Opinion

  • Shirley Zinn resigned as a Shoprite non-executive director with immediate effect this week.
  • She's not saying why, but we can make some educated guesses.
  • Christo Wiese, for instance.
  • Go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za for more.

She’s not commenting, but there is only one plausible reason for non-executive director Shirley Zinn’s shock resignation from the board of Shoprite: a protest at the refusal of long-time shareholder and 78-year-old chairperson Christo Wiese to call it a day.

On Monday, at Shoprite's annual general meeting, more than 61% of ordinary shareholders voted against Wiese, in a clear expression of their desire for change at the top of the organisation he has dominated for four decades.

See also: Shoprite shock: Lead director resigns suddenly - just days after Wiese's re-election

But Wiese controls Shoprite, and other entities in which he invests, through complex shareholding structures that give him the power to make decisions, voting rights secured alongside his strategic investments. He is good at setting things up so he has an outsized say in companies, and until the collapse of Steinhoff (as a result of a massive fraud he insists he missed) other shareholders relying on his “midas touch” were happy to ignore the fact that relative to Wiese, they would be powerless if things turned bad.

That meant Monday's vote by ordinary shareholders had little value beyond an expression of opinion, because Wiese controls 42% of the Shoprite group's voting rights. Add to that the 28% of ordinary shareholders who supported him, and his position was secured.

Then, on Wednesday, Zinn resigned “with immediate effect” – less than 48 hours after Wiese’s decision to ignore the wishes of ordinary shareholders and place his interests above theirs.

Shoprite issued a statement on Wednesday which read:

“Shareholders are advised that Prof SA Zinn, lead independent non-executive director of Shoprite Holdings, has tabled her resignation from the Board and all relevant Board Committees with immediate effect.
"The Board wishes to express its sincere gratitude to Prof Zinn for her contribution to the Board of Shoprite Holdings.
"The board has commenced a process to appoint a new lead independent non-executive director and to fill the Board Committee vacancies and will advise shareholders thereof in due course."

What that statement failed to mention is that Zinn joined the board just over a year ago, replacing Edward Kieswetter when he was appointed commissioner of the SA Revenue Service.

On Monday it was Zinn who told the annual general meeting that Wiese's future at Shoprite was under discussion, making her sudden resignation all the more curious.

For now at least, though, she is declining interviews.

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

Also from Bruce Whitfield: