Magazine article The Spectator

Black Diamonds

Magazine article The Spectator

Black Diamonds

Article excerpt

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 whiteowned 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. …

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