Trust the rich?

2011-07-30 11:22

South Africans have an enormous propensity to question the poor and trust the rich. When poor people demand better services, government asks if it’s a plot by ­foreign agents.

When the gaudy, bling-bling lifestyles of wealthy trust fund kids are presented on Top ­Billing, the nation is supposed to be bedazzled by their fame and good fortune.

Trust us, they say, like trained politicians – our hands are clean, our intentions always ­noble – we work hard for our money. The truth, however, is a more complex beast.

So it is with Julius Malema, whose appetite for consumerism and consumption appears to be no different from so many of his peers in the white and
black elite.

The difference, of course, as starkly presented by the City Press investigation, is that he holds real political power and influence.

For many donors, there is the probability that he can help secure a government tender in his home base of Limpopo, while there is the possibility that an investment in Mr Malema today may deliver handsome returns if he finds his way into high office.

Therefore, it is sometimes speculated, Malema may have conflicting interests when he calls for the nationalisation of mines.

Some suggest that he may receive money from ­mine owners (or aspirant mine owners) who will benefit from ­government buyouts or the dilution of the current state of mine ownership – all at the expense of the public.

One way for Malema to deal with such speculation decisively would be to open his books if he has nothing to hide as a ­public persona.

However, like most South ­African political parties, notably both the ANC and DA, he ­prefers to keep the names of his private donors secret.

Is this for fear of what the truth might reveal?

How are we to trust the rich, powerful and politically connected minority when they continue to ascribe to a culture of secrecy that places a shield between them and the piercing gaze of the country’s poor majority?

If Malema wished to challenge such interests, he would not take lazy political pot shots at South African billionaire Anton Rupert, as he did last week.

Rather, he should have revealed all his financial interests to the nation and asked Rupert to do the same, especially when it comes to Rupert’s complex offshore holdings in Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Sadly, Malema has not yet ­given us any proof that he will be a youth leader who will in any way break the mould of generations of wealthy South Africans who demand our trust but do little to earn it.

The public has the right to know, otherwise our political and economic elite will remain accountable only to itself.

» Van Vuuren is director of the Institute for Security Studies in Cape Town 

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