Story of an Empire

Uncontrollable megalomaniac? Worshipped tycoon? Unreasonable careerist ? Sol Kerzner, the founder of Sun City, seems to be so when we see the extent and the size of his empire – this empire that he built from almost scratch.

But first, let’s start at beginning.

Sol Kerzner

August 23rd, 1935. Sol Kerzner (his real name is Solomon) is born in a suburb of Johannesburg. He is the youngest child of a family of four children and his parents come from Russia. They are owners of a grocery shop in which they work. Nothing planned such a future for Sol…

Nevertheless, everything begins here. His parents decided to buy a fifty-room hotel near Durban. In 1964, Sol was 29 years old and had a diploma in accounting. Taking advantage of the fact that is parents were away on vacation, Sol sold their hotel and bought a property in ruins in Umhlanga Rocks where he then continues to build the Beverly Hills of South Africa with the support of investors. Some people say that it was the first 5 star hotel in the country. And, with this, Sol created the concept of a Resort: hotel, bar, restaurant and entertainment all in one place. It is a success. The money flows. Sol’s parents forgive him. His career begins.

Sun city

Proud of his first success but not yet satisfied, Sol imagines Sun City. Sun City will offer what is prohibited in a country with racial and moralistic apartheid laws. Therefore, Sol decided to build a hotel complex – the future Sun City – in the independent homeland of Bophuthatswana, where the puritan rules did not apply. Sun City was inaugurated on December 7st, 1979. Luxury hotels, swimming pools, theaters, auditoriums: everything is there and everything is overweening and extravagant. Afrikaners noticed it fast: Sun City echoes Sin City. Entertainment strippers, money games, casinos: Sun City was fast becoming a popular and multiracial destination for leisure where some came to satisfy their most unthinkable desires.

In the 1980s, the most prominent artists were lining up to Sun City: Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Ray Charles – artist then forbidden under apartheid – the Beach Boys, Elton John. Then Sol imagined The Palace of Lost City, an extraordinary architectural replica of The Palace of the Arabian Nights, mixing the wildest styles. It was inaugurated in 1992. This year, Sun City hosts the famous Miss World contest. In short, the last born of the Kerzner family is never short of ideas.

One&Only Cape Town: Grand Opening - Arrivals

However, in 1975, during the construction of Sun City, Sol Kerzner was accused of corruption and decided to leave South Africa and move to London. Thus, as Sol broke away from his native country, he became very ambitious. Among his most famous projects, he bought Paradise Island in 1993 in the Bahamas, a hotel complex, which went bankrupt.

It cost $ 120 million to rebuild, renovate, reinvent and create Atlantis (opened in 1998). Results: 2,900 rooms, a golf course, an aquarium, a Mayan temple (!) including casinos, a water park, spas, nightclubs, etc. Then, the bulimic Tycoon builds a second Atlantis in Dubai, but this time for $ 1.5 billion. Needless to say, this project again proved a great success.

Sol Kerzner& Nelson Madela

Sol never stopped. In 2002, he created a chain of luxury hotels: One & Only. The hotels are scattered around the world and the last one opened in 2009 in Cape Town. Today, Sol is 79 years old and is not retired. We do not count the projects he completed anymore or the fortune he held. But Sol is not just a mogul. Some dramatic events took place along his life: he lost his 42 years old son Butch, in 2006, in a helicopter crash. His son was supposed to take up the torch and to lead the empire of his father. Later, Sol, who suffered a heart attack, is sent to rehabilitation to overcome his alcohol’s addiction.

He was also a friend of Nelson Mandela and would have invested money in the ANC (African National Congress, Mandela’s party), he was knighted by the Queen Elizabeth in 2010, married four times, had five children and six grandchildren. Complex character, tireless and megalomaniac, this is Sol Kerzner, the man who has built a global empire in 50 years and can afford to spend $ 20 million for an inauguration cocktail of one of his latest hotels.

By Sophie Pollet

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