Does SA need a rich president? – Ferial Haffajee

2012-04-21 09:26

South Africa’s general discomfort with black wealth was apparent in the response to news that businessman and political leader Cyril Ramaphosa was a buffalo soldier too.

We reported last Sunday that Ramaphosa had bid R19.5?million for a rare buffalo with a magnificent set of genes and horns.

The responses I read were generally of a tut-tut variety. Why didn’t he spend it on orphanages? Or the general poor? Or on good works?

Nobody said the same about Jaco Troskie and his dad, Boet, who took the cow by the horns for R20?million. Generally, black and white South Africans are uneasy with black money.

Some said he had sold out on his trade union history – Ramaphosa is still regarded as the best leader of the National Union of Mineworkers. How had he sold out, I wondered.

We are so locked into class positions and a romanticisation of workers that I find most of my newly middle-class friends will decry their social mobility. Perhaps it is because of the stranglehold that socialism still holds over our political rhetoric.

The response was generally the same when it was announced that Ramaphosa had taken a big bite of the local McDonald’s franchise operation.

By way of a disclaimer, I tweeted that it was a sad day that he had turned burger maker, but that was more because I think he would be a great president.

It’s not hard to put a bit of meat between a bun; it’s far tougher to run a country with so much latent potential.

Our collective noses in Ramaphosa’s balance sheets explains why he is unlikely to take a run at the ANC presidency, though he is being pushed to do so by both teams running the leadership race for the ANC national conference in Mangaung in December.

The poor man doesn’t want his wealth be the subject of our distributive and liberal instincts. And why should it be? Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Foundation is a big and innovative philanthropic organisation that offers interesting programmes. He gives a lot, but he doesn’t do so loudly.

I think we should embrace his buffalo pockets. It is great to have a president who has his own money. A man or woman of independent means will be a focused leader who is not worried about what will happen at the end of two terms when a life of comfort and statesmanship comes to an end.

I think one of the reasons President Jacob Zuma wants a second term, though he said he would stay for only one, is that it’s pesky to take a commercial flight after getting used to your own jet.

US President Barack Obama may have warned eloquently about the dangers of becoming trapped in the presidential bubble, but there’s a certain swag in having your every need taken care of.

And while we normal drivers may simply abhor the blue-light convoys that carry our excellencies, put yourself on the other side of that hooter and imagine the pure joy of doing Joburg to Pretoria in 20 minutes any time of day.

There’s also the other matter of having your familial and spousal budgets picked up by the public purse.

A rich president would do the job for love and ambition, not for money.

Africa’s ambitions are stymied by the dynastic quality of First Life. Many of the finest economies have resources locked up by presidents ensuring that their families and extended networks get the best deals from growing economies.

Our president has spent a fair bit of time securing deals for his own children and extended networks, no doubt with an eye to his growing family and shortening term in office.

It would only be the most naive among us who think that his nephew Khulubuse Zuma’s expanding empire has not been assisted by a filial word in an ear here and there.

A rich president wouldn’t worry about networks and patronage as he or she wouldn’t need to do any favours for anybody.

He or she could simply focus on the job at hand and govern.

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