Life among South Africa’s nouveaux riches

Life among South Africa’s nouveaux riches

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

11 May 2013

9:00 AM

Not long ago Cyril Ramaphosa, probably South Africa’s future president and ANC leader, attempted to buy a buffalo.

It was at an auction for hunters and game ranchers. He bid £1.3 million and, incredibly, lost out to another tycoon. At the same event he still managed to spend another million pounds on game species for his ranch — but later he apologised in light of the fact that South Africa is a ‘sea of poverty’.

One South African who is unapologetic about his bling and conspicuous spending is Kenny Kunene, who famously held a birthday party at his ZAR nightclub in Johannesburg at which guests ate sushi off the body of a young model wearing nothing but lingerie. The bar bill came to £47,000 — for champagne and Chivas Regal, mostly.

These are South Africa’s ‘black diamonds’ — the class of rich blacks who have appeared since the end of apartheid nearly two decades ago. BMW and Mercedes are selling so many cars in they’re opening new assembly lines to keep up. Gucci, Prada, Pink shirts and Louboutin shoes — there’s a boom in luxury goods south of the Limpopo that mirrors the shopping sprees of the new middle classes in Rio, Moscow and Shanghai. Their leader in bling is President Jacob Zuma, who is building a palace in KwaZulu-Natal that is supposedly costing more than £17 million — with accommodation for his seven wives, many children, a police station, clinic and nuclear bomb-proof bunker.


The black diamonds may be tasteless in their excess, but they haven’t broken any laws. Many of them — especially the ANC veterans — got rich exploiting the laws of BEE, or Black Economic Empowerment, which aimed to redistribute wealth from white-owned businesses such as the mines, but this is all part of government policy. To be sure, there’s a lack of competition in business, restrictive labour practices, expensive costs of production — no shortage of carjackers, or firebrands like Julius Malema spouting racial, revolutionary rhetoric.

Where does South Africa stand nearly 20 years after Nelson Mandela’s election? Are the roads collapsing? Have the whites been pushed into the ocean? Has it all gone to hell under the blacks? No. South Africa is a roaring success story. Millions of other blacks have entered the middle class — just take a tour of Soweto — and almost across the board the whites have grown much richer than they ever were under the anti-capitalist economics of apartheid. The six richest South African individuals are worth more than £14 billion — and five of them are still white. There are millions still living in abject poverty, without electricity, in slums that stretch to the horizon. But South Africa is now a ‘Bric’-style economy with a GDP of £275 billion — equal to that of Scotland and Northern Ireland put together — and a third of the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

So why does Peter Hain accuse the British government of ‘high-handed arrogance and contempt’ towards millions of impoverished South Africans, because it is cutting its £19 million annual aid programme? South Africa’s ANC leadership calls the international development secretary Justine Greening’s move ‘tantamount to redefining our relationship’ — while British charities like Action Aid and Oxfam have joined the chorus of condemnation. This is all very odd given that Greening has simply acknowledged South Africa’s post-apartheid success and Britain’s wish to move from aid to trade.

Britain’s trade with South Africa is worth £6.7 billion annually, and as the black diamonds get richer, one imagines they will buy ever more expensive shoes, malt whisky and Harrods shortbread. The picture is echoed across the African continent, where the growing middle classes are impatient to be regarded in a fresh light by the outside world. These black diamond classes do not value humanitarian aid that targets what DFID called for many years ‘poverty alleviation’.

Instead they appreciate what other Bric countries see in Africa — that it is a continent of one billion consumers, not tens of millions of victims for whom white Europeans or Americans must ‘do something’.

It’s high time westerners woke up to the possibility that aid of the type championed by the former Labour development minister Clare Short may instead damage the interests of Britain, because Africans do not wish to be patronised.

True, South Africa is now the most unequal society in the world, overtaking even Brazil for its unfairness; 15 million South Africans live on less than £1.50 a day. But when Mr Ramaphosa can try to buy a single buffalo cow for £1.3 million, South African poverty is surely not a matter for British taxpayers to solve.

More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.

Show comments
  • brotherbaldrick

    As a South African I can confirm that this is exactly how we feel. STOP GIVINGS US AID AND GIVES US YOUR TRADE!! If Europe allowed just 2% more trade with Africa it would lift 300 million people on the African continent out of poverty!

    • http://www.facebook.com/OfficeSpaceKenya Collins Otieno

      To trade, you need money or goods/services. The question is: what will SA give Europe?

      • Terry Field

        We will give them a HI5
        They will give us HIV

    • Zambiali

      if the African leaders would stop creaming it off the top it would lift every nation out of poverty Lets play a game name one leader who doesn’t…………

    • justejudexultionis

      You can blame the French for that viz. Common Agricultural Policy.

      • Terry Field

        It’s the French!
        Its the bloody French!
        And they’ve stolen ALL the chocolate biscuits!

        • http://www.Ask-Me-About-Creating-a-Real-Business.com/ John “Be Free” K.

          LoL you dumb cracker!

  • Remittance Man

    with accommodation for his seven wives, many children, a police station, clinic and nuclear bomb-proof bunker

    Sorry chaps, but you do need to check your facts a bit better. Jacob Zuma has indeed married seven times, but one of his wives committed suicide and another divorced him. The current tally is therefore five first ladies of SA (and future joint queens of Nkandla) not seven.

    • http://www.facebook.com/henrileriche Henri le Riche

      Agreed. South Africa is hardly a “success” story unless you’re paid by the ANC government to say something like that. Unemployment is getting higher, the health, public and police systems are crumbling. Corruption is getting worse. You’re either blind to the facts or high on something to see “success”. Reality tells a different story.

    • http://www.Ask-Me-About-Creating-a-Real-Business.com/ John “Be Free” K.

      Can I please know how Jacob Zuma can afford a $17mil house? Does he own a business?

  • Guest

    South Africa is hardly a “success” story unless you’re paid by the ANC government to say something like that. Unemployment is getting higher, the health, public and police systems are crumbling. Corruption is getting worse. You’re either blind to the facts or high on something to see “success”. Reality tells a different story.

  • Quinton Mtyala

    One mistake

  • v_3

    Many of the “black diamonds” became rich by being “tenderpreneurs” being awarded lucrative tenders (often in fields they know nothing about) due solely to “connections” to the ANC.

    This IS illegal

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Fay/1127268875 Simon Fay

    If a madhouse like that is what constitutes success in the eyes of the world’s rulers’ PR people I think I’d prefer quiet failure.

  • James Geikie

    We must be careful not to rock the boat of the charitable aid industry — it may slow the gravy train for those to whom so much of that aid is routinely redirected. Fortunately, in the West, political correctness and ignorance insist that reform not upset the apple cart of charitable vested interest by any suggestion of transition from aid to trade.

  • The Sage

    Just got back to the UK this morning from Durban and endorse Aidan’s piece.
    Plenty of money around and in direct contrast to gloomy old Blighty and its £11 bn annual aid bill.
    South Africa already has its own aid programme.
    Africans are already joking about sending aid to help Europe yet we are still madly borrowing money to give away to those that don’t need it – or even want it.

  • justejudexultionis

    To describe Apartheid as ‘anti-capitalist’ is pure sophistical bullshit. The whole thing was bankrolled by London for decades, the UK owning up to 70 per cent of the South African economy post-WWII. This was done by classic capitalist enterprises such as Barclays, de Beers, Ango-American etc. Capitalism loves slave labour economies that depress wages (or remove them entirely). The Spectator is clearly trying to airbrush history for its own rather cynical ends. And how exactly is RSA a ‘roaring success’ if vast swathes of the population live in desperate poverty?

    You know where you can stick your buffalo, Mr. Hartley.

  • Terry Field

    So, the ‘rainbow nation’ subsides into the same squalid dysfunctional tribal kleptocracy that is the rest of the dark continent.

  • http://www.Ask-Me-About-Creating-a-Real-Business.com/ John “Be Free” K.

    Seems like these black diamonds sold their souls and forgot their roots (not to say that it’s poverty, but as Africans we must share and look out for one another – not spend millions on European brands to feel like we have made it. We have made it when all of our brothers and sisters all have a decent standard of living).

Can't find your Web ID? Click here