Real Estate News - Sold - but who is our neighbour?

Sir Leslie Hooker believed his Sydney home had the finest view on earth. So smitten was the real estate tycoon with his vista across Middle Harbour that he requested the urn with his ashes rest on his property at Balmoral.

But perhaps he never caught a glimpse of the panorama from Tahiti, the exotic, Hawaiian-style mansion perched above Hermit Bay in the southern harbourside suburb of Vaucluse, which last September claimed the mantle as the most expensive residential property ever sold in Australia.

McGrath Estate Agents' chief executive, John McGrath, who sold Tahiti for $29.3 million, describes the view across Shark Island to the Harbour Bridge as "one of the best in the country - a gun-barrel view down Sydney Harbour".

Tahiti was built in the 1960s for the former Woolworths chief Sir Theo Kelly. The view may be the piece de resistance of the 2046-square-metre property ensconced in lush tropical gardens, but the five-bedroom, five-bathroom mansion is not short on accoutrements.

It boasts a sub-tropical rainforest atrium with soaring palms and a stream, a state-of-the-art movie theatre, swimming pool adorned with a giant hibiscus motif, discotheque, billiard room, garage for six cars, staff and guest quarters, and direct access to the beach. It also boasts a new owner.

The retailing magnate Brett Blundy sold the property - which he bought from the advertising guru John Singleton in 1999 for $13.75 million - to the South African businessman Maxim Krok.

According to a rich list published in Johannesburg's Sunday Times in December, Krok and his father, Abe, own more than 1.6 billion rand ($240 million) worth of shares in Gold Reef Resorts, a gaming and entertainment company that is subject to a bid by a consortium for a reported 11.4 billion rand.

However, Maxim is embroiled in controversy over a special payment of 12 million rand, which Gold Reef claims it made in recognition of his "extraordinary efforts during tricky negotiations".

Tsogo Sun, a rival bidder which claims it offered 50 cents more a share for the company, has complained about the payment.

The proposed sale of Gold Reef was before the South African regulator as the Herald went to press.

Maxim, 51, is listed as chairman of the company and is also a non-executive director of Aspen Pharmacare, a multinational pharmaceutical company with a branch in Australia. A law graduate, he is a director of numerous private companies in South Africa and, as a pivotal part of the Krok family empire, is expected to commute frequently between Sydney and Johannesburg.

There was a flurry of controversy in November when it was reported that Tahiti would be knocked down so Maxim could build his dream home on the property, near his brother Mark, who recently bought Le Palme, another mansion in the blue-ribbon suburb, for $6.6 million.

McGrath says he was not surprised by the reports, conceding the house is in

"much need of repair". Maxim, contacted in Johannesburg, would only say: "I haven't taken any decision about anything to do with the house. Everything else that has been reported is speculation and total gossip."

But the story of how the Kroks accrued their wealth is far more intriguing than whether Tahiti will be renovated or demolished. It is a tale mired in a tortured land whose racist rulers believed in a colour-coded hierarchy until F.W. De Klerk lifted the ban on the African National Congress in 1990 and Nelson Mandela, released from prison after 27 years, was elected president in 1994.

Twin Pharmaceuticals, presumably named so because Abe and Solly Krok were born identical twins - albeit 19 hours apart - in 1929, patented skin-whitening creams that non-whites bought in an attempt to scramble their way out of the sewer that swamped some 20 million-plus non-whites from 1948.

Zakes Mda, an award-winning South African playwright and poet, wrote about the impact of the creams in his 2002 novel, The Madonna Of Excelsior.

"The most powerful of the creams, with high doses of hydroquinone, was Super Rose Complexion Lotion (for women) and Super Rose He-Man (for men)," Mda said from America, where he is a professor at Ohio University.

"Because He-Man was much stronger, with even higher amounts of the hydroquinone bleaching agent, many black women used it. By the time hydroquinone was banned as an ingredient in cosmetics by the apartheid government, it had already caused a lot of damage on black skins. To this day many faces are permanently disfigured with black-caked spots known in South Africa as 'chubabas'."

But Solly Krok rejects these accusations. "Those were properly formulated creams with FDA approval in America," he said from Johannesburg.

Although Krok concedes the original formulas were carcinogenic, he says the hydroquinone formulas were not. "Unfortunately a lot of people who wanted to lighten their skins used combinations and in excessive quantities."

But he insists they were "definitely not dangerous" if used according to the instructions. "If a person drinks a bottle of whisky he's going to get drunk or die," Solly Krok says. "If a person abuses a substance, any cosmetic substance, he's going to have a problem. If you swallow a bottle of aspirin, you are also going to die."

Professor Colin Tatz, who fled South Africa for Australia in 1960, notes that the Kroks were like many other whites at the time. "They profited from the system. If you really opposed the system you would have wound up in jail instead of buying a $29 million property, or left the country," says Tatz, the director of the Australian Institute of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of NSW. "Blacks in South Africa are very black and no amount of skin-whitening cream is going to change it."

But the story of the Krok family's dalliance with apartheid does not end there. In a bittersweet irony, the twins, now 78, founded the nation's pre-eminent museum showcasing the tyranny of apartheid. But the Apartheid Museum, which opened in 2001 at a cost of 100 million rand, was part of a deal which enabled the Kroks - renowned for their philanthropy - to obtain a gaming licence for a casino adjacent to a theme park they owned in Johannesburg.

According to the conditions of South Africa's gambling board, the winning consortium had to prove how it would invest in "social responsibility".

The Krok family had travelled to Lithuania in 1995 to visit the village that the twins' Jewish parents had fled, and then visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, which inspired them to build the Apartheid Museum.

"[It] helped make them aware of the similarities between the Holocaust and apartheid," wrote the art academic Robyn Sassen in the online magazine PopMatters in 2001."Contrary to the soiled history and questionable objectives of the project, this is an intelligent and sensitively executed memorial to the regime of discrimination that apartheid sired."

But Sassen, who guides university students through the museum, says: "After apartheid started to crumble, it became very trendy for people involved in the struggle to have legitimate profiles in the community. The Kroks slipped into this and vindicated themselves, or attempted to, with their money."

Nonetheless, Solly Krok believes the museum stands as a sentinel to show how apartheid was defeated by good overcoming evil. "It is an important reminder of how one human being can suddenly be inhuman to a fellow human being. Apartheid was an inhumane period and the world needs to be reminded that such a process existed and can exist again."

Meanwhile, his nephew Maxim and his family are due to arrive here in the next few weeks to receive the keys to the most expensive property sold in Australia, although it is unlikely Tahiti will retain its crown for long.

McGrath says a number of properties on the harbour are worth more than $30 million, and Tahiti "will probably look cheap in a couple of years".

There was a flurry of controversy in November when it was reported that Tahiti would be knocked down so Maxim could build his dream home on the property, near his brother Mark, who recently bought Le Palme, another mansion in the blue-ribbon suburb, for $6.6 million.

McGrath says he was not surprised by the reports, conceding the house is in

"much need of repair". Maxim, contacted in Johannesburg, would only say: "I haven't taken any decision about anything to do with the house. Everything else that has been reported is speculation and total gossip."

But the story of how the Kroks accrued their wealth is far more intriguing than whether Tahiti will be renovated or demolished. It is a tale mired in a tortured land whose racist rulers believed in a colour-coded hierarchy until F.W. De Klerk lifted the ban on the African National Congress in 1990 and Nelson Mandela, released from prison after 27 years, was elected president in 1994.

Twin Pharmaceuticals, presumably named so because Abe and Solly Krok were born identical twins - albeit 19 hours apart - in 1929, patented skin-whitening creams that non-whites bought in an attempt to scramble their way out of the sewer that swamped some 20 million-plus non-whites from 1948.

Zakes Mda, an award-winning South African playwright and poet, wrote about the impact of the creams in his 2002 novel, The Madonna Of Excelsior.

"The most powerful of the creams, with high doses of hydroquinone, was Super Rose Complexion Lotion (for women) and Super Rose He-Man (for men)," Mda said from America, where he is a professor at Ohio University.

"Because He-Man was much stronger, with even higher amounts of the hydroquinone bleaching agent, many black women used it. By the time hydroquinone was banned as an ingredient in cosmetics by the apartheid government, it had already caused a lot of damage on black skins. To this day many faces are permanently disfigured with black-caked spots known in South Africa as 'chubabas'."

But Solly Krok rejects these accusations. "Those were properly formulated creams with FDA approval in America," he said from Johannesburg.

Although Krok concedes the original formulas were carcinogenic, he says the hydroquinone formulas were not. "Unfortunately a lot of people who wanted to lighten their skins used combinations and in excessive quantities."

But he insists they were "definitely not dangerous" if used according to the instructions. "If a person drinks a bottle of whisky he's going to get drunk or die," Solly Krok says. "If a person abuses a substance, any cosmetic substance, he's going to have a problem. If you swallow a bottle of aspirin, you are also going to die."

Professor Colin Tatz, who fled South Africa for Australia in 1960, notes that the Kroks were like many other whites at the time. "They profited from the system. If you really opposed the system you would have wound up in jail instead of buying a $29 million property, or left the country," says Tatz, the director of the Australian Institute of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of NSW. "Blacks in South Africa are very black and no amount of skin-whitening cream is going to change it."

But the story of the Krok family's dalliance with apartheid does not end there. In a bittersweet irony, the twins, now 78, founded the nation's pre-eminent museum showcasing the tyranny of apartheid. But the Apartheid Museum, which opened in 2001 at a cost of 100 million rand, was part of a deal which enabled the Kroks - renowned for their philanthropy - to obtain a gaming licence for a casino adjacent to a theme park they owned in Johannesburg.

According to the conditions of South Africa's gambling board, the winning consortium had to prove how it would invest in "social responsibility".

The Krok family had travelled to Lithuania in 1995 to visit the village that the twins' Jewish parents had fled, and then visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, which inspired them to build the Apartheid Museum.

"[It] helped make them aware of the similarities between the Holocaust and apartheid," wrote the art academic Robyn Sassen in the online magazine PopMatters in 2001."Contrary to the soiled history and questionable objectives of the project, this is an intelligent and sensitively executed memorial to the regime of discrimination that apartheid sired."

But Sassen, who guides university students through the museum, says: "After apartheid started to crumble, it became very trendy for people involved in the struggle to have legitimate profiles in the community. The Kroks slipped into this and vindicated themselves, or attempted to, with their money."

Nonetheless, Solly Krok believes the museum stands as a sentinel to show how apartheid was defeated by good overcoming evil. "It is an important reminder of how one human being can suddenly be inhuman to a fellow human being. Apartheid was an inhumane period and the world needs to be reminded that such a process existed and can exist again."

Meanwhile, his nephew Maxim and his family are due to arrive here in the next few weeks to receive the keys to the most expensive property sold in Australia, although it is unlikely Tahiti will retain its crown for long.

McGrath says a number of properties on the harbour are worth more than $30 million, and Tahiti "will probably look cheap in a couple of years".

Professor Colin Tatz, who fled South Africa for Australia in 1960, notes that the Kroks were like many other whites at the time. "They profited from the system. If you really opposed the system you would have wound up in jail instead of buying a $29 million property, or left the country," says Tatz, the director of the Australian Institute of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of NSW. "Blacks in South Africa are very black and no amount of skin-whitening cream is going to change it."

But the story of the Krok family's dalliance with apartheid does not end there. In a bittersweet irony, the twins, now 78, founded the nation's pre-eminent museum showcasing the tyranny of apartheid. But the Apartheid Museum, which opened in 2001 at a cost of 100 million rand, was part of a deal which enabled the Kroks - renowned for their philanthropy - to obtain a gaming licence for a casino adjacent to a theme park they owned in Johannesburg.

According to the conditions of South Africa's gambling board, the winning consortium had to prove how it would invest in "social responsibility".

The Krok family had travelled to Lithuania in 1995 to visit the village that the twins' Jewish parents had fled, and then visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, which inspired them to build the Apartheid Museum.

"[It] helped make them aware of the similarities between the Holocaust and apartheid," wrote the art academic Robyn Sassen in the online magazine PopMatters in 2001."Contrary to the soiled history and questionable objectives of the project, this is an intelligent and sensitively executed memorial to the regime of discrimination that apartheid sired."

But Sassen, who guides university students through the museum, says: "After apartheid started to crumble, it became very trendy for people involved in the struggle to have legitimate profiles in the community. The Kroks slipped into this and vindicated themselves, or attempted to, with their money."

Nonetheless, Solly Krok believes the museum stands as a sentinel to show how apartheid was defeated by good overcoming evil. "It is an important reminder of how one human being can suddenly be inhuman to a fellow human being. Apartheid was an inhumane period and the world needs to be reminded that such a process existed and can exist again."

Meanwhile, his nephew Maxim and his family are due to arrive here in the next few weeks to receive the keys to the most expensive property sold in Australia, although it is unlikely Tahiti will retain its crown for long.

McGrath says a number of properties on the harbour are worth more than $30 million, and Tahiti "will probably look cheap in a couple of years".

Article from: www.smh.com.au