Ramaphosa’s contributors named; Rand keeps falling; Epstein commits suicide; MTN attracts attention

By Alec Hogg

  • The storm around Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign funding ratcheted up a level as a weekend newspaper disclosed names of contributors, mostly well-known business personalities. According to documentation in the possession of Iqbal Survé-owned Sunday Independent newspaper – apparently leaked to it by the embattled Public Protector – campaign donors were led by a R10m contribution from billionaire Nicky Oppenheimer, and included HCI chairman Johnny Copelyn, Seriti Resources CEO Mike Teke, Aspen’s Starvos Nicolau, former Absa CEO Maria Ramos, ex MTN CEO Sifiso Dabengwa, Goldman Sachs SA head Colin Coleman, Sygnia board member Andre Crawford Brunt and retirees Raymond Ackerman, Bobby Godsell and Mark Lamberti. Ramaphosa maintains he kept his distance from donors and had run a “clean” campaign. The Presidency’s spokesperson Khusela Diko told News24 the leaking of confidential banking information of funders is a breach of privacy. She said the information which has been leaked to the media had only been held by the Office of the Public Protector.
  • The South African Rand extended its longest losing streak in two years on Friday as the currency dropped to R15.25 against the US Dollar – 50c worse than where it began the week. This takes August’s loss to 115c, and is in stark contrast to other emerging market currencies. Bloomberg reports that 17 out of 24 emerging market currencies actually gained against the greenback this far in August while the South African unit is off 7.5%. The news agency says sentiment on the currency was impacted by the eighth successive drop in the mining production index for June. It says investors are also fretting about higher taxes needed to pay for the planned national health service and lack of progress in sorting out state-owned electricity monopoly Eskom. The rand is now trading at its lowest point against the dollar since September 2018.
  • America’s disgraced former financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his cell yesterday after apparently having taken his own life. Epstein consulted to and befriended a number of the US’s richest and most powerful people, and whose fortune was worth over half a billion dollars. He was arrested a month ago after stepping off his private jet on returning from Paris, accused of sex trafficking minors. If guilty, the charges would have kept 66 year old Epstein behind bars for the rest of his life. While imprisoned, Epstein was recently removed from a suicide watch unit to which he had been moved two weeks ago. The Wall Street Journal reports that although Epstein was arrested on crimes relating to luring girls as young as 14 into a sex ring, his case was expected to expand into possible financial crimes. In the days before his suicide, Epstein was accused of misappropriating vast sums of money from his most important client, retailing billionaire Leslie Wexner, the 81 year old founder and CEO of the L Brands Corporation.
  • South African mobile phone company MTN hit the front page of the Wall Street Journal over the weekend after Friday’s publication of solid financial results for the half year to end June. Both sales and earnings rose 10% in the six months and MTN is well advanced in plans to raise R15bn to reduce its end June debt of R70bn. The Wall Street Journal reports that working in some of the world’s most dangerous countries like South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran has made MTN one of the bigger mobile phone companies on earth, bigger on some measures than its US counterparts. It quotes MTN CEO Rob Shuter as saying “We differentiated ourselves from other telcos by becoming a pure-play emerging markets operator and investing substantially in sometimes unpredictable markets. Where most see the risks, we choose to focus on the opportunities.” MTN has no intention of deviating from this approach and will be adding a further $30m to $286m already invested into South Sudan; and is seeking to make Ethiopia its 22nd market when new licences are auctioned there. The company’s share price has risen 27% this year.