22 March 2020
Conscience of a Centrist
It was in the summer of 2015 when the “unthinkable” happened – former, and perhaps disgraced Public Investment Corporation (PIC) CEO Dan Matjila had bought himself a R2-million Maserati – and this made news.
He was reduced to being just a “public servant” who ought not to afford such a grand toy. The PIC staff were said to have been “puzzled” how their boss could afford the Italian machine. Of course, we know that is bull dust, as Matjila, like other bosses of state-owned companies, is not your everyday Joe the plumber.
Five years later, his opponents would argue they were justified in questioning how he funded his lifestyle following the report of the Mpati Commission. Sadly, this is a permanent feature of our daily discourse: a rich black man is guilty of ill-gotten wealth until proven otherwise.
The inquiry, chaired by Judge Lex Mpati, has come and gone. And predictably, corruption has once more been given a black face.
Without defending those black businesses and executives found wanting by the commission – the blackification of corruption in this country cannot go unchallenged.
A limited number of deals were scrutinised by the commission, with black business people paraded before Mpati to explain how they got investments from the PIC. What this exercise achieved is to further sow doubt in the acumen of black business.
Do those who framed the terms of reference for the commission and Mpati and his team truly believe that white companies that the PIC has invested billions of rand of pensioners’ money in over the years are clean as a whistle? And if not, why have we as a country decided to police black wealth and ridicule our own as corrupt and incapable of running a clean business?
For aspiring black business entrepreneurs who took their time to read the 900-odd page report, the message is clear: steer clear of the mainstream economy, or the establishment will come after you.
A black government cannot spend millions of rand on a commission whose sole purpose is to investigate black business interests in an economy in the hands of white men who have decided to call Stellenbosch home.
That sends a wrong message to society and reinforces the white supremacy of the white captains of industry. The PIC is the biggest investor on the JSE with R2-trillion assets under management.
The fact that black people own less than a quarter of banks is a disgrace. How, then, should we close this ownership gap when the PIC ought to think twice before investing in black people to acquire a significant share of banks and the broader financial sector? The work of the Mpati Commission is not done until we get the full picture of corruption at the PIC and its beneficiaries.