Malema and the bet­ter cap­i­tal­ists

Gugulethu Mh­lungu

CityPress - - Voices -

Julius Malema ap­peared in court this week and with him, a Louis Vuit­ton belt. An EWN re­porter made sure we knew all about the belt, and Times Live later claimed that thanks to Malema, it now knew the price of such a belt – but Malema is not the first per­son to ac­ces­sorise with the lux­ury prod­uct.

Next we’ll be claim­ing to have learnt Pierre Cardin from the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo’s La Sapeur – the so­ci­ety of el­e­gantly dressed work­ing class men who only wear de­signer la­bels.

We are well in­formed about Malema’s ex­pen­sive tastes; from Bre­itling watches to that house he was build­ing in Sand­ton (which was at­tached by the SA Rev­enue Ser­vice and sold). Like­wise, we were end­lessly re­minded of Kenny Kunene’s ex­ces­sive wealth and spend­ing habits be­fore and after he went into pol­i­tics.

The sub­text here is that two men who claimed to be “rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies” live like the rich, and not like “the peo­ple”.

The con­ver­sa­tion about the moral obli­ga­tions that come with black wealth (real or imag­ined) is a col­umn all on its own. But, es­sen­tially, if you are go­ing to eat sushi and be black, you best be build­ing houses for the poor too.

While we have con­vinced our­selves that we are in­tol­er­ant of the hypocrisy of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who be­have like cap­i­tal­ists, the truth is, we are not against all con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. We don’t like it only some­times be­cause de­pend­ing on who you are, we’ll send Top Billing to cover it, and call it the “good life”.

There are “good” and “bad” cap­i­tal­ists. Mark Shut­tle­worth this week is the newly crowned king of the for­mer. South Africa is truly a coun­try of burn­ing ironies.

Ex­cept it is nearly im­pos­si­ble to be a good cap­i­tal­ist in the cur­rent sys­tem that was a tin­ker­ing, rather than an un­do­ing, of the old eco­nomic sys­tem.

South Africa is char­ac­terised by glar­ing con­sump­tion by a mi­nor­ity. Good, pro-rainbow na­tion in­di­vid­u­als (black and white alike) en­joy the fruits of the pre­vail­ing wage struc­ture, which writer Osi­ame Molefe rightly points out is “based on the his­tor­i­cal ex­ploita­tion of black work­ers”.

All this with no sense of irony or self-aware­ness when we point out Malema’s belt. It’s even worse when the self-pro­claimed good and pro-poor do so while we ben­e­fit from the op­pres­sive sys­tems that de­liver our iPhones and Nikes.

The good ones are too com­plicit in the way th­ese sys­tems func­tion, but it’s eas­ier to make it about Julius’ belt while we re­main couched in the priv­i­leges we got from the sys­tem we ex­pect oth­ers to re­ject.

If you are go­ing to eat sushi and be black, you best be build­ing houses for the poor too

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