The X-million-dollar question: How rich is Mamphela?

Tongues wagged this week following the public claim of Mamphela Ramphele, the founder-leader of political party Agang, that she is worth R55-million — an amount contradicted by Forbes magazine, which put her wealth in 2011 at more than $50-million.

But, while the publication has defended its calculations and Agang’s spokesperson has said he cannot explain the difference, little has been made of the fact that the Forbes article made a vague assertion rather than providing a specific breakdown, or that in 2009 the Sunday Times Rich List reported a completely different figure, of R93-million.

Ramphele disclosed last Friday that her personal wealth amounted to R55 436 063 and challenged President Jacob Zuma to disclose his assets.

The amount was modest compared with that of fellow businessmen-turned-politician Tokyo Sexwale, who disclosed in 2009 that his wealth was R2-billion, and Cyril Ramaphosa, whose net worth has been estimated at more than R6-billion.

In the public interest that was generated after Ramphele’s disclosure, a two-year-old Forbes article surfaced asserting that the former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor and managing director of the World Bank was worth roughly 10 times the amount she had claimed.

The 2011 article listed Ramphele as one of nine women on the continent worth more than $50-million. The article, titled “Africa’s richest women”, made no mention of how her wealth was calculated or where the author had sourced the information.

Forbes Africa editor Chris Bishop has defended the figure. “It’s done on shareholding, it’s done on equity, it’s done on debt, it’s done on cash and it’s also done on possession,” Eyewitness News reported him as saying.

However, circumstances may have altered her current financial position, said Bishop. “This assessment was made more than two years ago; things may have changed since then,” he said.

If the figure was incorrect, Ramphele had two years to raise it, said Bishop. “She never contacted us to dispute [it].”

Enter a third party: South African research organisation Who Owns Whom. Based on information provided by the company to the Sunday Times in 2009, Ramphele was featured on the publication’s Rich List with the claim that she was worth R93-million.

Unlike Forbes, the company provided the Mail & Guardian with a detailed explanation of the calculation and copies of the backup documents.

“The figure of R93-million published in 2009 was calculated based on Dr Ramphele’s holdings of Mpilo Investments through Circle Capital Ventures [an investment company founded by Ramphele] through the Ramphele Family Trust, as disclosed in the 2008 and 2009 [Mediclinic] Annual Reports,” said Carla Mould, chief operations officer for Who Owns Whom.

“In 2010 and beyond, although Mpilo continued its stake in Mediclinic, there was no note disclosing an indirect holding in Mpilo by Dr Ramphele, and also it was noted in 2010 that she had resigned as chairperson and director of Circle Capital. We were unable to establish whether these shares were disposed of, but we opted to err on the side of caution and exclude these from our list.”

At the time of going to press, Agang had not responded to the M&G’s request for confirmation that the 2009 valuation of R93-million was correct. If it was, what has happened to the other R38-million over the past four years? Ramphele has yet to clarify.

It appears Ramphele’s quest for transparency has been clouded by intrigue.

The issue has become one of lost millions: but is it a R38-million question or a R445-million one?

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Thalia Holmes
Thalia Holmes

Thalia is a freelance business reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Swaziland and lived in the US before returning to South Africa.

She got a cum laude degree in marketing and followed it with another in English literature and psychology before further confusing things by becoming a black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) consultant.

After spending five years hearing the surprised exclamation, "But you're white!", she decided to pursue her latent passion for journalism, and joined the M&G in 2012. 

The next year, she won the Brandhouse Journalist of the Year Award, the Brandhouse Best Online Award and was chosen as one of five finalists from Africa for the German Media Development Award. In 2014, she and a colleague won the Standard Bank Sivukile Multimedia Award. 

She now writes and edits for various publications, but her heart still belongs to the M&G.     

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