Harry Oppenheimer – By Michael Cardo

I eventually managed to finish reading Harry Oppenheimer by Michael Cardo, but first two disclaimers; I worked for Anglo American between 1975 and 1982, first as a student and then in the Anglo IR Department under Bobby Godsell; and, one of my Dad’s closest Oxford friends was Gavin Relly who succeeded HFO an Chairman, so I have some personal insights. Cardo’s biography is meticulously researched and well written, erudite in form. I have to say trying to understand the M&A route of Anglo’s ‘60’s and ‘70’s expansion to becoming the dominant shareholder on the JSE was quite a ‘heavy’ read, but the detail of what went on behind the scenes as HFO anticipated, more than most, the changing dynamics of SA moving into the ‘80’s and ‘90’s was riveting. I so enjoyed many of the anecdotal stories of his wife Bridget organizing ‘high level’ dinner parties and dealing with her family dynamics.  I found his global stature and influence much more prominent than I appreciated. But, having worked on both the gold (Vaal Reefs) and coal (Witbank) mines in the ‘70’s the conditions were worse than described, compound life and working circumstances were very basic, 90 miners sleeping on three layered concrete bunks in a room the size of the Brenthurst squash court with wire lockers and outside ablutions were still in use. Many of the environmental controversies went unmentioned, the pollution fallout of Highveld Steel and Scaw Metals and the dredging of the Okavango Swamps to provide water to Orapa diamond mine to mention a few. That said, it is a book as much about SA’s turbulent history as it is about HFO’s remarkable life, such a good read.