This was better with the sound off

Thursday.

The sun’s still not up properly but the day is well underway. The 12-year-old’s breakfast is made, his lunch is packed and he’s out of bed and in the shower. I just need to get him fed, dressed and into his transport in 30 minutes, so I’ve been on his case since he woke up. There’s no time to dawdle.

Our man is stoked. Friday is a school excursion to some kiddie nature reserve in the Midlands, civilian clothes, swimming gear and animals, the bush and no classes, so he’s been particularly co-operative, despite serving day one of a three-month PlayStation and cellphone ban for being lippy to his mother the previous evening. Our man’s bellowing a song about flying like an eagle over the sound of the falling water, so he must have forgotten. You’d think he was going today and not tomorrow.

The singing stops. Our man appears. There’s a problem: a new school barrel bag, currently the most desired fashion accessory in grade six, is desperately needed for Friday’s outing and he’s forgotten to tell anybody. The existing bag is too old and won’t hold an entire day’s food, swimming gear and a towel.

This is the end of the world. Our man is disconsolate.

Technical recession or not, there’s only one way to go. I empty my wallet, put the R150 in an envelope, seal it and hand it to him.

Our man’s face lights up. His breakfast disappears, we’re out the door and he’s gone, the near apocalypse of a few minutes before forgotten.

I head inside and hit the TV remote.

Yesterday’s news is on loop. Disgraced Steinhoff chief executive Markus Jooste’s well-coiffed head pops up on the screen. Jooste is avoiding eye contact with everybody else in the room. Staring at some invisible point in space. Jooste’s lips are moving. There areno words. The volume’s off.

It’s better that way.

I watched Jooste’s testimony before four parliamentary committees on Tuesday. It was pretty vile stuff, even for an alleged fraudster of Jooste’s stature.

He has denied wrongdoing. But if everything he is accused of is true, his words were little more than arrogant, patronising drivel — the mumblings of a sack of shit in a suit defending his greed; a privileged, narcissistic sociopath with the sense of humanity — and responsibility — of a block of concrete.

Jooste acted as if he was being asked to explain why he had spilt a cup of tea, rather than his role in an alleged multibillion-rand scam.

Jooste, in his testimony and in his answers to questions, showed scant respect for the committees he was addressing, or the thousands of people whose jobs and investments he allegedly pissed away through sheer greed. Every time Jooste’s lips moved, he seemed to be lying. Or evading responsibility. Or blaming somebody else.

READ MORE: Jooste — I did not know about accounting irregularities

Jooste’s only concern appeared to be that he lost his career at Steinhoff, that he lost R3-billion of his own cash by getting caught allegedly fiddling the books. There was no sense of thought for the people whose lives he could have ruined, the effect on the economy and his possible contribution to the mess we now find ourselves in.

I wonder if he gets the enormity of this? Can he digest that what to him is an unfortunate situation, to another person means that a huge chunk of their pension has disappeared?

Is Jooste so insulated from the rest of the world by his nature and the layers of protection that come with the billions he’s controlled that he can’t feel empathy for the victims?

Or maybe he just doesn’t care.

I met a couple of mini Markus Joostes when I was growing up. Their sons were with me at Durban High School. The one cat was a property developer. Massive mansion, army of servants, big noise in school sports, boat, all the toys. Flock of athletic kids with expensive dentistry and state-of-the-art rugby boots. Old boy network all the way.

Some years later he disappeared, leaving his family to face an army of angry investors he’d robbed. Hid abroad with the money he’d filtered out of the country. Sent them money through a third party. Never saw the inside of a courtroom, let alone a jail cell. I heard about a decade later that he was back in the country.

The law will —hopefully —eventually deal with Jooste. And with the cartel of thieves that have destroyed our public sector. They’re made for each other, members of a rapacious predatory class that survives through the abuse of a system that’s loaded in their favour.

In an ideal world, Markus Jooste and Atul Gupta would be sharing a cell already, sharing a skyf and telling each other tales of theft and influence while nodding off in their bunks. Let’s hope they get there.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller and blag artist.
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