THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF BLACK ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
Twenty-four years since opening its doors, Women Investment Portfolio Holdings (WIPHOLD) continues to set the benchmark as a sustainable model of broadbased black economic empowerment. South Africa’s premier black women-owned investment company, has more than 200 000 beneficiaries through the WIPHOLD Investment Trust and the WIPHOLD NGO Trust, which jointly hold a 33.5 percent stake in the business. It also has a multibillion-rand investment portfolio. This is founded on a philosophy of long-term investment in strategic and, increasingly, controlling stakes that deliver tangible growth and returns.
Now firmly invested in the financial services, agricultural and infrastructure sectors, the company has grown significantly from its humble beginnings at the dawn of democracy. In 1994, South Africa was alive with possibility, including for black entrepreneurs who had been denied opportunities for growth under apartheid.
It was in this environment that four spirited women, including Louisa Mojela and Gloria Serobe, joined forces. Their vision was to build a company dedicated to the economic empowerment of a broad base of black women and the pair are still involved.
Mojela, group chief executive, recalls, ‘’Men were getting their act together and taking hold of opportunities. We couldn’t just wait for some good man to rock up and invite us to take part in the new economy. The challenge was to do it for ourselves and we decided that whatever we did needed to involve critical mass if we were serious about the empowerment of women.’’
Armed with seed capital of R500 000 and a vision to harness the collective strength of women’s purchasing power into lucrative investment opportunities, they set about mobilising a mass movement of women from the ground up. Roadshows were conducted across all nine provinces as they shared their vision for a women-led investment company.
By 1997, after almost two years of road shows and presentations targeting grass-roots women they were looking to bring on board, WIPHOLD became the first South African company to open a gender exclusive public offer. R100 million was raised with 18 000 women as shareholders and beneficiaries.
Two years later, after securing additional funding from institutional investors, WIPHOLD listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation of R804 million. It was the first black, women-owned and women-managed company to list.
In 2003 the company delisted to increase its women shareholding, which had been diluted as a result of prior capital raised from institutional investors. It was at this time that the WIPHOLD NGO Trust was formed to extend the beneficiary base to include NGOs focused on women and children.
Mojela says, “When WIPHOLD was formed 24 years ago, it was, in many senses, a product of the times, imbued with the optimism and vigour characterised by our nation’s first bold strides into its democratic era. We are grateful for that enabling environment created by government and enhanced in later years by the introduction of BEE legislation. It enabled us to build our balance sheet.
“Now, as a ‘grown-up’ company, we are using it to buy significant or controlling stakes in companies and create operational businesses. We focus on the financial services, agricultural, services and infrastructure sectors. Our acquisition of Sasfin, investment in Mamba Cement, and our agricultural businesses – specifically the Centane and Mbashe initiative – speak directly to this.”
A major foothold in the financial services sector came in October last year, with the acquisition of a 25.1 percent stake in national bank Sasfin. From an ownership perspective this made the bank one of the most empowered in the country and underscored its commitment to transformation.
Serobe adds, “The sector is a cornerstone of any economy and critical to realising our vision of the economic empowerment of black women. We focus on investing in businesses that we believe can deliver strong returns over the long term and have high-calibre management with sound corporate governance. Sasfin more than meets those criteria and we look forward to working to grow and transform the business.’’
In the same month, WIPHOLD also acquired a 25.1 percent stake in insurance procurement services provider Bluespec Holdings.
“It is in a prime position to cater for insurance company commercial procurement requirements, and we bring the experience, knowledge and skills to add value in the economic transformation initiatives and goals that Bluespec intends delivering on,” says Serobe.
She adds, “We consider ourselves business disrupters in industries where change was idealised but lacked the solutions and drive to transform. In Bluespec, we see both steely determination and tabled solutions to effect real change and this excites us greatly.”
WIPHOLD’s 23.9 percent shareholding in Mamba Cement is a flagship investment and typifies a longterm investment strategy and willingness to adopt a considered, informed approach to investing in targeted sectors.
In 2006, an exclusive distribution and cooperation agreement was signed through which Jidong Cement, the largest cement producer in north China, assigned WIPHOLD the rights to distribute its products. The construction of a R1.6 billion, state-of-the-art cement production facility near Northam in Limpopo soon followed, significantly expanding South Africa’s inland production capacity.
Since its inception in 2014, WIPHOLD’s flagship agricultural investment, the Centane and Mbashe initiative in rural Eastern Cape, has cultivated over 2 000 hectares of land across 32 villages and distributed more than R18 million to participating community members.
Serobe elaborates, “The initiative recognises the inherent potential of the Eastern Cape’s vast tracts of arable land, that the proper use of land resources by communal farmers has the potential to play a significant role in enhancing food security, particularly in poor communities. A strong business model with enormous social impact that is beginning to transform the lives of the local communities, it speaks directly to a key WIPHOLD strategy of integrating social and development objectives into core commercial business operations.
“Our journey is surely an example of what was intended by BEE policy – to use the enabling environment to build a balance sheet that through distributions and core business strategies would benefit not just a few but a broad-base at the grassroots to be economically empowered and able to enter the mainstream economy. The company’s journey speaks to the spirit of BEE, and its transformative potential.
“Everything we do is about generating returns for our broad-based shareholding. We’ve consistently stayed true to our founding vision of the economic empowerment of black women. We have given of our best to interpret what a sustainable and transformative BEE company should look like.”
Louisa Mojela, group chief executive
Roadshows were conducted across all nine provinces as they shared their vision for a womenled investment company
WIPHOLD’s 23.9 percent shareholding in Mamba Cement is a flagship investment