Unravelling the truth – James-Brent Styan on Markus Jooste, Steinhoff and his new book, The Dirty Secrets of the Rich and Powerful
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Markus Jooste, central to Steinhoff’s collapse, faced parliament unrepentant. James-Brent Styan reflects on their encounter, Jooste’s subsequent demise, and unanswered questions in this thought piece, that also urges vigilance and awareness of the real risk involved in daily dealings.

Styan’s new book, The Dirty Secrets of the Rich and Powerful, is out now from Penguin Random House SA.

‘Jooste denied all wrongdoing.’

Markus Jooste appeared in public once after the spectacular crash of Steinhoff, the multi-billion-rand company he had built up over a period spanning more than 20 years.

On 5 September 2018, the former CEO of Steinhoff appeared in person in parliament in Cape Town, with four legal experts in tow. I went up to him, shook his hand and had a collegial conversation. He then faced a room full of MPs who (fruitlessly) tried to get him to admit to anything for just under three hours.

During the meeting Jooste never once appeared contrite, nervous or ashamed. Instead, he remained calm and collected and didn’t have to call on his team of legal experts to protect him from any of the questions aimed at him. He placed on the record that day his version of what had happened at Steinhoff. While Steinhoff chairman Christo Wiese had famously stated the crash, that wiped out an estimated R300 billion in value, had come as a bolt out of the blue, Jooste denied all wrongdoing, adamant about one thing: there had been no financial irregularities at Steinhoff.

Today Markus Jooste is dead. He ended his life on a rocky shoreline in the seaside town of Hermanus, the sanctuary he had retreated to following his fall from grace. Jooste never further elaborated on his statements made in parliament that day and instead goes to the grave bearing all his secrets, denying thousands of victims of the Steinhoff crash the closure many would have been hoping to receive.

I began working on The Dirty Secrets of the Rich and Powerful shortly after my book on the Steinhoff crash was released in 2018. There were just so many thoughts still swirling through my mind and I was at different periods astounded, outraged, impressed, angry and fascinated by what had happened. I was curious about the way the super-rich and powerful operate globally and the impact this may have on society at large. A society that often is unaware of the way things can and are being orchestrated and the resultant impact on their lives. The book unpacks those issues in detail and shines a light on the way the world is run.

It is important for people to become more aware of how things work, things that may affect everyday lives, to ask who is really in charge and how do people ensure their best interests are being looked after.

With Steinhoff – for 20 odd years – people including shareholders, auditors, analysts and managers didn’t pay much attention to what was really going on at the company, they were happy to ride the wave of success and make a lot of money as the share price went up. Then it all went belly-up overnight. The losses were enormous and the outrage justifiably so, but for so many years, the hard questions had simply never been asked and the behaviour of Jooste as a CEO simply tolerated.

The result: many families destroyed and immense losses experienced, losses that will continue to be felt for years to come. To what extent are people today happy to simply ride the waves in their lives while remaining oblivious to the real risk that things may go belly-up overnight? This is something that is weighing on my mind.


This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine about books for book lovers from Penguin Random House South Africa. 


Categories Non-fiction South Africa South African Current Affairs

Tags James-Brent Styan Penguin Random House SA The Dirty Secrets of the Rich and Powerful The Penguin Post

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