The enigmatic man behind EduSolutions

2012-07-08 10:00
Thanduxolo Jika, Jeanne van der Merwe, Jacques Pauw and Charl du Plessis
Founder of the company at the centre of the Limpopo textbook controversy built a multibillion-rand empire largely sustained by state tenders

The story of Shaun Battlemann is as enigmatic as the inner workings of his business empire.

Battlemann is the 52-year-old entrepreneur at the centre of African Access Holdings, which includes EduSolutions, the company at the centre of the Limpopo textbook supply controversy.

Today, Battlemann is the kingpin in a multibillion-rand empire built largely on state tenders. But his roots are more humble than his current circumstances suggest.

Even his name was different ­until more than a decade ago.

He was originally named “Mohamed Ismail”, two sources who know him say, and was a teacher at a KwaZulu-Natal school and self-described political activist.

EduSolutions’ lawyer, Ian Small-Smith, said Battlemann had changed his name for “religious reasons” and had left teaching for “better prospects”.

In the early 2000s came not just a name change, but a change of ­fortunes as the seeds of his future empire were sown.

After leaving teaching, he had a stint with CNA, he said in an interview last year.

It was there, he said during that interview, that he saw a big financial opportunity in the textbooks industry.

In 2003 he started EduSolutions with two key players – Thabo Mpama and Mateli Mpuntsha.

Mpuntsha is a former director of telecoms policy and human resource development in the communications department and Mpama is a former chairperson of the state training authority for IT, electronics and telecommunications.

They successfully pitched to ­various provincial education departments what they said was an improved ability to source and ­deliver hundreds of millions of rands’ worth of school textbooks.

This would burgeon into a ­business, which saw Battlemann acknowledged by 2011 as the Black Management Forum’s top entrepreneur of the year.

Today he has – or had – directorships in about 50 companies, according to public records.

On a website for African Access Holdings, which Battlemann is a founder of, he writes: “In a time spanning just nine years of operation, we have evolved considerably, investing, developing and launching pioneering initiatives across numerous successful life-enhancing businesses, including education, IT, property development, ­agriculture, earthworks, marketing and communications, travel and tourism, security, events management, financial services and ­office automation.”

Battlemann’s charm, insiders say, can be balanced with a ruthless determination that inspires many people to treat him with caution.

He is described as charismatic, ruthless, politically savvy and an accomplished deal maker.

His friendships didn’t hurt his cause either.

A valuable relationship was forged with former national education department director Salama Hendricks, whom insiders at EduSolutions say helped him get contracts for his fledgling company.

Other influential former civil servants that he brought into his fold are Khetsi Lehoko, a former deputy director-general in the national department of education; former Gauteng director-general Mogopodi Mokoena; and former government printing works chief financial officer Moosa Ntimba.

Battlemann has developed a ­reputation for the good life and fast cars, with a particular taste for ­Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins and Range Rovers.

He is known to live in a number of luxurious properties on the ­Zimbali Golf Estate in KwaZulu-Natal, although the only property actually registered in his name is a humble residence worth less than R100 000 in Shallcross, Durban.

One of his subsidiaries runs ­luxury yacht cruises to Robben ­Island and sailing appears to ­feature prominently in his life.

His wealth has also brought him close to power. Apartheid killer Dirk Coetzee claims he introduced Battlemann to Jacob Zuma.

Now Battlemann is described as a “champion” of the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust.

African ­Access Holdings makes significant charitable contributions and also hosts a glitzy annual national business award ceremony.

Within EduSolutions, insiders say he was often asked to smooth out animosity between Coetzee and black executives who found themselves at the receiving end of Coetzee’s outbursts.

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