John Bredenkamp dies aged 79

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John Bredenkamp, a controversial millionaire businessman who captained the national rugby side before independence has died, the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) announced on Thursday.

He was 79.

“It is with a heavy and sad heart that the president of the ZRU announces the sad passing of our former Sables player and captain John Bredenkamp this morning,” the ZRU said in a statement.

“May his family and friends be comforted during this sad time. The ZRU is at a loss for words on the passing of our former skipper. May his soul rest in eternal peace.”

Bredenkamp died from kidney failure at his home in Harare on Thursday morning, according to friends.

One of Zimbabwe’s richest people, Bredenkamp was reputed to have amassed a personal fortune of US$870 million from activities such as sanctions busting on behalf of the Rhodesian regime, tobacco trading, arms sales and diamond mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Born in Kimberley, South Africa, in 1940, Bredenkamp moved to Zimbabwe with his parents as a child, and worked in the tobacco industry after finishing high school at Prince Edward in Harare.

He went to work in the Netherlands before founding his own company, the Casalee Group, which was registered in Belgium. From there, Bredenkamp was involved in the sale of Rhodesian tobacco on world markets, through evasion of United Nations sanctions.

His company grew to be the fifth biggest tobacco merchant in the world, before he sold it to Universal Leaf Tobacco in 1993.

Sportsman … John Bredenkamp (standing top left) captained the Rhodesian national rugby side in the 1960s

Bredenkamp was named in a 2002 United Nations report as a key arms trader who made millions of dollars from illegally exploiting natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo following a military intervention by Zimbabwe to stop a rebel-led overthrow of the late former president Desire Kabila.

Zimbabwe’s expedition in the DRC, blamed for triggering an economic collapse, started in 1998 and ended in 2003.

Bredenkamp gained considerable clout in the political and economic affairs of Zimbabwe, and is believed to have been a key donor for the ruling Zanu PF party.

It was claimed that he twice sought to facilitate the early retirement of the late former President Robert Mugabe in 2004 and his replacement by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who eventually seized power in a military coup in 2017.

Bredenkamp was the subject of United States sanctions targeting people of significant influence within the Zimbabwean government who are accused of human rights violations and economic plunder.

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