By  on January 20, 2006

LONDON — Anton Rupert, the South African industrialist, philanthropist and founder of the Compagnie Financière Richemont luxury goods group, has died at age 89.

A Richemont spokesman here confirmed Rupert died in his sleep Wednesday night at his home in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town. He was frail and his health had been gradually deteriorating over the past few years, the spokesman confirmed.

Rupert, whose family is worth $2.3 billion according to Forbes magazine, was a respected businessman and conservationist. During his lifetime, he was openly critical of apartheid at home and abroad, and a friend of the civil rights leader Nelson Mandela. South African president Thabo Mbeki called him a staunch supporter of South African business.

"Dr. Rupert played a pivotal role in the development of South Africa's industrial and commercial sectors," Mbeki said in a statement Thursday. "Not only did he distinguish himself in the Afrikaner community, but also played a significant role in supporting and initiating significant transformation of South Africa's business," he added.

Rupert, born on Oct. 4, 1916, was a self-made man who began his career as a chemistry professor. He spent his spare time manufacturing cigarettes in his garage at home. He went on to found the tobacco and industrial conglomerate Rembrandt, which was eventually broken down into companies including Remgro, an investment firm, and Richemont, which owns such brands as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Montblanc, Dunhill and Chloé.

His eldest son, Johann Rupert, now serves as executive chairman of Richemont and chairman of Remgro and VenFin, another family investment company. Father and son, friends said, were extremely close. Rupert also is survived by a daughter, Hanneli, who was with him when he died, and five grandchildren.

Those who knew Rupert said he was respected as a "wise, long-term thinker," and a manager who had immense trust in his staff. Former associates recalled the head of the luxury goods group's passion for product and how he would spend hours grilling executives about the finer details of a leather goods line, a watch or a suit.

But business wasn't his only passion. Rupert was also a committed conservationist. He was a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund, and served as president of the organization's South African branch.He also founded the Rupert Nature Foundation, and the Peace Parks Foundation, along with Mandela and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, another friend. The Peace Parks Foundation funds trans-frontier conservation areas, known as "peace parks," in southern Africa.

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