We’re all in shock again. Over the weekend, it emerged that Sylvia Lucas, the brand new premier of the Northern Cape, has a bit of a thing for takeaways. A R53 159 thing. That’s an awful lot of Big Mac Meals. More than 2300. It’s about 33 a day. Wow.
The thing is, that “wow” shouldn’t be there. Are any of us really shocked by this? We may be appalled. We may be dismayed. I dare say that many of us are amused, in entirely the wrong sort of way; there are few more apt examples of our politicians riding the gravy train. But shocked?
Being shocked implies being surprised. Anyone out there genuinely surprised by this sort of thing anymore?
I used to be a manager in a fairly large retail group. Back in the good old days, when companies still had luxuries like money, we used to head out for an annual conference. It was a bit of a dogshow. Set any group of youngish people loose with an open bar-tab, and things our bound to get a little out of hand. But just a little. Our debauchery was limited to local beer and wine by the glass.
Until the big dogs arrived. Senior management would join us a day later. All it took was for the financial director or the CEO to sit down and casually order a round of Chivas or Johnnie Walker Black, and all hell would break loose. The guys at the top of any organisation set the tone of that organisation. If they demonstrated that something was OK, who were we to argue. And so it would be Chivas and Johnnie Walker Black for the rest of the conference.
I don’t see why we should expect a government to function any differently from a company. The guys at the top set the tone, the rest follow. In a country full of hungry, unemployed, marginalised people, we have MECs buying ten thousand rand artworks at McDonalds. Paid for with taxpayer’s money. We have MPs driving round in million rand cars. Paid for with taxpayer’s money. We have our president, whose cattle live in a million-rand, high security kraal. Paid for with taxpayer’s money.
And everywhere, we see the consequences of these excesses. There simply are none.
So why should Sylvia Lucas even be worthy of our attention? Because, as I mentioned, she’s funny. Look at her. She’s overweight! And she was buying food! What a hoot! It’s even funnier if we call her a fatcat! And she even said “How would we have eaten if we didn’t use taxpayers’ money?” What a blast!
The truth is, this isn’t even that big a deal. As appealing as it may be as a metaphor for our current leadership, nobody can pretend that the woman is singlehandedly putting away 33 burgers a day. With fries. She’s obviously just being a little generous to her staff with money that is not hers. And she’s going to have to keep doing so for another 700 years or so before she catches up with Nkandla.
And until we as a people do something about that decidedly unfunny situation, we might as well get used to seeing the Sylvia Lucases of this world behave like their bosses. We might as well pull up a chair, open a bag of popcorn, and sit back and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. I wonder when we’ll stop.
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