Ehrenreich: Rich must be taxed moreComment on this story
Cape Town - Tony Ehrenreich is very clear.
Rich South Africans - white and black - must be taxed more.
Helen Zille is defending apartheid privilege.
Jacob Zuma’s home at Nkandla is “extravagant in the extreme”.
And, perhaps most importantly, he’s lucky to be alive.
The Western Cape leader of Cosatu moved to the working-class suburb of Uitsig as a child in 1970, and still lives there among Cape Town’s poor, to whom he has committed his life to representing, by actions more than by declaration.
Ehrenreich is thin, calm and grateful. “I’m still cancer-clear, after three years. I’m slowly getting my energy and weight back.”
At 49, he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and doctors also “cut away half my stomach”.
“I’m exercising again - doing a lot of running and gym. I feel close to what I was before I got sick - and it’s probably old age taking away those last remaining percentage points… I’ve been incredibly lucky.”
Now 52, he is unmarried but has a partner who has no public profile, “and she likes it that way”.
His three children - twin daughters, aged 27, and a son aged 28, all live in Cape Town, and his daughters have blessed him with three granddaughters, aged 10, 9 and one.
Did his children follow their father into altruistic professional pursuits?
“They’re not as involved in party politics, but I think they have fair hearts that beat in them,” he replied.
His home is in fact a new addition on the same property where he grew up - he subdivided the property and bought half from his parents many years ago, and his father continues to live in the original dwelling. Now 75, he was once a famous mechanic, designing, tuning and racing cars with Bob van Niekerk, the creator of South Africa’s most famous sports car, the legendary Dart.
Growing up in this petrol-head home, Ehrenreich qualified as a motor mechanic - “my first car was a 1957 Peugeot 203”.
But it was to sea that he went, working in ships’ engine-rooms.
From there it was perhaps not too far a leap to the grimy world of politics.
We asked: In light of the the injustice of the market economy/liberal democracy can gross inequities in our society ever be addressed?
He replied adamantly: “Absolutely not. Therefore there’s got to be a strong intervention from the state, that advances the values enshrined in our constitution.
“These necessary interventions were around key principles: decent wages and working conditions for all; equal resources and facilities in education and health care, and proper public transport.”
On the subject of principles: does he believe the R246 million spent on Nkandla was appropriate?
“In principle I think it’s wrong. Part of the problem in South Africa is that the inequality under apartheid has since been perpetuated by the private sector, and now applied by government. In this case the president’s house. One understands the need for security provisions, but this was clearly extravagant in the extreme.”
Does he believe the president should resign?
“In my eyes he hasn’t been found guilty by (Public Protector Thuli) Madonsela. Due process should apply to everybody. Every accused must have their day in court. If there has been impropriety and illegal conduct, and if a person is found guilty, then they should be fired.”
On corruption in general, he charged: “There is a systematic practice of corruption across South Africa. We’ve seen it in the construction of the stadiums, in bread and chicken prices, and in the practices of boards in the private and parastatal sectors, and in the state. There is a toxic, corrupt environment across the country, and also a sense of moral corruption.”
The worst of this, he believed, was seeing people “trying to defend the apartheid generational advantages - that’s a level of moral corruption”.
Among these guilty, he alleged, is Western Cape Premier Helen Zille.
“When I met her many years ago I thought she was deeply committed to playing a role towards addressing issues. But lately she has become a cynic, she has given up on those values and is instead defending the generational advantages of the wealthy.”
Did he believe the state had sufficient resources to address this inequity? “The state must tax people more. The wealthy are under-taxed.”
Does he ever relax?
“I do. I fish. Mainly in Macassar, Kleinmond and Strandfontein, which is a popular fishing spot, where I get to enjoy the culture of my people.”
How long will he be able to keep up his pace?
“As long as the struggle for social justice requires it, and people have confidence in me to serve them from an elected leadership position.
“I am a coloured, whose cultural identity has its roots in the Malaysian slaves, the Khoi, the San and sprinkling of the colonialist, long before John Vorster declared us coloured in 1948. But I am a black South African committed to building the Rainbow Nation for all, that is more equal and fair.”