As a boy in an impoverished South African village during the apartheid era, Patrice Motsepe watched his mother giving free food to the poorest customers of their small grocery store.
It was a lesson he never forgot, even when he made history by becoming South Africa’s first black billionaire. Ranked the eighth-richest man on the continent with an estimated fortune of $2.65-billion, the 51-year-old mining tycoon has become the first African billionaire to make a dramatic pledge to give away half the wealth generated by his family’s assets.
It’s a huge coup for U.S. entrepreneurs Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, as they try to launch a global wave of philanthropy. They have persuaded nearly 100 billionaires to pledge the bulk of their wealth to charity, but most so far are American. Motsepe is believed to be the first in the fast-rising African economy to participate in the program, The Giving Pledge, in which prosperous families are encouraged to give away at least half of their wealth.
The 51-year-old mining tycoon announced Wednesday that he has joined The Giving Pledge.
Members of the campaign have courted him for months. Last August, he held talks with Buffett in Omaha. Last month Gates flew to Cape Town and met Motsepe to explain The Giving Pledge.
On Wednesday, Gates joined a press conference by video link to praise Motsepe’s decision.
“South Africans are caring, compassionate and loving people,” Motsepe said in a statement. “It has always been part of our culture to assist and care for less fortunate and marginalized members of our community.”
But while most South Africans are strong believers in the traditional African philosophy of ubuntu – humanity and generosity towards others – their generosity is often expressed in small informal donations to schools or village causes.
Charitable foundations in South Africa have struggled to win support for large-scale formal philanthropy, especially from the newly rich citizens who gained their wealth after the fall of apartheid. Some black entrepreneurs, popularly known as “black diamonds,” have been criticized for donating only a small percentage of their income to charity.
But there are signs that this is now beginning to change, and Motsepe’s pledge is the most visible example.
Born in Soweto township and raised in internal exile in the village of Hammanskraal where his father was banished for criticizing apartheid, Motsepe earned a law degree and became the first black partner in one of South Africa’s largest corporate law firms.
He ventured into the business world in 1994, the year when Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected president.
He made his wealth by acquiring old undervalued mine shafts and founding African Rainbow Minerals, which has interests in coal, platinum, gold, iron ore and other minerals. Forbes Magazine ranks him today as the fourth-richest man in South Africa…
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