Shares in South Africa’s largest dairy firm plunged by nearly 10 percent on Thursday, as anti-Israel activists attempted to wreck a $354 million buyout deal with an Israeli-led consortium.
Composed of local, black-owned investment companies and the majority stakeholder, the Tel Aviv-based Central Bottling Co. (CBC), the consortium announced the buyout of South African dairy company Clover on Monday, sending the company’s stock soaring by 21 percent.
But after protests from the influential political lobby in South Africa that advocates for an economic and cultural boycott of Israel, Brimstone Investments, one of the four South African partners in the consortium, said on Thursday that it would “reconsider” its participation in the deal, sending Clover’s share price tumbling.
News of the Israeli-led buyout earlier in the week had been warmly welcomed by South African financial analysts, who are concerned by the sharp decline in foreign direct investment in the country in recent years.
“Yesterday’s South African Rand 4.8 billion takeover offer for Clover Industries by an Israeli-led consortium is notable,” wroteleading financial commentator Douglas Hogg on Tuesday.
Despite ongoing international concerns about South Africa’s business climate, particularly in the politically-sensitive agricultural sector, the offer for Clover showed that “the smart money is returning to SA,” Hogg asserted. “Believe it.”
According to figures released in 2018 by UN trade body UNCTAD, foreign investment in South Africa contracted by 41 percent in 2016-17 — the result of investor disappointment in the lack of domestic demand in South Africa, where unemployment currently runs to 26.6 percent of the workforce, with 55 percent of the population living on less than $75 per month amid rampant public sector corruption. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has set himself the goal of securing $100 billion in foreign investment over the next five years, in a bid to boost employment and increase consumer purchasing power.
Not everyone was cheered by Monday’s announcement of what Bloomberg News called a “rarity… foreign takeovers of South African listed-companies.” In a statement on Wednesday, BDS South Africa — the pro-boycott lobby’s campaigning arm — denounced the Clover deal, accusing CBC of being “complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law.”
One of the allegations leveled at CBC concerned its apparent hosting of a reception for a late former Israeli defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, whom the South African boycott lobby accused of “presiding over the 2002 storming of Jenin, a refugee camp, leaving hundreds of Palestinians dead.” No such “storming” ever took place in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the West Bank where 23 Israeli soldiers and 53 Palestinians were killed during fighting in April 2002.
After meeting on Thursday with representatives of local deal partner Brimstone Investments — which describes itself as “a black controlled and managed investment company” — BDS South Africa declared itself satisfied with a “positive and productive meeting.”
“BDS South Africa believes that South African companies are attractive investment opportunities for global investors and that there will be many alternative investors who are not tainted by the violation of international law and human rights,” the statement continued.
In a separate statement, Brimstone — which will acquire 15 percent of Clover should the deal go through — said that the company had “taken note of the widespread outrage” at its partnership in a consortium in which an Israeli company owns a 60 percent stake.
“Brimstone has therefore decided to review its role in the proposed transaction,” the company’s statement went on, ending with a warning to Brimstone’s own shareholders “to exercise caution when dealing in the company’s securities until a further announcement is made.”
All the companies involved in the Israeli-led consortium are black-owned. Alongside Brimstone, there is Ploughshare, another black-owned local investment group, which will hold 11 percent; Incubev, a group of executives with experience in the dairy sector, with 8 percent; and Clover’s own management, with a 6 percent holding.
Despite the pro-boycott lobby’s confidence that an alternative investor will emerge to replace the Israelis in the Clover buyout, the deal with CBC involved several months of negotiations. In its own statement on the deal, CBC — which owns the franchises for Coca Cola, Carlsberg beer and other leading international drinks brands in Israel — emphasized that it was taking a long-term view of the South African market.
“We are investing in a well-run company and are taking a long-term investment approach which reflects our confidence in the prospects for the local economy,” CBC Chief Executive Officer Aran Oelsner said in an email on Monday to South African outlet Biz News. “Combining Clover’s abilities with our global expertise will provide real opportunities to grow Clover’s dairy and beverage portfolios across sub-Saharan Africa.”
If the Clover deal goes through despite the pro-boycott lobby’s objections, the dairy company is set to substantively increase its present workforce of 8,500 employees, as it expands its 13 production plants in South Africa and builds on a regional distribution network that includes Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland.
South Africa has long been a stronghold of the pro-boycott movement, although it continues to trade with Israel, annually importing approximately $150 million of Israeli-produced goods, especially insecticides, fertilizers and agricultural equipment.
Misrepresenting the Jewish state as a carbon copy of the former Apartheid regime in South Africa, boycott advocates are prominent in the country’s powerful trade unions and within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
In December 2017, a special congress of the ANC voted to downgrade South Africa’s diplomatic relations with Israel in the presence of a visiting Hamas delegation from Gaza.