the UDM is saddened by the news of the passing away of Dr Anton Rupert.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time," Holomisa said.
He met Rupert for the first time during his tenure as deputy minister of environmental affairs.
Rupert struck him as a man deeply committed to preserving the natural heritage of South Africa and the region.
"His concern with the heritage of the country extended to large scale funding and development initiatives in the environmental, education, art and music fields.
"We salute him as an entrepreneur who built an international business empire from humble beginnings and who did not hesitate to reinvest in worthy causes.
Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said Dr Rupert will be remembered for his passionate commitment to conservation.
"His global business empire will stand as a testament to his commercial skills, but his most lasting legacy to the world will be the fruits of his passionate commitment to conservation.
"We will ensure that his work continues, and that his memory endures in the growth and success of southern African parks and protected areas," he said.
Van Schalkwyk said apart from Rupert's role in the creation of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), he was instrumental in the establishment of the Peace Parks transfrontier conservation areas.
"He will always be celebrated as one of the greatest sons of South Africa, and his towering presence will be sorely missed.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Rupert family today as are our grateful thanks for having shared with us his energies and enthusiasm," he said.
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon said Dr Rupert was one of the great builders and architects of South Africa's many landscapes in business and industry, in the arts, nature and wildlife conservation.
In a statement Leon said: "In the best sense of the word, Dr Rupert was South Africa's renaissance man. He also had the presence and the courage during the darkest days of apartheid to see a non-racial future based on partnership.
"I regard it as a great privilege of my public and private life to have had the opportunity to have been exposed to his warmth and wisdom."
Leon extended his sympathy to Rupert's family. - Sapa/I-Net Bridge
Cape Town - Anton Rupert was a patriotic South African with a flair for business which helped put South Africa on the international stage, says Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
"His entrepreneurial spirit was combined in equal measure with a generous philanthropic disposition. He also made a magnificent contribution to the arts.
"Even greater was his determination to oppose apartheid in principle and aid all those, including myself, who were actively involved in the struggle (against) the inhumane system.
"I was proud to call Dr Rupert a friend. He was always a wonderful source of support and kindness," said Buthelezi.
Rupert was a great South African who made an enormous contribution to the economy, former president FW de Klerk said on Thursday.
"Dr Rupert was a truly great business leader. He made an enormous contribution to the South African economy and proved that South Africans could also compete successfully in the international arena.
"Dr Rupert was a great South African - who consistently based his approach to relationships and politics on his philosophy of partnership."
Rupert, 89, died in his sleep at his Stellenbosch home on Wednesday night.
De Klerk said Rupert was a visionary innovator who often set the pace in marketing and business - not only in South Africa but throughout the world.
Rupert had also made an enormous contribution to the arts and to the preservation of South Africa's cultural and architectural heritage.
"He was at the forefront of global efforts to conserve wildlife and our natural environment," de Klerk said.
"I found him inspiring and greatly valued the constant support that he gave to our efforts to bring about the constitutional transformation of South Africa."
The Solidarity trade union said Rupert would be remembered for his role in the economic prosperity of the country as a whole.
The union's general secretary, Flip Buys, said Rupert had through hard work and ingenuity, created prosperity in an impoverished community, not just for himself but for many people around him.
"He belonged to a generation of business leaders who helped their own communities to pull themselves out of the morass of poverty by their own bootstraps," Buys said.
TO APPRECIATE the late Anton Rupert, in all his grandeur and reserve, through the barrage of plaudits and pundits, through the uncomfortable prism of history and politics, requires a leap of imagination.
This is so partly because so much of his life and achievements are counterintuitive and seemingly contradictory. Rupert was a consummate businessman interested in, of all things, the environment. He was extremely rich, yet he lived modestly. Rupert belonged to that odd brand of philanthropist businessmen who believe in business, not so much as a money-making enterprise for its own sake, but as an opportunity to do good in general. Yet, the primary source of his wealth is a product now internationally reviled as an addictive health risk.
And so his life story will doubtless be told with due acknowledgement but with tempered praise according to SA’s modern political fractures.
But beyond his exemplary personal achievements, his enduring significance may well be vested not so much in his own past but in what his life and approach to business teaches the new generation of South African businesspeople. And yet this is the very area that is most open to misunderstanding.
Black business in SA stands now in the same relationship to white business as Afrikaner business stood to English business in the middle part of the last century.
Ebbe Dommisse’s excellent book on Rupert — Anton Rupert: A Biography — records the depressing statistic that “in the decade since the First National Economic Congress, turnover in Afrikaners’ business had almost doubled, but it still amounted to only 11% of total turnover”. How many times have you heard comparable statistics cited about black business in SA?
Rupert, especially in the early years of his business life, believed in “volkskapitalisme”. Black businessmen today often talk in the same terms about the need for “patriotic capital” or “stakeholder capitalism”.
The comparison is full of obvious flaws and surprising similarities. Rupert is so closely associated with Afrikaner politics and the rise of Afrikaans business that it is often assumed he built his empire with government help. Yet the evidence suggests otherwise. Rupert started his businesses not with government loans or a helping hand provided by English business, but from groups of investors he often sought out personally.
His success in business was so against the odds, often repeated in new areas, and so founded in his own innovations that you really have to be a cynic to deny it.
Rupert was a child of the depression, and his involvement in the tobacco business was the result of a study of business in general, and his discovery that the tobacco business was one of the most resilient during times of economic depression.
Although Rembrandt is often thought of as a cigarette company, it originally did not make cigarettes because it was not permitted to. When it did start making cigarettes, it faced a range of enormously powerful cigarettes companies.
Rupert’s success in the business was based on innovation that seems not unrelated to his lifelong concern with honour and elegance.
Dommisse notes that the innovations Rupert brought about in the cigarette business were to introduce a number of things that are now so commonplace it is hard to imagine a time when things were done differently. “He was never happy about ordinary filter-tipped cigarettes, sensing that smokers subconsciously felt they were being short-changed since the filter replaces some of the tobacco. So he came up with a brand new idea: a king-size filter-tipped cigarette.”
Rembrandt also introduced the “all seal” packet, a paper packet lined with aluminium; the first mentholated filter-tipped cigarettes in the world; the first “multifilter” king-size cigarettes; the first cigarettes with multivent super-porous paper; and, the world’s first luxury-length cigarette.
He was a massive risk-taker. In 1953, when cigarette company Rothmans’ decision to sell to Carreras hit the rocks, he pounced. He made Sydney Rothman a take-it-or-leave-it offer of £750000. There was only one snag, he had only £50000. The remainder was loaned to the company by Sanlam and a group of other companies. Dommisse notes that years later, when asked whether he ever bought a Lotto ticket, he said: “No, I have taken enough big risks in my life.”
It is obvious that in the early years at least, Rupert was very conscious of his leading role in Afrikaner business. In 1953 he remarked that the success Rembrandt had achieved had dispelled the illusion that Afrikaners could not compete with their English and Jewish compatriots in the business world. “It was essential that some one should break down the illusion.”
This role as trailblazer for Afrikaner business has echoes for black business in our times. But it is important to note the differences too. Right from the beginning, Rupert was against set-asides and quotas, arguing against politicians who would later become leading political figures. Academic Hermann Giliomee — who cited Rupert as one of the five great Afrikaners in his book, The Afrikaners — said during their discussions prior to the book’s publication that Rupert felt that if companies allowed themselves to be empowered by another body, they would always be subservient.
History may judge Rupert badly for one thing: his early association with the Afrikaner Broederbond. Yet the picture is less clear than it might seem. Rupert’s involvement in politics was arms-length and his role was as a critic and interlocutor rather than a gung ho cheerleader.
Yet it is strange how history repeats itself. The pressures on Rupert are comparable to those on black businessmen today. Rupert’s passing underlines how desperately SA needs a new-generation businessman like him: someone strong enough to keep off the political bandwagon, someone independent-minded enough to be critical as well as being supportive of his “volk”, someone shrewd enough to outfox mightier opposition, someone dignified enough to leave a legacy of modesty without humility.
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