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SA expat becomes major player in British politics



The Lubner name is synonymous with upliftment in South Africa, and the family is now pursuing that legacy in the United Kingdom (UK). South African-born Gary Lubner (64) is a serious backer of the Labour Party, hoping to root out antisemitism and make British society more just and equal.

According to Electoral Commission figures, Gary donated £500 000 (R11.7 million) to the Labour Party in the first quarter of 2023, with significantly more expected over the next 12 to 18 months. This isn’t the first time he has donated. Commission figures show he previously gave more than £200 000 (R4.7 million) to the Labour Party. “People with knowledge of his intentions expect his total donations before the election to top £5 million (R116.7 million),” according to the Financial Times. The UK is likely to go into elections in the second half of 2024.

“Gary and I are first cousins,” says Afrika Tikkun Chief Executive Marc Lubner. “Our fathers, Ronnie and Bertie, were brothers who were very close and built PG Glass Group.” After studying finance at the University of Cape Town, joining accounting firm Arthur Andersen, and clinching a Master of Business Administration from London Business School, Gary joined PG Glass’ international parent company, Belron, named after his father and grandmother, Ronnie and Bella. After the European and South African units were split during a reorganisation by institutional shareholders, he became chief executive in 2000. The company employs about 30 000 people worldwide, and is the world’s largest auto glass company.

Having just stepped down from the business earlier this year, Gary is focusing on his passions for philanthropy and sport. He’s a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust and regularly participates in sporting events to raise money for charity. After his 40th birthday, he started the Spirit of Belron Challenge – a sporting fundraiser most often involving a triathlon that he and hundreds of colleagues run every year for Afrika Tikkun.

“Gary is a man whose entire life has been driven around human principles of what’s right and what’s wrong,” says Marc. “He was an opponent of apartheid, and continues to act against any injustices he witnesses.”

Speaking to South African media in 2013, Gary said, “I’m very fond of South Africa. I miss it enormously. I’ve got a holiday home there. I’ve been there every year since I was 11 years old. I visit as often as I can. My kids love it. They were born in England, but they all support the Springboks. I have lots of friends, lots of family there, strong ties. It’s an amazing country.”

He credits South Africa for “an unbelievable education, an unbelievable start in life, whether it was at school or university. If it wasn’t for what we had in South Africa, none of us would be in the positions we are over here.

“I’ve always believed really strongly – and it’s been a family belief – that you have an obligation to all the communities you work with. It comes from a fundamental belief that businesses don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a community. We happen to be born into a particular situation. So we always felt that there was an obligation, as individuals and as a business, to give back to communities less well-off than us.”

Christopher Stafford, a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham focusing on British party politics, told the SA Jewish Report, “The Conservative Party has always benefitted from being the most funded of the UK political parties, so a big cash donation for Labour will certainly be beneficial to its campaign efforts.”

He says Gary’s donation could be a defining moment. “Given the recent problems with antisemitism within the Labour Party, Lubner’s donation suggests that he has restored confidence in the new leadership’s directions and tolerance. That’s certainly good for Keir Starmer, especially if it signals a return of confidence within the Jewish community more generally. However, party donors usually aren’t that high within the public consciousness, so I’m not sure if it will have much of an impact overall.”

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