Africa’s most valuable company appoints first black female CEO

Naspers dominates the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Naspers, the most valuable company in Africa, has appointed a new chief executive for its South African unit and made history in the process.

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa, 48, takes on the role and becomes the company’s first female and first black chief executive. Her appointment follows a long streak of white, male CEOs leading the 104-year old company. As CEO for the South Africa unit, Mahanyele-Dabengwa will lead its daily business activities and also manage the company’s long-held desire to make successful tech investment bets in Africa.

While Naspers’ investment pedigree is defined by a $32 million investment in Chinese internet giant Tencent in 2011 for a stake which is now valued at over $100 billion, it has notably struggled with making the right bets on tech companies in Africa. The company which has made significant venture investments in India in recent years has committed to investing up to $1 billion there this year.

New CEO of Naspers South Africa, Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa

Mahanyele-Dabengwa will now lead Naspers’ drive for major African tech startup wins with a $314 million fund announced last October. She will also oversee Naspers Labs, a social impact and skills acquisition initiative for South Africa’s unemployed youth. Mahanyele-Dabengwa will report to Bob van Dijk, Group CEO of Naspers.

One of Mahanyele-Dabengwa’s first key tasks will likely involve managing the transition as Naspers prepares to list its international assets on Euronext, the European stock exchange based in Amsterdam. When listed in September, Prosus (as the new company has been named) will likely be the largest listed consumer internet group in Europe by asset value, Naspers says.

The listing re-affirms van Dijk’s ambitions to transform the former newspaper publisher into a global consumer internet company. In line with that, Naspers has also chosen to spin-off MultiChoice Group, its video entertainment arm, and list it as a separate entity on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Prosus’ listing in Europe also promises access to a larger capital pool and possibly achieve the company’s goal of narrowing the margin between Naspers’ market value and the value of its Tencent stake.

But in listing its international assets outside the South Africa and thus reducing its dominance of the Johannesburg stock exchange, there may be some political fallout for Naspers.

While Mahanyele-Dabengwa has “significant investor and board experience” she’ll also bring the advantage of a long business relationship with president Cyril Ramaphosa. She has previously been chief executive of Shanduka Group, an investment company founded by Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa and also has held key board positions at the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and mobile operator Vodacom Group.

The appointment of a black woman to run a significant unit of the business is a far cry from Naspers’ past as an early supporter of Apartheid. In 2015, the now 104-year old company apologized for the key role of its newspapers and other media outlets in backing the government and its discriminatory system.

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