How I wish South Africans were as passionate about the daily lives of the poor as they are of the rich.
The controversy around Khanyi Dhlomo’s loan has a lot more to do with the fascination and sometimes sheer jealousy that many harbour towards the wealthy.
It is as if there is a special dispensation that allows the wealthy to be unfairly discriminated against and be made responsible for all the social ills we face.
The wealthy may be the beneficiaries but they are not always the architects of poverty.
The likes of Dhlomo are an easy target, because in South Africa there is a general vulgarisation of wealth and a particular criminalisation of black wealth.
It is as if the wealthy should be ashamed and apologetic about being rich.
The real problem in South Africa is poverty, not wealth. It is inequality and not the mere existence of the wealthy.
The fight against poverty is sidetracked by pretending that the enemy is wealth when it is actually unfair allocation of resources that enable individuals to become the best they can be.
If we demonise people because they are wealthy and we are not, what is to stop us from demonising the employed because others are jobless?
Pretending that a life of want is the natural order of things does nothing to improve the plight of the poor.
Not everybody is interested in being a millionaire.
That, however, does not mean that those who do are exploitative or less humane than those who have no such inclinations.
If, in pursuit of their wealth, they obey all the laws of the land and act ethically and in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, then, by all means, they should be encouraged instead of being made to feel guilty.
In fact, the poor do not need encouragement or advertising to see the benefits of wealth.
As Woody Allen once observed: “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
Efforts to enrich yourself do not necessarily mean impoverishing others, although there are many cases where this happens.
The apartheid state’s land dispossession of the indigenous populations is one such example.
It is not only in business that we see this troublesome tendency.
Some have made gospel of the French novelist Honoré de Balzac’s cynical quote: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”
I am not so naive as to believe that every wealthy person got there from sheer hard work and a lucky break here and there, but I do not accept as inevitable that those who want to march to wealth must trample on corpses.
Another thing about the vulgarisation of wealth is that it leads to a race to the bottom. It asks people to accept less than their resources allow them to.
If you are wealthy and get into legal trouble, it is as if you are committing a new offence if you get yourself an expensive lawyer who will help you get off the charges you face.
It is called “rich-man’s justice”, but usually without the merits of the decision being interrogated.
Why should the ill settle for a run-down clinic, where they may or may not get proper care, if they have the means to get the care they need and deserve?
The same goes for where they choose to live, schools to take their children to and, as in the case of Dhlomo’s business, what to wear and how much to spend on it.
If we become as passionate about what many millions are denied by the state, but which they deserve – such as decent schools with learning material that arrives on time, health facilities where the ill are treated with dignity and homes that will not fall on them while they sleep – then the days of the lives of the rich will be just another inconsequential soapie.
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