/ 24 March 2011

Rent an Indian

I’m starting a business: Rent-an-Indian (RaN). Think about it: every up-and-coming politician needs one.

It was Schabir Shaik who immortalised that classic archetype: the greasy Indian businessman. He bankrolled Jacob Zuma as his financial adviser and donor-at-large before there was a “President” prefixed to that name and took the fall for his alleged sins when there was.

The directors of RaN and I have concluded that this model, while loyal and reliable, was not as efficient as it could be.

I’ve joined the best of them in mocking Schabir but really, you’ve got to admire him and his brothers. They put in the time during the struggle against apartheid and earned their credentials (read: the right to drive the biggest BMW tender money can buy).

But then they go and get displaced by some upstart fresh off the boats from India. Enter: the Guptas. Less political history but loads more money. The rent-an-Indian business is cruel in that way.

Which means that I, in my new-found calling, need to be cruel as well.

You see, all that time and work … it just doesn’t make good business sense. Like most products made in South Africa it’s weighed down by boring “standards”. The Indian model, however, takes its cue from all things Asian. Labour is cheap and economies of scale large. Why make your textiles locally when you can import it cheaply? I think you see where I’m going with this.

The Shaiks were a good, solid buy but they’re quickly being replaced by the newer and more efficient Gupta model.

Zuma is way ahead of the common South African on this one. He knew a good thing when he saw it and dropped Schabir faster than you could say: “What presidential pardon?” The guy was getting a little embarrassing anyway, the way one’s faithful Ford Escort does after about 10 years of being flogged for all its worth.

RaN understands that today’s happening politicians need Indians with a little more pizzazz.

These days it doesn’t matter if you’ve learned isiZulu, endured a heavy apartheid soldier’s boot in your throat or disavowed your Indianness in favour of being South African. No one cares what kind of Indian you are anymore before you can start winning tenders and influencing government policy in exchange for “political support”.

There are no more standards and that’s made some people angry. Where there’s no honour among thieves, the thieves get stroppy and cause a ruckus at their local mosque.

But the fact is: the Guptas are on a whole other level. Forget loyalty: the Shaiks were left out in the cold by former president Thabo Mbeki and turned to Zuma, supporting him on his way to power. The Guptas? They proudly announce that they, in fact, support ALL political parties (watch the DA dive for cover on this one), and were friends with Mbeki too, thank you very much.

You may ask how I plan on marketing such an endeavour. Easy. Taking a lesson from coloured South Africans, we just need someone important to gratuitously insult Indians. It would do wonders for our PR.

So please — Jimmy? Julius? Kuli Roberts? ANYONE. Go on, take your best shot. Tell us we’re Capitalist pigs, enemies of the revolution, neo-imperial bastards — whatever.

Before we know it we’ll have newbie politicians banging down our doors. In exchange we’ll provide one monied-Indian willing to support you until such a time as you can return on that investment with easy access to government contracts.

And me? A 10% cut is all I ask. I’ll be in the backroom counting my cash. Call me if you need anything.

  • You can read Verashni’s column every Monday here, and follow her on Twitter here.