Hotel magnate and well known South African businessman Sol Kerzner died on Saturday night surrounded by family members at the family home, Leeukoppie Estate in Cape Town.
He had been suffering from cancer.
We were fortunate to meet him at Leeukoppie Estate in 2018. Below is his final interview with us in which he talks about his life and his love of his family.
2018 Hout Bay: After 50 years of changing how the world interacts with luxury and holidays, what could be bigger for Sol Kerzner than his Atlantis development in the Bahamas or Sun City in North West? Bigger than spending time with famous people across the world? For the hotel magnate, billionaire and local icon it was his family.
After a lifetime in the hotel business, it was with his family he had decided to spend his last years with. It was also, in part, the reason he had turned to becoming a residential property developer late in life.
It was 2018 and Kerzner invited me as part of the press to walk a forested path to the Kerzner family mansion in Hout Bay, with its views towards Chapman’s Peak, the bay, valley and surrounding mountains. The same home in which he took his last breaths this weekend.
The reason to meet him in 2018 was his announcement of an eco development he and his astute businesswoman and human rights activist daughter, Andrea, were doing together.
The development, was to be set on the family’s 10 hectare estate, Leeukoppie, which stretches almost as far as Sandy Bay. Kerzner first saw the property in 1983 and bought it almost immediately.
“I came here at the insistence of Anneline (Kriel, former Miss World), my wife at the time. My memories of Hout Bay date back to when I was a child of 14 on holiday here. My friends and I would camp on the beach and we’d think Hout Bay was so far from anything. In 1983, with Annie tired of us staying in my hotels in Cape Town when we visited here because she said she would never see me, we were on the hunt for a home.
“An estate agent brought us here. The first thing I thought as we drove up the long road was that this was a unique piece of property. I mean, just look at these views.”
Kerzner, who even in 80s looked much younger, flashed his disarmingly cheeky smile: “I am pleased Andrea and I are doing this eco estate now. It feels right.”
I was speaking to him during a major drought, and in the week of Valentine’s Day, which is significant because most of the conversation revolves around love: His love for his children, his grandchildren, his love for his past 50 years in the hotel industry (“I was very fortunate to do what I love,” he says), and his love for this piece of land in Hout Bay.
The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg in 1935. Trained in accounting, he entered the hospitality industry in 1962 when purchased the Astra, a small inn located in Durban.
“I could have been a mechanic. I used to tease my dad that that was what I wanted to do, but I would have been a bad mechanic. I am not mechanical at all. I could have stayed as an accountant (he is a qualified accountant), but I realised I was not an everyday accountant. I was just fortunate to find hotels and fall in love with doing them. I really loved what I did.
“Most places I saw I just had a vision. Sun City was just sand, Beverly Hills was just a hotel. When I started on the Beverly Hills project in Umhlanga Rocks I had no idea, besides what I saw in brochures, what international luxury hotels looked like. I had never been overseas.
“At age 27 I flew to Miami and spent a day with a taxi driver, driving up and down the main hotel drag, until I had visited every hotel there. It was two in the morning. The next day I flew to New York. It was the day president JF Kennedy was killed. I will never forget it. From what I saw there, I developed the Beverly Hills (South Africa’s first luxury hotel).
“Now I’ve got time, which I didn’t have before. In the business there was no time. What remains for me to do is be with family. I want to spend this time with my children and 10 grandchildren. They’re all over the world so I need time to be with all of them.”
The development – 48 designer homes – is small for the man who gave us places such as Sun City. But he was as excited about it as he was about most things he loved.
“My daughter has always enjoyed real estate and she’s excited about this. Now I have time to focus on it. It’s going to be a beautiful estate,” he said.
Andrea has been on the Kerzner International Board for the past 10 years, taking the reins when her brother, Butch, who was set to follow in his father’s footsteps, died in a helicopter crash.
“I’m used to the way my father operates,” said Andrea, who has a passion for upliftment of people and areas. She has been heavily involved in local and international projects that have helped change the lives of those living in poverty.
One such place close to her heart is Imizamo Yethu, the informal settlement in Hout Bay. She has insisted that a percentage of those involved in the construction of the new development come from the area.
“This is something for Andrea and I to do together,” said Kerzner, who lived between his home in Hout Bay, and homes in the Bahamas, London and Monte Carlo.
“We came up with the idea one day while sitting here. I thought: ‘Yes, this could work’.
RIP Sol Kerzner. You died surrounded by family in your beloved Leeukoppie as you would have wanted.