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South Africa black shareholders sell $370 million Absa stake

By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A group of black South African shareholders has sold a stake in Absa Group , the country's biggest retail bank, worth about $370 million, exiting one of the post-apartheid era's high profile "black empowerment" deals.

Batho Bonke Capital, a consortium of black investors that includes Absa employees, took a 10 percent stake in the bank in 2004 to help it meet government targets on black ownership.

On Wednesday it sold most of its remaining holding in Absa, said Yolanda Cuba, a director for the group.

"Batho Bonke is in the process of disposing its shares," she said, confirming an earlier report.

Absa is majority owned by Britain's Barclays Plc

Batho Bonke, led by prominent politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale, sold 24.6 million shares - a roughly 3.4 percent stake in Absa - at 132.50 rand each, according to one Batho Bonke adviser.

That represents a 4.3 percent discount to Absa's closing price on Tuesday, and values the transaction at around 3.26 billion rand ($370 million).

It is the fourth-largest equity deal in sub-Saharan Africa this year, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Merrill Lynch and RMB Morgan Stanley acted as joint bookrunners on the deal.

Batho Bonke, whose name means "All the People" in two South African languages, held just under 4 percent in Absa before Wednesday's sale, according to Thomson Reuters data.

A remaining 0.4 percent of unsold shares are held by Batho Bonke members who are Absa employees, said the adviser, who declined to be identified.

EMPOWERMENT DEALS

South African companies have used "black empowerment" deals - loaning shares to black investors or selling stakes at a discount - to increase their black ownership and meet government targets to help those disadvantaged by the apartheid regime.

Some senior members of the ruling ANC have become multi-millionaires through such deals. Batho Bonke's Sexwale - who has been seen as a potential South African president - founded Mvelaphanda Group , an early black investment group.

The sale was done through a book build with 55 institutional investors, said the adviser. One billion rand of the proceeds will go to settle debt, with the remainder going to shareholders, the adviser said.

It was not immediately clear if Absa would need to do another black economic empowerment (BEE) deal following the exit of the Batho Bonke shareholders, although one analyst said it was probably unlikely.

"The way I understand it, it's a once-empowered-forever-empowered kind of scenario so I don't think they need to do another BEE deal because they have already done it," said the analyst, who declined to be identified.

Shares of Absa fell 2.8 percent to 134.60 rand, although the analyst said the reaction was overblown, given that shares were being sold directly to institutional investors, not on the open market.

(Editing by David Dolan and Mark Potter)

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