Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|January 26, 2021|5 Minutes|In Billionaire Watch

Billionaire Watch

Musk, Spuds and a shy billionaire.

Many Africans commented this month on the short reign of South African-born Elon Musk, as the world’s richest man.

Musk, born and raised in the suburbs of Pretoria, reached a net worth of around $190 billion at the turn of the year, according to Forbes, overtaking Amazon king Jeff Bezos.

Yet, a tumble in the shares of Tesla, Musk’s prized electric cars company, knocked $13.5 billion of Musk’s net worth.

Musk went to Bryanston High School, in Johannesburg, as well as the elite Pretoria Boys High School. It wasn’t a happy time for him as the bullies beat up the shy and awkward future billionaire – the man himself described his school days as “torture.” He left South Africa in his teens to join his mother in Canada and could be forgiven for not looking back.

There a ripple of celebration about the richest man in the world tag from some South Africans. There was celebration among some Africans – the world’s richest dreamer was born on the continent; one in the eye for Afro-abusers like former US president Donald Trump.

Yet a column in the Mail and Guardian is not so supportive.

“Amid mass poverty and precarity, why do we tolerate and even eagerly rejoice in excessive wealth? Is this contrast — of billions destitute and a few ridiculously rich — not morally absurd?” it says.

“The ballooning of the billionaire class is not cause for celebration. The empires of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates, alongside the prosperity of Patrice Motsepe and the Oppenheimer family, are signs of an authoritarian impulse in neoliberal capitalism. A critique of the mega-rich is not veiled jealousy or a condemnation of individuals. It is a defence of democracy and an unmasking of power.”

Entrepreneurs can’t please everyone all of the time, yet one billionaire entrepreneur in Uganda is to please more of the people more of the time by giving them a chance to work and put money in their pockets.

This is the aim of multi-millionaire Tom Mugenga – who made his fortune out of logistics – who celebrated the progress of one of his pet projects with a cold beer in the heat of a Kampala night.  The son of an Anglican clergyman comes from the impoverished district of Kisomo, to the south of Uganda, where he was born-and-bred.

The idea was to create an export industry for French fries from a part of Uganda where subsistence farmers grow potatoes.

The project got off to a stuttering start and three years ago the factory shut for a lack of capital.

Mugenga’s dream of 5,000 farmers growing potatoes and 200 working in the factory is coming to fruition. The Netherlands government supported private investors in the potato factory and the wheels are turning once again.

And finally, sad news this month as one of continent’s shyest billionaires died in Newport, California, aged 83 after a lifetime working with steel and giving money to charity.

South African billionaire Eric Samson, who stayed out of the limelight and seldom gave interviews,  was born in Cape Town in 1938 and went to work at his father’s steel fencing business. He transformed the family business into Macsteel Africa’s biggest manufacturer, merchandiser and deliverer of steel reckoned to be worth, alone, more than a billion dollars.

Samson gave a large slice of his fortune to charity and was a huge donor behind the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital in Johannesburg.

Top 5 Richest Men In South Africa


Rank Name Industries Net Worth (Dollars) Net Worth (Rands)
1 Johann Rupert Luxury watches and investments $8.02 billion R117.5 billion
2 Nicky Oppenheimer Mining and investments $7.15 billion R104.8 billion
3 Patrice Motsepe Mining $2.9 billion R42.5 billion
4 Koos Bekker Entertainment (Naspers chair) $2.8 billion R41 billion
5 Michiel le Roux Finance (Capitec founder) $1.2 billion R17.6 billion

(Source: Bloomberg)