Wires

UPDATE 2-S.Africa black shareholders sell $370 mln Absa stake

* Group sells 24.6 mln shares at 132.50 rand each

* Disposes of nearly all of its stake

* Shares down 2.8 percent

(Writes through, adds details, background)

By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 10 (Reuters) - A group of black SouthAfrican 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 "blackempowerment" deals.

Batho Bonke Capital, a consortium of black investors thatincludes Absa employees, took a 10 percent stake in the bank in2004 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," shesaid, confirming an earlier report.

Absa is majority owned by Britain's Barclays Plc

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMPOWERMENT DEALS

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

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

The sale was done through a book build with 55 institutionalinvestors, said the adviser. One billion rand of the proceedswill go to settle debt, with the remainder going toshareholders, the adviser said.

It was not immediately clear if Absa would need to doanother black economic empowerment (BEE) deal following the exitof the Batho Bonke shareholders, although one analyst said itwas probably unlikely.

"The way I understand it, it's aonce-empowered-forever-empowered kind of scenario so I don'tthink they need to do another BEE deal because they have alreadydone it," said the analyst, who declined to be identified.

Shares of Absa fell 2.8 percent to 134.60 rand, although theanalyst said the reaction was overblown, given that shares werebeing sold directly to institutional investors, not on the openmarket.

($1=8.7821 South African rand)

(Editing by David Dolan and Mark Potter)

((david.dolan@thomsonreuters.com)(+27 11 775 3150)(ReutersMessaging: david.dolan@thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: ABSA SHARES/