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Black billionaire in South Africa pledges to give away half his fortune

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A version of this post originally appeared on the blog, "Africa in Transition." The views expressed are the author's own.

On Jan. 30, 2013, South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe pledged to give half of the income generated by his family assets to charity. The country's ruling African National Congress (ANC) issued a press release congratulating Motsepe.

“This unprecedented act of good will in South Africa gives expression to our view of the patriotic bourgeoisie whose outlook reflects a deep understanding of development challenges and limitations facing South Africa and its people.”

“Patriotic bourgeoisie” is a term of art. The concept behind it was first articulated by Nelson Mandela and then more fully developed by his successor as South African president, Thabo Mbeki, in 1997. The concept is that just as political power was transferred from the white minority to the black majority, so, too, should economic power.

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A black capitalist class would contribute to the poor black majority through racial solidarity. Capitalist profit seeking would be harnessed to improving the opportunities and living standards of the poor. Race would trump class. The creation of such a “patriotic bourgeoisie” was an important underpinning of a policy of Black Economic Empowerment. It was also seen as a response to the ANC’s critics on the left that a “liberation” government was following a pro-capitalist economic policy.

Mr. Motsepe would certainly appear to be a shining example of the “patriotic bourgeoisie.” He is commonly regarded as the richest black South African. He has taken the “Giving Pledge” pioneered by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Motsepe has praised by Buffett “for the advice and wisdom he shared with me in Omaha during August 2012 and for inspiring thousands of people worldwide to give and care for the less fortunate.”

He also thanked Bill and Melinda Gates for “their encouragement and for providing us with additional information of the Giving Pledge” a few months later in Cape Town.

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He is closely tied to the ANC on many levels. His sister is the wife of Cyril Ramaphosa, nominated by the ANC for the position of deputy president for the 2015 elections. If the ANC retains its present dominant position, he is likely to be a future president of South Africa. Mr. Ramaphosa’s net worth is estimated by Forbes at $675 million, making him also a part of the “patriotic bourgeoisie, though not nearly as rich as Motsepe.

Motsepe is the founder of African Rainbow Minerals, a mining company, though now he has a variety of business interests. He was born into a poor family in Soweto, the huge black township outside Johannesburg.

According to Forbes, there are four South African billionaires. They are Nicky Oppenheimer, worth an estimated $6.4 billion; Johann Rupert, worth an estimated $5.7 billion; Christoffel Wiese, worth an estimated $3.7 billion; and Motsepe, worth an estimated $2.65 billion. All are white except Motsepe. All have highly diverse interests and holdings. That said, Oppenheimer wealth is associated with diamonds; Rupert with banking, mining, and luxury goods (headquartered in Switzerland); and Wiese with consumer retail, especially Shoprite, a huge supermarket chain.

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