SOUTH AFRICA: Battle royal looms for control of KWV

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The first potential woman director has been nominated to serve on the KWV board as a battle royal looms for control of the company/co-operative.

Cape-based Francine-Ann du Plessis, an advocate and chartered accountant has been nominated by a small contingent of businessmen-wine farmers who have been dubbed the "Group of Five" and between them own about 15% of KWV's A shares.

Battle lines are being drawn and a dust up expected at the Annual General Meeting, which has been postponed by more than a month to 27 November by the present board and this has drawn sharp criticism from several quarters.

KWV is in the process of restructuring to keep it in line with changes and developments in the South African wine industry. It intends severing its commercial and co-operative entities, but shareholders query whether it is being done correctly, or whether just another control mechanism is being created.

For the first time in the 85-year history of the company/co-operative, an alternative proposal to one made by the directors will have to be voted on. Shareholders will also for the first time have to vote for directors - in the past a candidate from an area would be nominated and his acceptance merely rubberstamped at AGMs. A total of 17 nominations have been received so far.

Unprecedented interest in developments surrounding the future of the company/co-operative has been building over the past month as new alliances are formed and strategies worked out.

There are claims they are using bogeymen tactics, warning shareholders to be wary of potential asset strippers.

The board, however, claims that asset stripping is a very real possibility and that it wants to safeguard the interests built up since 1918 for the wine-grape producer.

The board is fighting to get producers to give up a 15% share of the 390 million class A shares, as well as R40 million over five years to fund a co-operative structure called Wijngaard, which would provide certain services at producer level.

The "Group of Five" claim they are attracting a great deal of support from farmers who have large blocks of A shares and are confident that their proposal of just a "5% alliance" transfer and R8 million over 10 years would be more acceptable.

Companies: KWV Ltd

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