By William Gumede
A new ‘bling’ culture, pervasive among South Africa’s ruling political, business and public administration elite, which sees lavish lifestyles as the standard for achievement, is encouraging people to use shortcuts to get rich quickly rather than working or studying hard, writes William Gumede.
The socialite Khanyi Mbau, notorious for partying, fast cars and rich ‘sugar daddies’ is not an oddball. She represents the new ‘bling’ culture which has now thoroughly become a part of the new South Africa.
Even our political leadership has become a ‘bling’ leadership.
There is no difference really, between Mbau’s actions, and that of our ruling political, business and public administration elite.
It is one of getting rich quickly, using shortcuts. Once one has made it, one feels entitled to live lavishly – the ‘bling’ lifestyle. This ‘bling’ lifestyle has now become the new standard for achievement: A sign that one has made it.
These shortcuts could be attaching oneself to a sugar daddy, or in politics to a political party boss, or attaching oneself to a crime boss.
The more unfortunate, who do not have the connections or looks, try their luck by addictively playing the Lotto. They dream one lucky draw will bring fabulous wealth. Others resort to crime to reach their dream of ‘bling’.
Nobody needs to work or study hard anymore. Everyone is looking for a shortcut.
Black economic empowerment has also helped along this ‘bling’ culture. The downside of black economic empowerment as it is practiced now is that one does not need to build a business from scratch – which demands entrepreneurial acumen. One can secure a tender through political connections. This is possible even if one does not have a clue about how to deliver the services promised.
The unintended consequences of the African National Congress’s (ANC) policy of deployment also help along this ‘bling’ culture. By cosying up to the local ANC leadership, one can secure a lucrative ‘deployment’ to government, business or the party, a ticket to the ‘bling’ lifestyle.
Praise-singing the leadership even if they are wrong, supporting actions that clearly go against prudent values, or self-censorship, has now became the norm.
The ‘bling’ lifestyle is to throw lavish parties at exclusive venues. Leaders drive luxury cars worth than ZAR1 million. They wear ZAR250,000 watches, clothes worth as much as cars for ordinary people, live in Beverly Hills-style mansions and drink expensive whiskeys. The bonuses, perks and dizzy salaries state-owned companies pay their executives are part of this ‘bling’ culture.
Blue-light brigades, huge entourages and being treated as a VIP are integral parts of this bling culture. Ministers going on meaningless foreign junkets, living in the most expensive hotels and holding their conferences there, when they can do so for less in their departments are part of this ‘bling’ culture.
The consequences of this ‘bling’ life-style of the political elite for the state, society and on individuals are devastating.
Scarce finances and resources are being plundered. State capacity is being eroded, which means the ability of deliver basic services is declining. There is no room for entrepreneurship, innovation and new ideas – which are absolutely necessary for economic prosperity.
This ‘bling’ culture will break down South Africa’s productive capacity. We are ‘eating’, but we are not building any new factories or plants that can create jobs.
In the midst of grinding poverty, this ‘bling’ culture is a disgrace.
This ‘bling’ culture encourages corruption, dishonesty, and builds a society based mostly on relationships of patronage. It corrupts our souls.
In fact, it undermines all the values that underpinned the struggle for liberation.
Moreover, the idea of service is now distant dream. Talent, skills and hard work is no longer valued.
As a society we are losing our bearings. We are on a downward spiral. No caring society was built on ‘bling’.
Only ridding ourselves from this destructive ‘bling’ culture can put our country back on a winning track. We need a new kind of leadership – not a ‘bling’ leadership.
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