Home » South African billionaire Christo Wiese returns to diamond mining roots

South African billionaire Christo Wiese returns to diamond mining roots

Wiese's optimism amid caution and risk in mining ventures

by Feyisayo Ajayi
Christo Wiese

South African billionaire Christo Wiese, a leader in the continent’s retail sector, is making a return to the diamond mines, reminiscent of his early career nearly half a century ago. Wiese, holding the largest stake in Africa’s leading retailer, Shoprite Holdings, is venturing into diamond exploration through his mining unit, Trans Hex Group.

Wiese, presently valued at $1.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, expressed his fascination with diamonds. Noting the industry’s unique ability to transform lives, he pointed to the Atlantic Ocean, off South Africa’s coast, as home to some of the world’s highest-quality diamonds.

The 82-year-old South African businessman’s journey in the diamond industry began in 1976 when he purchased a mine along the Orange River. After about five years, he opted to sell it to finance the acquisition of the Pepkor clothing chain, ultimately becoming his major asset. Despite a successful stint in the retail sector, with notable investments in Pepkor, Shoprite, and the challenging Steinhoff Holdings, he has recently returned to the diamond business.

In recent times, Wiese’s mining unit, Trans Hex Group is driving exploration in the Kaapvaal Craton. The area is believed to have carried diamond-rich material to South Africa’s southwest coast over 2.5 billion years. Co-owned by Wiese’s son-in-law, the company aims to expand beyond diamonds. With advanced tech, Trans Hex Group plans to explore minerals like phosphate, lithium, gold, and platinum for a diversified portfolio.

Christo Wiese’s optimism amid caution and risk in mining ventures

Despite Wiese’s net worth experiencing a significant dip, falling from $7 billion to $1.2 billion following the 2017 Steinhoff International Holdings NV crisis, he remains undeterred. Industry observers caution that diamond mining could be riskier than his past retail ventures. However, Wiese remains optimistic about the venture’s positive impact, citing employment opportunities, foreign currency generation through diamond sales, and the relative shallowness of Trans Hex’s operations compared to international counterparts.

The seasoned entrepreneur, known for his resilience, actively manages a diverse portfolio that includes gym chain Virgin Active, South African food maker Premier Group Ltd., and investments in a medical malpractice insurance company. Even with a family office in place, Wiese expresses no plans for retirement, emphasizing his desire to remain active and engaged in various ventures.

His return to diamond mining faces challenges, with experts highlighting risks such as fluctuating gem prices, high production costs, and environmental concerns. The impact on marine ecosystems, particularly in areas reliant on fishing, raises ethical questions. Despite these challenges, Wiese emphasizes the overall positive impact of the venture.

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