Sivi Gounden, who shot to prominence in the Lonmin row that erupted last week, is considered both technically competent — he has a doctorate in engineering — and politically connected.
He has a long association with Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who was his minister at the department of public enterprises. Gounden served as director general in the department.
Gounden also shares business interests with Radebe’s wife Bridget, notably in Shaft-sinkers, a specialised mining services company that also displays his connections with the giant Kazakh multinational, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC).
ENRC bought a majority share in Shaft-sinkers in 2007, when Gounden was also appointed to the board. Radebe’s Mmakau Mining and Gounden’s Holgoun group are shareholders.
Gounden, who was active in Kazakhstan when he headed international engineering group Bateman, has served as the Kazakh honorary consul in South Africa.
His company, HolGoun, has shares in another ENRC acquisition in South Africa, Samancor Chrome.
ENRC — which grew out of privatisation of state assets of the former Soviet republic — has made a name operating successfully in unstable markets.
The company now controls the controversial Camec group, with interests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe.
Earlier this year ENRC also bought shares in Northam Platinum, controlled by Mvela Resources.
One of Jacob Zuma’s earliest international business trips as ANC president was to Kazakhstan in December 2008, accompanied by Mvela Holdings chief executive Mark Willcox.
But Gounden’s fight with Lonmin appears part of a broader play for the chrome resources usually associated with platinum deposits. HolGoun’s applications to DMR for chrome rights is said to cover almost all of South Africa’s Bushveld platinum complex, and Gounden is understood to have proposed a new method for extracting chrome from the ore.
HolGoun’s subsidiary, Keysha Investments 220, was awarded prospecting rights to a portion of Lonmin’s property earlier this year.
Keysha has two directors:
Gounden’s wife Vanessa, Holgoun chief executive, and Miriam Sekati, a former National Intelligence Agency official. Sekati still chairs the Intelligence Services Council, which advises the state security minister on service conditions for the country’s spies.
She shares about 10 directorships with Vanessa Gounden, a former head of customer services at SAA, mostly in the HolGoun stable.
Gounden is also the non-executive chair of Optimum coal, a powerful new black-owned and controlled coal producer. Gounden’s interests are held through a company called Warrior Coal.
HolGoun’s other key mining interest is in uranium.