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Coronavirus in SA: Now's a good time for those who benefited from apartheid to pay reparations

Businessman Johann Rupert Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Businessman Johann Rupert Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Apr 5, 2020


Cape Town - Week one of the national 21-day lockdown to combat Covid-19 is done and dusted.   

For many, this is a time of reflection, even holiday, but for the majority, still living in poverty, this has been a week of heightened frustration and angst, with not much different to look forward in the two weeks or more to come. 

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To rub salt into these wounds, is how the current lockdown appears to be a free-for-all and jolly commercial venture for those who have their hands in all the pies that represent the different spheres of our economy.  

When South Africa went into lockdown mode, President Cyril Ramaphosa boldly announced that the Oppenheimer family had made a R1 billion donation towards efforts to assist. 

Johann Rupert, the Stellenbosch-based oligarch, was also announced to have “pledged ” another billion rand, while the Koos Bekker-controlled Naspers later donated R1.5 billion. 

The Motsepe Foundation also donated another billion, the president said.   

While those businesses sorely affected by the impact of a national-non-trading period are extremely grateful for the necessary relief, most of the "donors" are direct beneficiaries of colonisation and apartheid. Some are also in control of entities that are either profiting from the Covid-19 mayhem or are running enterprises still in full swing during lockdown mode. 

It subsequently transpires that the donation made by Rupert to help fight Covid-19 was, in fact, not a donation, but a loan for SMMEs that will need to be paid back with interest after 12 months, and over a period of five years. The first year of the loan will be interest free.  

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This is at odds with the impression conveyed by the president. 

To my mind, there are two ways in which this can be read, and both are not flattering. First, it could be that the president is not a good listener and as a result, ended up misleading the nation.

The second explanation could be that the president was deliberately misled into believing that this act of generosity had no comebacks, or, was a loan. If they misled him, then they are sending a message that they have no respect for him. He is just a useful conduit to advance their own agenda.

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The loan provided by Rupert will be administered by one of his subsidiaries, Business Partners, with highly stringent measures to ensure that recipients do not misuse his hard-earned apartheid money. Interestingly, since Rupert’s funds will be administered by Business Partners, they will get to choose who gets bailed out and who doesn’t.

This has, justifiably so, raised the ire of organisations such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and black empowerment groupings like TransformRSA. 

In a recent interview, TransformRSA’s Katlego Raphuthi said he believes that the “pledge” is an investment to exploit the SMMEs while profiteering from the national disaster. 

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“TRSA believes that it is unethical of the Rupert family to use the global crisis to exacerbate the financial burden on SMMEs, who are already struggling to survive the harsh economic environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic. We urge the government to make interventions that will not leave SMMEs in worsened positions post the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. 

He was also of the view that the Rupert family is only concerned about making profits and further burdening the poor and vulnerable members of our society and have exposed themselves to be unpatriotic and uncaring about the collective interests of the nation.

Gauteng-based historian and geopolitical expert Semoadi wa Semoadi makes an interesting, and broader, observation:

"Large business has latitude to stamp their authority in all the sectors of the economy at the expense of small and medium businesses, as well as other relatively large firms. 

The SA economy is already characterised by the presence of large monopolies, the post-coronavirus will lead to even more concentration since there will be no, or fewer, businesses left. 

"This period was supposed to be a moment of showing care and empathy. The coronavirus crisis is turning out to be an even worse nightmare for ordinary South Africans because the government has handed over the state's sovereign duty to protect and its responsibility to capital."

There is no doubt that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent government lockdown will have untold financial and economic implications on the country. 

This is why, now more than ever, South Africans from all works of life need to come together and hold those companies who benefited from apartheid to account to the people of our nation. 

Apartheid-era companies such as Naspers, ABSA, REMGRO, Rembrandt and many others, who have never paid for their role in profiting from apartheid, should now make this right.  If ever there was time, it is now.   

This is the only way that our people can recover from the global Covid-19 pandemic.

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