Mining magnate made R30m profit on Swartkops power station

Brian Hayward

ENIGMATIC businessman Kobus Smit, who moved to the Eastern Cape in the mid-1990s from the Northern Cape, had previous dealings with former Port Elizabeth mayor Nceba Faku before being granted the right to lease and renovate the Van Stadens Resort in 2004.

It was shortly after Smit arrived in the region that Faku, as mayor in the late 1990s, approved the sale of the Swartkops power station to a company headed by Smit, say municipal insiders privy to the deal.

Smit paid less than R4-million for the power station and “within weeks” sold off the turbines for a profit of more than R30-million, according to well-placed sources within the municipality.

But when quizzed this week about the sale of the power station, Faku claimed to have “no recollection of that”.

In the early 2000s, Smit and Faku again had dealings when Smit agreed to help relocate the Witteklip squatters – who border on his almost 4000ha of farmland between the N2 and Van Stadens River Mouth, near Woodridge College – to a farm he had acquired at Lady’s Slipper.

Faku had made a promise to move the squatters to permanent housing when campaigning for another term as mayor in 2000. But the move was thwarted by the DA at the time after the party raised concerns over the farm not being able to support extra residents.

After moving to the Eastern Cape, Smit wasted no time in buying up prime coastal farmland as well as game farms in the Bedford area, say former business acquaintances.

And although no one can say for sure where he got his fortune – he is believed to be a multi-billionaire – he owes a large part of his net worth to mining ventures.

Of the more than 30 companies of which Smit is director, the bulk are mining-related, while a handful are property and investment companies.

When The Herald met Smit this week he was cordial, but said he preferred to keep his private life out of the spotlight because this meant he was able to conclude business deals with relative ease.

“My core business is mining and I have interests in Namibia and South Africa,” said Smit, who is a major shareholder and director of Umcebo Mining, an empowerment mining venture.

The Herald has learnt that Smit has also tried his hand at oyster farming, while coal mining remains a big interest.

Smit is also owner of the landmark Knysna nature reserve Featherbed, which he bought from celebrity mathematician William Smith last year for what sources close to the deal have pegged at R212-million.

Smit denied plans to develop the 150ha piece of land on Knysna’s Western Head.