Zoli Kunene, a towering man and a larger-than-life lawyer, has passed away after a long life furthering the cause of human rights and black entrepreneurship in South Africa. He was one fifth of the legendary Kunene brothers who spent years building up black ownership in business, long before legislation lent a helping hand.

Zoli Kunene

Zoli, Keith, Dudu, Zanosi and Menzi Kunene all ended up in business together, with a wide portfolio of companies carrying out everything from canning Coca-Cola to selling Daimler-Chrysler  cars. 

Zoli Kunene trained as a lawyer in the days when it was rare for a man of his background to do so. He fought many human rights cases in the dim days of apartheid, in South Africa, and had unrivalled knowledge of the names of all the black lawyers working in and around Johannesburg in his era, no matter how small.

“There were so few of us, in those days, that you knew every black lawyer in a 100-hundred- mile radius!” he used to laugh.

The Kunene brothers’ business empire began way back in 1978 when Keith acquired a sub-lease to sell fresh milk in Vosloorus east of Johannesburg. Kunene Bros. Holdings took over a nearby liquor licence from the government, in 1983, and also began wholesaling Coca Cola. The latter business led to the creation of Coca-Cola Fortune the second largest bottling and distribution company in South Africa.

As the brothers worked hard, in concord,  they built up a robust stable of companies to include a financial services company and defence and security outfit. 

Zoli Kunene, was also active in public and corporate life. He was an honorary colonel in the South African National Defence Force and chairman of the South African Aerospace Maritime and Defence Industries Association. He was also past president of the Defence Industries Interest Group of South Africa and served as chairman of Denel. In the corporate world he was chairman of Grintek Ewation and a director of Cell C. 


“Zoli was a keen golfer and a larger than life figure at the annual father & son golf day; he will be missed by all.A great man, dynamic leader, family man, friend and above all a human being who cared for all those around him. He will be missed,” says Rakesh Wahi, the chairman of CMA Investment Holdings and a close friend of Zoli Kunene.

“Zoli was a pioneer in business and human relations.He championed the cause of the workers and took interest in technology-driven business operations . He was a pillar of the family business alongside his siblings. He recently pioneered the growth and diversification strategy of the Kunene Brothers business group for the future business environment. He remained humble in all his business achievements. Above all, remained a resolute family man pursuing the welfare of his entire family,” says Sam Bhembe, a non executive director of African Business News.