The man behind the EduSolutions empire
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 in the spotlight of the Limpopo textbook supply controversy.
Today, Battlemann is the kingpin in a multi-billion rand empire built largely on massive 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.
In the early 2000s came a name change – and a change of fortunes as the seeds of his 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 an opportunity around textbooks.
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 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 that year.
Today he has – or had – directorships in some 50 companies, according to public records.
Those who know Battlemann describe him 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 when it began.
Other influential former civil servants that he brought into his fold are Khetsi Lehoko, a former deputy DG in the national Department of Education, former Gauteng director-general Mogopodi Mokoena and former Government Printing Works CFO Moosa Ntimba.
Battlemann has developed a reputation for the fine life with a particular taste for Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins and Range Rovers.
He is known to enjoy significant properties in the luxury Zimbali estate in KwaZulu-Natal, although the only property actually registered in his name is a humble home 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 President Jacob Zuma. Now Battlemann is a “champion” of the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust.
African Access Holdings has made significant charitable contributions and also hosts a glitzy annual national business award ceremony.
Within EduSolutions, insiders say, he was able to smooth over animosity between Coetzee and black executives who were often at the receiving end of Coetzee’s outbursts.
His charm, insiders say, can be balanced with a ruthless determination which inspires many people to treat him with caution.
*Reporting by Thanduxolo Jika, Jeanne van der Merwe, Jacques Pauw and Charl Du Plessis