Leave construction bosses alone!!! Sob!

Apparently, noble construction company bosses were just looking out for us when they fixed prices. (AFP)

Apparently, noble construction company bosses were just looking out for us when they fixed prices. (AFP)

According to a recent column, corrupt construction bosses who ripped South Africa off in contracts worth billions of rands are described as wise, misunderstood father figures who know what's best for us. At first, I thought this was a fantastic bit of satire, along the lines of "Leave Britney alone!", that great video by Chris Crocker. I recommend you watch this video, and imagine it's a guy in a suit crying and wailing, "Leave construction bosses alone!!! Sob!"

But alas. It's not satire, it's the usual paternalistic defence for an elite who really, truly believe they have a God-given right (assuming your god is Mammon, that is) to rise above the laws of this country. In this case, the elite happens, as it so often does, to be represented by white men. Well, it appears to be all white men. It's fairly difficult to tell, what with some of the companies not being listed, but certainly all the listed companies had white chief executives at the time of the offence.

It's a pity that the racial makeup of our "gang of thieves" should matter, but it does (I use the term "gang of thieves" in a jocular way, of course, and I include the Mystical Inverted Commas of Unaccountability, more on that later). It's indisputably true that white criminals are treated differently to black criminals. This ranges from the way they're portrayed in the media, to the quality of the opprobrium they endure. The difference between Oscar Pistorius's time in jail and other criminals' is a case in point. 

This defence of our corrupt construction bosses stands in marked contrast to the way some media treat government officials who are found guilty of corruption. Of course, the discerning reader will have noticed that last sentence is racist. I appear to have assumed that all government officials are black, and ergo, that all corrupt government officials are black. I don't assume that, but this is the tragic byproduct of treating people differently based on race. Those who would prefer to treat cases of corruption on an individual basis, not in terms of what elite the offender belongs to, are forced into a defensive posture that mimics the offence we're attempting to combat. 

But race is only one of the many indices of inequality in our beloved land, although possibly the primary one (gender activists might choose to disagree with this). There's also the elitism of class, the bond that all fatcats share. The fatcats all used to be white, with evil pink eyes, like the cat that Bond villain Doctor No strokes. Now we also have black cats, those unlucky BEE necessities that cross the path of white privilege and curse it with having to share the spoils of business. (What kind of cat is a Gupta?) It's all so chummy when you're part of the elite. Observe the language in this defence of the construction cartels:

"The guys meeting that day were faced with an almost impossible challenge. The country needed five brand-new football stadiums." Ah, "the guys". Such a friendly term, not like "corrupt business scum". So redolent of team sports, of locker room bonhomie, of a bunch of chums getting together to make the hard decisions on our behalf.

The column goes on to laud the achievements of these men, this noble Fellowship of the Ring (leaders). "If they had not had their meeting that fateful day, how would things have panned out? What if WBHO had bid on all the contracts and won them all on price? Would it have finished them on time or would it still be putting the finishing touches to Nelspruit?"  

Fateful day? WTF? You think this is a grand story of mythic heroes and tragic portent? It's a bunch of greedy guys breaking the law, not the start of The Magnificent Seven.

I've never seen this defence advanced on behalf of corrupt government officials. "If I hadn't given that tender to my cousin, we might not have even HAD a hospital in time." Oh, that's okay then. Daddy knows best. The sad byproduct of this is that some people who call for everyone to be treated the same start believing that equal treatment means everyone should be allowed to get away with illegal activities. Why, some ask, are we invading the privacy of Jacob Zuma's Nkandla, but not of a construction company boss's Houghton mansion? The fact that the two stories are markedly different becomes irrelevant. We should leave Jacob alone too.

And the "brave, decisive heroes" argument also conveniently ignores the fact that this collusion isn't limited to World Cup construction. The construction companies have apparently been doing this for decades. They're not brave heroes who compromised their principles once so that South Africans could experience the thrill of Luis Suárez biting people in the flesh (so to speak): they're crooks who have a history of corruption going back at least as far as 2000.

We are told to forgive and forget. "As it was, the stadiums were all built on time and, for a while, South Africa basked in the glory of a 'successful' World Cup. The confessions of collusion spoil that, but what would we rather have had? I don't think these firms could have competed 'honestly' for all that work and come close to finishing it on time."

I don't think honestly is the same kind of word as successfully. You can't put it into inverted commas, those Mystical Inverted Commas of Unaccountability I mentioned earlier, that magically make us doubt that we can ever really know what words mean. We can debate the success or not of the World Cup, but breaking the law is breaking the law. 

Would I prefer to have the world briefly saying: "Well, those primitive Africans are a corrupt bunch of fuckers, but at least they can hold a sporting event if white men take charge", or would I prefer a country that doesn't need the spurious success of a soccer tournament to alleviate the negative way we're generally perceived? Don't we see the paradox here? There can't be one set of rules for the Old Boys' Club, even when they start admitting black Old Boys, and another set for the rest of us.

Just for kicks, here's a parody "Leave Joost alone!" video I made a few years ago. Someone, please make a "Leave construction bosses alone!" video. Please.

Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisroper

Chris Roper

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