Sunday, August 13, 2006

Even Mbeki can’t Tame the Sultans of Bling

It's all very well President Mbeki eloquently lamenting our culture of greed in his recent Nelson Mandela lecture; but isn’t he about 10 years too late?
Where was the calm voice of reason when the snouts were pushing roughly towards the BEE swill trough? Was there any restraint shown then or any censure for comments such as “Blacks should get filthy rich” and “I didn’t join the struggle to be poor”? Well if there was, I didn’t notice it.
When the embarrassingly gormless leaders of the ANC Youth League received such largesse from that infamous nocturnal aviator, Brett Kebble, did they: a) give it to the poor; b) rush out to buy sharp suits and fast cars; or c) start a foundation providing primary healthcare to rural communities?
Obviously the answer is b, and for a very good reason. If you’re an aspirational Sultan of Bling and somebody gives you a pile of free money, it would be pointless to waste it on the poor. After all, as the Bible teaches, the poor are always with us and there’s nothing a poor man likes more than to see a fellow member of the previously disadvantaged strutting around in a tailor-made suit and edging the donkey carts off the road in his overpowered car. It gives people hope. Apparently.
Then there’s this ubuntu thing, which is a bit confusing if you’re white. It may sound like the name of an aftershave but it actually refers to humanity towards others. White capitalism allows you to tread the faces of the poor into the dirt in your quest for greater riches, but black capitalism has this ubuntu thing, which is a bit like a speed regulator on a BMW that stops you from travelling faster than 250km/h.
The idea is that the ubuntu regulator kicks in and says something like, “Hey there, big boy. You’ve already made R700-million this year, don’t you think you should leave something for someone else?”
However, rather like the speed regulator on the BMW, ubuntu can also be overridden if you know how.
What puzzles me about the accumulation of great wealth is why we all get so worked up about it. Money begets money and if you’re even relatively well-off and debt-free your investments should generate more cash than you can ever hope to spend. So the rich are bound to get richer through no fault of their own.
Believe it or not, wealth becomes a burden. Once you have all life’s necessities such as a surround-sound home theatre, a wine cellar for 6000 bottles and a helipad, you run out of things to spend money on.
Take poor old Dave King. Reports suggest the beleaguered billionaire spent R1-million a month. How do you spend that kind of money unless you use seven-ply toilet paper, eat foie gras for every meal and fly Eric Clapton in every week to give you guitar lessons?
In the end, though, it all comes down to sex. We buy things we don’t need because they are part of our breeding plumage. A flashy car and a diamond-encrusted watch send a signal to the opposite sex that says: “Please mate with me because I can compensate you financially for my lack of personality.”
Now the ball’s well and truly rolling, the desire for wealth at the expense of spiritual development is unlikely to diminish because of a presidential slap on the wrist.

From the Sunday Times' Out to Lunch column, written by David Bullard

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