Twice, in the space of a single day this week, people have mistaken me for Richard Branson. The first time was in the street. “Hey!” shouted the female half of a heterosexual couple. “There’s Richard Branson!” I laughed and waved, casually running my hand through my thick blond hair, then pretended to get into a conveniently parked Porsche. The moment was ruined when an advertising executive with a cocaine moustache darted from a coffee shop and shouted at me to step away from his vehicle.
The second time, I was in a bar that shares a boundary wall with a rehab in the deep south of the Cape peninsula. A grizzled bag of rags and his ravaged buddy shuffled in. I thought they might have been looking for the rehab. The grizzly turned to his sidekick. “Check it out, bru. That Richard Branson oke’s here.” They laughed. Well, they made a hacking, gurgling sound. They were either laughing or dying. I didn’t particularly care. At this point, I was tired of being mistaken for Branson. It seemed cruel and unnecessary. Yes, we share similar hair and, obviously, a penchant for extreme sports and beautiful women. Or, in my case, extreme women and beautiful sports.
By an odd quirk of coincidence, Branson actually was in Cape Town this week. He was here to relaunch something called Virgin Money Insurance. On a moral scale, the insurance industry is one rung above human trafficking. Branson partnered with Telesure six years ago but, like all unequal relationships, it ended in tears when one found the other in bed with a hotter company.
Now, older and wiser, Virgin has entered into a relationship with a boy called American International Group. They sound more streetwise and savvy than the sweet, naïve Telesure, and we’re all hoping this time it lasts. When corporate hearts get broken, we all get broken.
Virgin Money’s Rob Campbell said that when Virgin and Telesure broke up (I bet they still stalk each other on Facebook) they had to “reengineer” the business. They now have the “capacity needed to develop customer-centric insurance products and services”. As opposed to previously, I expect, when the business focused solely on itself. One evening they had the talk.
Telesure: “You know what, Virgin. With you it’s always me me me. This may come as a surprise, but I have feelings, too. And by the way, my eyes are up here. You only ever wanted me for one thing. I’m leaving. And don’t think I don’t know what’s been going on with those Americans. And another thing, you lied about being a virgin.”
There’s no record of Virgin’s response. I imagine it involved a fair amount of sighing and rolling of the eyes.
Branson said he was delighted that the NPA had decided against prosecuting finance minister Pravin Gordhan after learning that Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza had discovered the evidence inside a fortune cookie.
Here’s the really cute bit, though. Branson said, “I wish it had happened in a week’s time, because of the low rand … I’m on holiday here at the moment.” Branson has a net worth of only five billion dollars, so it’s understandable that he’d have wanted to capitalise on a weak rand. It’s horrible how the vagaries of politics can so brutally affect someone’s vacation.
Being something of a nautical type, he also said, “South Africa needs somebody at the wheel of the ship, to steer it into safe waters.” Thank you, Sir Richard, for confirming what many of us have suspected for a long time. The bridge has been abandoned.
I saw an old quote from Branson on Facebook today. “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” Please don’t encourage this sort of thing. This is how our president got the job in the first place. He is one of those people who spend years revelling in the amazing opportunity bit without bothering to get around to the learning bit.
I saw something else on Facebook. “Michael Burry made $8.4bn using common sense. Most people don’t realise how easy it has become to profit like he did.” I might have clicked on the link if it had said that Michael Burry had made $10 000 using common sense. That’s a number I can understand. I can get a picture in my head of what I could buy for R130 000. Just over a thousand cases of beer and seventy bags of salt and vinegar chips. Because I lack the gland in my brain that understands maths, I have to convert everything into beer.
I don’t want to know how to make $8-billion, and not just because my brain would explode if I had to attempt a conversion. I don’t want that kind of money. If I had it, I’d make a lot of people very happy in a short space of time and then I would die spectacularly.
Do you know who does want that kind of money? The brothers Gupta, that’s who. Just over a year ago, deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas found himself in their opulent home in Saxonwold. There, a certain Mr Ajay Gupta mentioned that his family made R6-billion from the state. Understandably, this wasn’t enough. It’s a big family to support. Jacob Zuma’s, I mean.
So, Mr Jonas, they said. Would you mind terribly if we asked you to help us bung the number up to R8-billion? We’d be awfully grateful. Obviously we’d make you finance minister. Did you perhaps bring a bag? We’re quite happy to give you a little something for your trouble. Should we say R600 000? That’s just for the car guard, ha ha. The real money – the R600-million – would go into an account of your choice. May we recommend the Bank of Baroda? Or perhaps you’d prefer something in Zurich? Your colleague, mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane, says Switzerland is lovely at this time of year.
As if that’s not bad enough, supermarkets have begun playing Christmas carols. The psychology is similar to that used by the CIA in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. They play Christina Aguilera and The Barney Theme to get the prisoners to crack and confess to blowing up shit. Checkers plays Jingle Bells and The Little Drummer Boy to get the pensioners to crack and start buying up shit. Because, you know, we idiot consumers might be under the impression that we’re coming up to Easter. Awaaay in a manger … only 49 days to go folks! Hurry! Specials on toxic Chinese dreck in aisle seven! Ding-dong merrily I’m high.
But there’s sad news, too. Whitey Basson, CEO of Shoprite, has reached his sell-by date and is retiring at the end of the year. His salary last year was a meagre R49.7-million. Luckily, the board took pity on him and gave him a R50-million bonus. How sad it would have been if some of his relatives hadn’t found a Ferrari beneath the tree on Christmas Day. The board said he deserved it because he hadn’t received a basic pay increase since 2013. Poor bastard. Nor have I, come to think of it. Where’s my goddamn Ferrari?
So, yeah. Right now everything appears to be revolving around money. It’s either too little or too much. Has anyone, since the Industrial Revolution, ever put up their hand and said, “No, thanks. Really. I have enough money.” Of course not. But you’ll politely recoil when someone passes around the plate of cream scones or bong for the seventh time. “No more for me. Honestly. I’ll explode/vomit/kill everyone in the room.” Why not money? Is there really no limit to how much a person can have? Apparently not.
Speaking of gluttons, I was surprised to hear that Weekend Special a.k.a 2-Minute Noodle a.k.a minister of cooperative governance David ‘Des’ van Rooyen spent so much time at the Guptas house. Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found he’d made at least 17 calls from the Saxonwold compound. They obviously didn’t have time to get their story straight because Atul Gupta told Thuli that the minister had never even been to their house. I suppose it’s possible he was calling from the street outside.
“Atul, open the gate!”
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, David.”
“David, man. Dave. Open up. I think the cops saw me.”
“Dave’s not here.”
“What the hell? No, man. I’m Dave. Open up.”
The saddest part is that Van Rooyen spent Valentines Day with the Guptas this year. Maybe it’s not sad at all. When you consider that Eskom CEO Brian Molefe visited the Indians 19 times in four months and in six made over forty telephone calls to Ajay, the oldest, sugariest daddy of the family, you have to wonder if there wasn’t perhaps something else going on here. Atul, Ajay and Rajesh. That’s a ready-made threesome right there. Just add malfeasance. Perhaps all this talk of coal mines and contracts was just a smokescreen to cover up what was really happening at Sexonwold. The platinum-plated Jacuzzis, the late-night nudity, the discreet oral favours in return for information. Leopards on leashes and a blindfolded jazz quartet in the corner. A subtle reminder that goodies will be provided but you should bring your own bag. For the sake of the environment, of course. And also fingerprints.
So here we are. I can’t help feeling Thuli didn’t go far enough. I was hoping that by now Radovan Krecjir and Oscar Pistorius would be picking teams for the afternoon game. I don’t know if Zuma, Molefe, Zwane, Van Rooyen, Eskom’s board of directors, the Guptas etc even know how to play soccer. I don’t suppose it really matters. They’d just make up the rules as they go along.
It somehow seems fitting that, at the lowest point of his political career, President Jacob Zuma chose to visit his appalling counterpart in Zimbabwe. Well done, Jake.
Meanwhile, bring on the judicial commission of inquiry. If that gets hijacked, let’s give Dog the Bounty Hunter a call. I’ll put up the first thousand bucks.
Of course, none of this matters if Donald Trump wins on Tuesday. Start building your nuclear bunkers, people. You just never know.