Politically-connected Limpopo mogul David Mabilu is taking over the Sunday World: here’s how he made and spends his millions

Business Insider SA

News analysis

  • Property tycoon David Mabilu is taking control of the Sunday World newspaper in a buyout from Tiso Blackstar, which had been considering closing it down.
  • Mabilu is a politically-connected property developer who has been involved in VBS Mutual Bank, and a high-profile failed water scheme.
  • He is perhaps best known for his lavish wedding some eight years ago – and one particularly famous guest he flew to Mauritius for the event.
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From 1 July the Sunday World newspaper will be published not by current owners Tiso Blackstar, which had planned to shut it down, but by politically-connect construction tycoon David Mabilu.

This weekend Tiso announced it had sold the struggling paper to Mabilu's Fundudzi Media, a company that does not yet appear in government records, though its name has been reserved.

Mabilu joins as a newspaper proprietor the likes of mega-tycoon Jeff Bezos who bought the flagging Washington Post and, locally, former technocrat Mzwanele Manyi who bought The New Age from the Gupta family and renamed it Afro Voice.

While the Washington Post has become wildly successful in some areas of its business since Bezos took control, Afro Voice was liquidated.

The Sunday World was created in 1999 and in 2001 was relaunched as a tabloid that now promises "racy infotainment". A month ago it seemed set for closure.

In the first quarter of 2019 the Sunday World's total circulation recorded a 16% decline to 40,383 copies.

Here's how South Africa's latest media owner made his money, and how he spends it.

Mabilu made his fortune in property development, with a particular focus in dealing with government departments.

Mabilu, the Mail & Guardian said in 2011, "made millions by buying land from one arm of government and reselling it to another".

In one complex set of transactions involving property swaps with  Polokwane's municipal council, he spent R10 million on properties he quickly sold on for R51 million.

His company Vharanani Properties later became involved in a disastrous water scheme in Limpopo, when the Department of Water and Sanitation appointed it in 2015 to complete a pipeline that was already fraught with legal and logistical problems by that stage.

Vharanani abandoned the project after the government failed to pay it.

He was identified as a benefactor of Julius Malema – and spent a lot of money on the then ANC Youth League leader.

It is not clear exactly how much money Mabilu spent on Julius Malema, and donated to the trust Malema insisted was for charitable work but the amount was not small – and the relationship between the two was close.

In 2010 Malema reportedly spoke at Mabilu's birthday, and in 2011, he was among the guests at Mabilu's extravagant, all-expenses-paid Mauritius wedding 

According to City Press, Mabilu's company Vharanani Properties paid amounts of more than R100,000 into the Ratanang Family Trust, named for Malema’s son, on more than one occasion. 

He was an investor in the ill-fated VBS Mutual Bank, and said he tried to blow the whistle well before it collapsed due to massive looting of depositor funds.

Mabilu's company Promafco held a 24.5% stake in Dyambeu Investments when the latter bought a 26% stake in VBS Mutual Bank, then a tiny and largely unregarded institution in 2013.

The majority stake in Dyambeu was held by a trust on behalf of the Venda royal family, and Mabilu effectively subsidised the royalty's shares, which they received for free, through his R3 million investment.

The other R3 million for the deal came from Tshifhiwa Matodzi, who in a subsequent investigation report was identified as "the kingpin in the fraudulent and theftuous conduct of VBS’ business".

After VBS collapsed Mabilu said he had tried to warn the Reserve Bank and the Public Investment Corporation – after he and Matodzi fell out because Matodzi supposedly tried to run VBS by himself.

Mabilu has a taste for high-end cars – and very large properties

In 2011 Mabilu came under scrutiny because of public contracts and his relationships with politicians – and his lavish lifestyle. 

TimesLIVE reported that Mabilu's estate in Johannesburg was worth R14 million, and his fleet of cars included not only top-end BMW and Mercedes Benz models, but also a R2.4 million Ferrari and a R2 million Aston Martin. 

His lavish wedding in Mauritius was the subject of a Top Billing insert.

Top Billing, the magazine TV show dedicated to the lives of the rich and famous, described Mabilu's 2011 wedding as a fairytale event, featuring a series of complex dresses for different events of a weekend. 

Drum magazine, which ran a 6-page spread on the wedding, reported that guests were left gasping "at the sheer luxury of the whole production", at a rumoured total cost of R20 million.

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