An apology or two, a few crocodile tears and business keeps adding up the profits
THE recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing on the role of business during the apartheid era makes one doubt the wisdom of extending the commission's life for another four months.
Listening to stories of politically motivated murder and mayhem and to confessions of government-sponsored chaos are one thing, but to conduct smug little hearings on what benefits the media or business may or may not have derived from apartheid looks suspiciously like a witch hunt to me.
Business is notoriously bad at conducting itself at this type of thing, probably because it is afraid of offending the new government on whose patronage it now relies. Consequently, nobody came out with any statements that their company supported apartheid because it produced an inexhaustible stream of uneducated, cheap manual labour, allowed the company's executives to live in nice exclusive white suburbs and saved their wives from the horrors of ironing because the hostel system on the mines left a lot of black women with no alternative but to become domestic workers.
Instead of this we heard mealy-mouthed apologies for not doing more to stop apartheid. You don't need to be an intellectual Mike Tyson to see that business behaved in exactly the same way at the TRC hearing as it did during the previous 40-odd years; it sucked up to the government of the day, bowing its corporate head in penitence and pretending to be suitably contrite. This is precisely what the TRC had hoped for - an election is approaching and generous donations will be required to swell the ruling party's war chest.
Having seemingly run out of useful work to do, the taxpayer-funded TRC is now behaving rather like the Spanish Inquisition and looking for heretics to roast.
Who knows, maybe the acting profession is next. The Market Theatre will be asked why they put on so many Eurocentric productions during the dark days of Nat rule. They will no doubt reply that they did try. They put on some locally written, angst-filled dramas about life as a pass-carrying black, but most of the white audience left and stopped going to the theatre as a result. Or maybe the commission will haul my friend Richard Cock before it and demand to know why his orchestra has been assaulting our ears with music written by dead, white European males played on non-African instruments. I fear that his defence that there are very few classical works of merit written by black composers will not go down well.
The high point of the business hearing though was the suggestion from economics professor Sampie Terreblanche that anybody with a net asset value of more than R2-million should pay a reparation tax of 0.05% for the next 20 years. The measure of wealth would include the contents of pension and provident funds which would push many more people over what Terreblanche clearly regards as the offensively rich threshold. In a previous incarnation, Terreblanche was a key member of the Broederbond and a financial adviser to the apartheid government. These days that doesn't seem such a great qualification so he too has decided to opt for self-preservation by conveniently forgetting his past and brown-nosing the new boys. Terreblanche is obviously under the impression that wealth is accumulated thanks to the system of government and not through hard work or enterprise.
If any reparation is to be made, it should be made to all those misguided optimists who remained in the country during the eighties and nineties to pay taxes and help create jobs. How about the government compensating them for the difference between what they could expect to earn in real money had they emigrated and what they earn in rands? What about a levy on the poor who would have starved to death without all those wicked white businessmen spending millions on distributing food around the country?
I have rarely found myself in such illustrious company. Last week my colleague Gwen Gill showed me a copy of Jenny Hobbs's new novel, The telling of Angus Quain. The frontispiece contains quotations from The Book of Common Prayer, George Soros and the Out to Lunch column. The thrill of this has overwhelmed me and I have decided to take some time off. I will be taking Jenny Hobbs and Jo-Anne Richards down to the beach for a good holiday read. The column will be back in two weeks.