Given Mkhari at his Power FM interview with Johann Rupert. Screengrab
Given Mkhari at his Power FM interview with Johann Rupert. Screengrab

Johann Rupert wasted a golden opportunity

By Waseem Carrim Time of article published Dec 11, 2018

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In 2014, the movie The Interview was released. It follows two comedic journalists who set up an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and are recruited by the CIA to assassinate him.

It had its moments but ultimately, it became more infamous for the hacking of Sony pictures in apparent retaliation for painting the North Korean leader in a poor light. It was interesting but hardly memorable.

Last week, all anyone could talk about was that interview with the enigmatic business tycoon Johann Rupert. We are better off having heard the interview rather than the myth that is Rupert.

Amid the frustration levelled against MSG Afrika Group chairperson Given Mkhari, we must give kudos to him because the conversations with former president Thabo Mbeki in the previous year and Rupert have provoked intense debates.

There are few issues I gathered from the interview that I would like to address.

Commentators and analysts have been on opposite sides regarding the interview. Some commentators have tried to decode the interview and attempted to indicate what Rupert was trying to say instead of what he said. This panders towards a culture of entitlement. We often hear the saying “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”.

Rupert is a wealthy man and has access to the best education and the best advisers. If he wanted to say something, he should have said it. By taking the arrogant and often condescending approach, he gave the impression that he was out of touch with reality.

If we consider the sentiment in the country, especially in recent months, there is a reconciliatory approach, an attempt to bridge our wide differences. This was further emphasised during the excellent Global Citizen festival in Soweto.

Rupert, as a man who has (not of his own accord) been a divisive figure, had the opportunity to take a reconciliatory approach. While he might be angry about the campaigns directed at him, he had the opportunity to take the high road.

He had the opportunity to understand the daily challenges faced by young black South Africans; the deep levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality that most our people face. He had the opportunity to understand that most South Africans want to work together to solve our challenges.

It would have been interesting to hear Rupert’s view on policy positions which can create greater equality, for example, his views on urban land against rural land.

He introduced the topic of rampant consumerism and its impact on society. Many young black South Africans felt that this was directed at them. I don’t agree with generalisations. (Can we also, just take a minute to appreciate that he knows where Taboo and the Sands are (sic)?).

Is it fair for Rupert, who has built his wealth on the sale of luxury goods, to pass the generalisation? The concept, including the abuse of alcohol is a global one. What if he introduced a discussion to drive a savings culture in South Africa? To go on a roadshow to rural communities to support new entrepreneurs? To set up a fund for young people who want to be entrepreneurs?

Finally, the undertones of racism were unnecessary. Perhaps the intention was to lighten the mood? Perhaps that is how Mkhari and Rupert talk in jest to each other? But on a public platform it was hurtful to many. In a country which battles deep racial divisions and tribalism, it was in bad taste.

With all the negativity, here was an opportunity for a billionaire to provide visionary leadership for the future of his homeland, to surprise all his detractors. One can’t but help feel that that moment has come - and passed.

Carrim is the chief executive of the National Youth Development Agency

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