Books

Money, betrayal & illness: local mogul Gerard de Rauville's tell-all book

In the 'Sugar Farmer's Son', Greg Arde tells the fascinating life story of Gerard de Rauville, one of Durban's biggest property moguls

05 December 2017 - 12:44 By SHELLEY SEID
Image: Supplied

If the story of Gerard de Rauville's life had been a novel, reviewers would probably have found it implausible. A spell of blindness, an aircraft disaster, betrayal, financial hardships and a stroke - these are just some of the events that form part of the very real life of Durban property mogul De Rauville.

At 75, De Rauville decided it was time to pen his memoirs and he turned to seasoned journalist Greg Arde for help.

In The Sugar Farmer's Son, Arde has put together a rollicking read, uncovering scandals, mining the past and giving an absorbing - and often amusing - account of the large and entangled Mauritian community that has been in South Africa since the 1900s.

De Rauville, as reflected in the title of the book, is the son of a sugar farmer Phillippe, who came to Durban in the 1930s with his wife and child to work as a farm manager.

By the time Phillippe died he had shares in farms up and down the north coast.

The second son in a family of six, De Rauville went on to establish a number of listed companies and was responsible for many of the biggest property deals in Durban.

Arde says he became fascinated with his subject during the course of the project.

"He was born of immigrants and overcame a spell of blindness in his 20s. He had to take over his family's affairs when he was 26 after his parents and sister died in the 1968 SAA air disaster in Namibia.

It's a gripping ensemble of history, business, family drama, politics and religion
Greg Ardé

"It's a gripping ensemble of history, business, family drama, politics and religion."

The book took a year to research and write. Arde says he and his subject would meet on the porch over tea.

"The story unfolded, sometimes haltingly, and then at a cracking pace. He is honest . He gave me carte blanche and invited others to tell me whatever they liked."

While it's a cracker of a read, it is, more importantly, a social history.

The sugar cane industry changed the face of KwaZulu-Natal, mainly through indentured labour from India, but also due to the French Mauritian community, who moved to Durban to fulfil their dreams of a brighter economic future.

• This article was originally published in The Times