A few years ago, after addressing the corporate communications team of a Sandton-based big company on ‘corporate reputation management’, their boss, a lady, offered to take me to lunch so that we could continue our discussions about possible future consultation for her team.
As soon as we had sat down and our drinks were brought to us, her first question to me was, “So, Mr Moeng, what kind of car do you drive?”
I almost spilled my drink on my shirt, taken aback by her question and thinking about my car, back in Cape Town. I was wondering whether she was being serious, or if it was just her way of engaging in a less formal conversation – an ice breaker, as it were.
Upon hearing my answer, which she was clearly not impressed by, she went on to recommend that a man who does what I do must choose his car well if he wants to be taken seriously in corporate South Africa.
I think she should have said “in corporate Sandton”, because I do not believe the car one drives matters in Cape Town as much as I was made to believe it did in Johannesburg. (Perhaps the suburb one lives in matters more, in Cape Town, but that’s a discussion for another column.)
Wait – a BMWhat?
“You should get the latest BMW X6,” she advised.
I was too afraid to tell her that not only had I never driven a BMW in my life, I didn’t even know what the X6 looked like.
She must have seen the confusion on my face. She quickly proceeded to Google said model on her smartphone and to point me to the car, including the colour she believed would give me the look I needed to project the impression I needed in order to succeed in corporate South Africa.
“These things do matter to people here,” she went on, “even if few of them will readily say so.”
Now, had I been impressionable, I’d probably have gone out of my way to come up with a plan to get myself more indebted, through a bank loan I could not afford, in order to get the recommended car – especially after she announced that she would be coming to Cape Town in the next couple of months to have me do the same presentation for her Cape Town-based team.
What if, while in Cape Town, she were to see me arrive in the car I drove?
Did my business depend so much on it?
Don’t touch me on my money
Now, many people, probably most of us, always find money and money issues hard to honestly talk about, especially when they’re close to home, affecting them personally.
Many marriages and other forms of relationships end because of money issues. People lie about it, tell half-truths about it, or simply refuse to talk about it, even to people they’re in long-term relationships with.
Some of them find it easier to flaunt it when they’re doing well and, strangely, to keep flaunting it even when they have run out of it, to keep up appearances and to keep friends and other relationships they believe rely on them having it.
The appearance of having it, many believe, also attracts other relationships; even business opportunities.
So, they dig themselves deeper into financial trouble, while holding in the stink, until it can no longer be contained.
When the time comes for them to visit debt advisors, they do so very nicodemously.
Just how empty are the country’s pockets?
Many South Africans are hurting right now. Some will openly talk about it; others will not. And small businesses are hurting as cash flow gets tighter because the big companies on which many rely for business are increasingly guarded about spending money.
Some say that they want to see first where things will go after the elections. As things stand, they argue, they’re unable to see far enough into the future to make long-term commitments.
The same happened during the year leading to the ANC’s elective conference, back in December 2017. Was it going to be Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma? Or would it be Mr Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, the candidate preferred by the markets?
As leading politicians appeal to the conscience of long suffering and massively abused South Africans, urging them to hold hands and work together to replenish state coffers of the billions of rands that were stolen during the Zuma-led state capture economy, personal and family costs of living rise.
By the time an average family has parted with money to pay an aggressively fattening basket of direct and indirect taxes, as well as levies, such as VAT, petrol costs, so-called sin tax, personal income tax, municipal rates, property tax, electricity rates, the new carbon tax, etc, there will be very little left in their pockets to pay for food, schools fees and many other living costs.
It is unclear where the jobs that are said to have been created are located. Nothing should be taken at face value during this pre-electoral period, as anything can be claimed to confuse gullible voters.
What is clear, however, is that many small businesses are bleeding and people are losing jobs. Clients take longer and debit orders bounce on a monthly basis. Only the banks benefit from the mayhem as, in the absence of banking conscience, nothing stops them from charging exorbitant fees for unpaid or late debit orders.
The current state of our economy is a direct result of ten years of what – in the light of all the information that has and continues to come out – can be termed as criminal political management of South Africa.
The fact that those implicated continue to occupy senior government positions and to walk about with no sign of fear or guilt on their faces says a lot about us as a people. While they continue to live the high life at our expense, appeals are being made to our collective conscience and patriotism to refill the coffers they emptied. Something historic has to change in South Africa, or heaven help us all.