Consumption and indigestion

2010-12-27 10:14

It was at former Cosatu leader and cabinet minister Jay Naidoo’s book launch in July that I first heard the phrase “predatory elite”.

Naidoo warned of such an elite corps hijacking state resources for personal ambition.

Thereafter, various versions of the term were coined and came to define the political year as one of conspicuous consumption and enrichment.

Cosatu general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi is chief scion to the sushi set.

In August, as the country watched aghast as President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, stood to make R1 billion off the ArcelorMittal deal; Vavi warned that a corrupt political elite threatened to turn the country into a “full-blown predatory state”.

In reports at the time, Vavi said: “We’re headed for a predator state where a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas are increasingly using the state to get rich.”

At Aurora mine, the president’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, has not paid his workers for most of this year while he vrooms around in several cars, each one more awesome than the last.

This set the public face against first-family enrichment, though the president is firm in his belief that the Zuma surname should not exclude its bearers from engaging in business.

The debate on conspicuous consumption grew more heated in October when City Press published photographs of former jailbird and businessman Kenny Kunene’s jaw-dropping 40th birthday party at his Sandton nightclub called ZAR.

At the party, Kunene hired models who posed as sushi platters off which the birthday boy and his guests (including presidential spokesperson Zizi Kodwa and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema) nibbled sashimi and sticky rice.

This show of wealth, billed initially as a R700 000 bash, gave Vavi indigestion.

“It makes me sick,” said the unionist.

To which Kunene told Vavi to lighten up in a letter widely publicised and welcomed by people who see no harm in having a little dosh to splash around.

Besides, said Kunene, many youngsters looked up to him for the way in which he’d pulled himself up by the boot straps (or the Carduccis).

Vavi chose another animal as a metaphor when he responded to Kunene’s letter.

“I can’t roll around in the mud with a pig. One would never win.”

Since then, every analyst in town has waded in on conspicuous consumption.

The debate that resonates most with the chattering classes is simplified as: “We’ve earned our money and we’ll spend it as we like”.

Others, like me, pine for a degree more humility and solidarity in a country with the biggest wealth gap in the world.

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