Philanthropist Michael Javett, one of South Africa’s longest-standing businessmen, thoroughbred owner and patron of the arts, has passed away, aged 86.
Javett studied law at Wits University and then practised as an attorney at Webber Wentzel. He moved to London to join the international law firm Allen & Overy and subsequently pursued a career as a merchant banker at Hill Samuel.
On his return to South Africa he established the Unisec Group that was later sold to Standard Bank. He also established Tolux SA, which has since become Brait. From 2006 he focused on philanthropy and was instrumental in establishing the Javett Foundation, and more recently Javett-UP, which took many years of planning.
In his distinctly unobtrusive but eminently influential manner, he was the driving force behind the creation of the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP), an extraordinary Centre that first opened its doors in September 2019.
Built on the belief in the emancipatory potential of the arts in society through multidisciplinary curatorial and pedagogic initiatives, the Javett-UP was created through a partnership between the Javett Foundation and the University of Pretoria.
Javett passed away just a few days before the birth of the last art project in which he was directly involved, Mihloti ya Ntsako – Journeys with the Bongi Dhlomo Collection, a book currently being printed. It chronicles the coming into being of the Bongi Dhlomo Collection, a unique compendium of 138 artworks produced in the 20th century by both well-known and lesser-known black South African artists.
Throughout the book about this unusual collection process, Michael is “deliberately rendered invisible”, consistent with his character and his desire to centre Bongi as the prime driver of the project. And that is how he was, always there, minding from the wings and never wanting to take centre stage. He believed in democratisation and access to artistic education for our youth and diverse societies, to the betterment of our country and the region.
On the racing front, Javett raced successfully in South Africa for many years, supporting many of the country’s trainers and breeders, and he rightfully reaped the rewards through the exploits of many top-class racehorses.
In partnership with Fane Tenderini, Michael was associated with one of the greatest horses ever to grace the South African turf -Politician, the R5 250 purchase who won 18 races (11 of which were G1’s) notably back-to-back runnings of the J&B Met and Queen’s Plate, as well as the 1978 Rothmans July Handicap. Politician retired to stud having been named South Africa’s Horse Of The Year on three occasions.
Javett also enjoyed plenty of success in more recent years racing, among others, the imported filly Alboran Sea, South Africa’s Champion 3YO Filly Of 2014-2015, with five wins, from just ten starts, including the 2014 G1 Allan Robertson Fillies Championship, 2015 G1 Cape Flying Championship, and the 2015 G1 Computaform Sprint. He also built up a great racing partnership with Mary Slack, racing high-class gallopers including the aforementioned Alboran Sea and Marmara Sea, a leading runner in the Eastern Cape. He sold his racing stock at a Bloodstock SA dispersal sale in May this year.
Mike de Kock, who trained Alboran Sea, paid tribute to Michael Javett, saying: “Mr Javett was a gentleman from the old school in business and racing, a humble, private man who enjoyed his horses and cared for the industry. We were honoured to have him in our ranks for so many years. Our condolences to his family and friends.”