In the first of Wordfest’s business sessions, the festival hosted journalist and editor Rob Rose for the launch of his book Steinheist: Markus Jooste, Steinhoff and SA’s Biggest Corporate Fraud, on Monday 1 July at Eden Grove, Rhodes University.
Rose took the audience on his journey of writing the book in the aftermath of the Steinhoff crash in December 2017. Following numerous interviews with figures associated with the debacle, including businessman and company pioneer Bruno Steinhoff, Rose pieced together the inside story of Steinhoff and its enigmatic South African head, Markus Jooste.
Steinheist gives an illuminating account of Jooste’s early days in business at Ga-Rankuwa Township, and through the years at Steinhoff where South Africa (and a few leading business figures) would ultimately lose billions of money to the deeds of the unscrupulous CEO.
Members of the audience engaged Rose on issues emanating from Steinhoff and several other related issues such as South Africa’s ability to prosecute financial crimes in the private sector, the capacity and role of business journalism in uncovering financial crime, as well as impartiality in reporting on businessmen of different races.
Later in the afternoon, Wordfest hosted Sunday Times journalist TJ Strydom, who has written a similarly related book on the Steinhoff debacle. A biography on the company’s biggest shareholder Christo Wiese, Strydom’s book Christo Wiese: Risk and Riches, gives an account of the business mogul’s life from his humble beginnings in Upington Northern Cape, through his youth as a student at Stellenbosch University and as an aspirant politician in the years that followed.
The book continues with a look at Wiese’s life in business and his success (often involving massive risks), in establishing a powerful business empire through Pep and Shoprite among several other enterprises. As we now know, his fortunes would later change from his encounter with Steinhoff at the end of 2017. Strydom gave the audience insight on the early interactions of Wiese and Jooste, through to the fallout of the two men post Steinhoff.
Apart from the text, the biographer also indulged the audience on his experience with Wiese at the Cape Town leg of the book launch where Wiese had attended. Wiese gave that audience a personal touch of the biography by commenting and responding to questions on his life, in person.
The launch of the two books at Wordfest afforded readers a re-look at the scandal, and more importantly an opportunity to examine the nuances of fraud and corruption in South Africa.