African Millionaire of the Week: MacDonald Temane, the first black person to hold a diamond manufacturers' licence

MacDonald Temane has prided himself on bucking conventional wisdom since he was the first black person to break into South Africa's secretive diamond trading industry 15 years ago.

"When I came into the industry, guys took bets on how long I would last," Temane says with a chuckle.

Temane, whose father ran a shop in Soweto, forced open the tightly controlled world of diamond trading and polishing for black people and now sits atop a sprawling conglomerate ranging from mining to music.

His Masingita Group continues to defy business trends, which currently dictate that companies should slim down and focus on a narrow sector.

Bankers offer warnings about being too diverse, but Masingita is making money by doing just that. It has a dozen separate companies that range from diamond jewellery to mining to property to music recording to catering.

"I took the model for Masingita from the old trading companies. [The diverse units] cross-pollinate and help each other," he says in his offices in Johannesburg.

Temane has big plans for his group, aiming to nearly triple turnover to R750 million in five years, after which he hopes to list on the JSE. He owns Masingita - which means "miracles" - along with his brother and some staff members.

Temane got a taste of business from the age of 10, when he worked in the family grocery store in Soweto, opening it at 3am for bread deliveries.

In those days of strict apartheid regulations, he had to dodge the feared liquor squad, which enforced tough restrictions on the sale of alcohol in the black townships.

Temane later trained in banking and was working for First National Bank when he decided on a radical change of career - seeking to enter the all-white diamond trading sector, which was dominated by a handful of family-run firms.

"It was tough. If you ask me how I did it, I don't know. I had to have the tenacity to stay in the business ... Trusting a black guy at that time was very difficult."

But gradually, the affable Temane won over participants in the sector, where contracts are sealed by a handshake.

A top player in Israel told Temane he had a reputation as being trustworthy, and asked: "Are you Jewish?"

Earlier this year, Temane was elected as the first black person to head the SA Master Diamond Cutters' Association.

Masingita buys rough diamonds, has a cutting and polishing operation in central Johannesburg and also sells finished jewellery.

Temane gradually assembled the other pieces of his holding group, including an institutional catering business and a music recording unit, which released a platinum-selling CD by jazz musician Abdullah Ibrahim.

"Some of those things, like the music side, we do for the pure joy of it," says Temane.

Looking towards the future, he wants Masingita to grow aggressively, especially in the food unit, which has recently opened a outlet of the popular News Cafe franchise at Johannesburg International Airport.

"But I'm not mindless about the profitability of it, because sometimes you can do a lot less volume and run a more profitable business," he says.

He declines to provide profit figures, saying he is bolstering his accounting side in the run-up to listing the company.

Profitability in the mining unit, which is involved in the iron ore sector, has been "challenging", but earnings are stable in diamonds and growing slightly in most other areas.

The diamond business accounts for about half of turnover, with the other units making up the rest.

Temane, who already has sealed jewellery joint ventures in Hong Kong and Sri Lanka, also wants to expand in southern Africa. "I am attracted by Africa, by the continent, in particular the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Mozambique," he says.

If the stock market flotation is successful, Temane also has plans later to quit the business and go back to his roots.

"For me, I just want to sit in the township and talk to kids and give back on a full-time basis," he says, a diamond stud sparkling on one ear.

Temane would like to use some of his fortune to invest in fledgling black businesses, many of which are still struggling to get off the ground in a country where the mainstream economy is still largely controlled by white people.

"People need an opportunity, people need a chance.

"That would give me a lot of joy." - Reuters

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