Power and money

2007-12-04 00:00

THE Rich List supplement to a Sunday newspaper made interesting reading in highlighting not only how the number of South Africa’s super-rich (as judged by holdings in publicly-listed companies) has grown, but also who is now included in it. The traditional old money — the Oppenheimers and the Ruperts — has been equalled or surpassed by newly-enriched individuals.

Smuts Ngonyama’s famous remark: “I did not join the struggle to be poor,” is amply illustrated. His Elephant Consortium is worth R5 billion. But this is only a small part of an extensive process of enrichment of a new elite. It is disquieting how many politicians now feature among South Africa’s richest people. Members of the African National Congress’s highest decision-making body have benefited from an estimated R225 billion worth of empowerment transactions since 1994. Six members of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC alone have a combined wealth of R2-billion worth of shares in JSE listed companies — and that does not include property, cash, offshore investments or money held with fund managers. This combination of great wealth and political office (which should be devoted to an ethic of public service, not personal enrichment) holds enormous potential for corruption. And there have been some notable examples of it in the past decade. Chief among them, of course, is the arms deal, a boil that has not yet been lanced by a no-holds-barred judicial commission of inquiry. Instead, the former ANC chairman of Scopa, Andrew Feinstein, who first blew the whistle, was sidelined.

At a lesser level was Travelgate where a number of members of the governing party defrauded the state but were allowed to get away with it with a figurative tap on the wrist instead of being fired. And what about the curious# protection of national police commissioner Jackie Selebi with his acknowledged friendship with dubious characters and the firing of the director of public prosecutions who was about to charge him? So, in the context of the ANC leadership race, it is a bit rich to find President Thabo Mbeki, who has held office for more than eight years, only now warning about corruption and against leaders who seek power to enrich themselves. It’s rather late in the day. It would seem that his new devotion to clean the government is designed to undermine his rival Jacob Zuma. Alas, his conspicuous failure to act decisively long ago might well prevent any exposures now which would damage Zuma without doing great collateral damage to his own supporters.

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