My first ever paid-for activity was handing out leaflets advertising a new hairdressing salon in Orange Grove, Johannesburg. I cannot recall how much I received but I probably was paid in coins, not notes.
My career thereafter really took off as I upgraded to mowing lawns, working in a sport shop on Saturday mornings and then eventually I made it big time: I became a waiter at what was then known as the Blue Room at Park Station in Central Johannesburg.
Yes, dear reader, I also worked for Spoories.
Every day, for about six weeks during the university December break, I would board the municipal bus with my stupid-looking tunic, complete with bowtie and under-jacket, to do two shifts, lunch time and then dinner .
Dinner was the best shift as that was when the high rollers would arrive who, after a couple of beers or maybe some Bellingham Rosé, would leave a very fat tip — but still in coins, especially if the dinner companion was not the wife.
You could spot them a mile away….
When all was cleared and the dishes washed — and the remains hurriedly scoffed as a late-night snack, it was it back onto the 15B bus to Sandringham, only to do it again the next day. I was giddy with the freedom of movement and the ability to earn some money of my own. For there was no other money coming my way.
It also helped to pay back the bursary for my studies at what was then known as RAU, at the old campus where the Liberty head office stands today.
I also saved up enough to pay R600 cash for an old Hillman Lynx, which for evermore liberated me from the embarrassment of catching the 15B bus in my dark navy Spoories waiter uniform. So much for white privilege.
Have you ever tried chatting up a perky red head while dressed in a Spoories uniform? I have and I can tell you, you have a better chance of winning a Ferrari in a lucky draw.
But if you listen to what Blade Nzimande, secretary general of the SA Communist Party, had to say earlier this week, I should have been outraged back then! I should have been toi-toying up and down President street in my navy blue tunic and bowtie. For I was being exploited by the brutal capitalists who owned (a) the hairdressing salon, (b) sport shop and (c) the restaurant.
I was just too grateful for having a job, a part-time job, that paid me some real money to even consider the toi-toying bit.
My experience was not unique. I meet and talk to many people and almost everyone will tell you a similar story: part-time jobs, second-jobs, low-paid jobs, failed business. This flies in the face of the narrative that all white people come from privilege and were born with the proverbial golden spoon.
Read below what Nzimande had to say last week in a speech to the SA Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union National Congress. Read and weep, dear reader, to fully understand the economic mess we are in.
“Private accumulation of wealth on a capitalistic basis is not meant to improve working conditions and workers’ standard of living. The hospitality sector, including hotels and restaurants and the retail sector represent two of the typical examples of the worst forms of exploitation facing workers on a daily basis.
“The capitalist bosses are interested in one thing and one thing only. They are interested in achieving self-enrichment by exploiting workers economically and achieving political and wider social control over society. This has generated social insecurity among workers….”
And there’s more…
He goes on to say: “In many restaurants, for instance, there are workers who make more money than their wages from tips. The restaurants have been converted into a space where the workers appear like tenants and make a living from, or rely more on tips than on paid work — adequately remunerated. This same phenomenon is found in the retail and wholesale sector, at the malls, where there are car guards who rely exclusively on tips from motorists.”
And from there razor Blade jumps into sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and state capture…forward to a socialist Azania!
But that’s not all, folks. Why waste a long and tedious speech? Why not also offer the following commentary on what went down in Zimbabwe over the past week or so.
“The underlying problems (in Zimbabwe) are economic problems, and they were not entirely created within Zimbabwe after independence. The problems were fundamentally a result of many years of colonial domination by Britain and imperialist exploitation of the people of Zimbabwe and their national wealth. They were also created by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
“These two Bretton Woods institutions usurped Zimbabwe’s economic policy-making sovereignty. In line with their anti-democratic conduct, they imposed a neoliberal economic policy regime that was implemented uncritically and ruined the economy of Zimbabwe.”
At this point, the speech writer must have realised that he was writing absolute rubbish, so this was added: “But related to the economic problems there were organisational and leadership problems as well.”
Leadership problems? Must be the understatement of the century.
Not one word about the disastrous rule by Robert Mugabe, who in 17 years managed to totally destroy a once-flourishing and booming African economy. An unemployment rate of 85% and three million Zimbabweans who have fled the country for financial survival and it is described as “organisational and leadership problems”.
Can he run a spaza shop?
I have to ask: has Nzimande or any of his fellow communists ever had to balance the books of any enterprise of any nature, even a spaza shop in an informal settlement? For even a micro enterprise such as this is subject to the discipline that the free enterprise imposes: you have to make a profit at the end of the month to stay in business for another month, and so on.
You have to have enough cash on hand to buy stock, which you need to on-sell at a profit (“how dare you make a profit; you are exploiting the poor”). You have to make a profit to employ someone, even if it is temporary. There is no safety net, no go-to-bank for a bail out, no government agency to the rescue. Just ask anyone who is self-employed.
Nzimande sees the restaurant industry as a money spinner. Ask anyone who has ever lost money in a restaurant (me!) how tight the margins are; how fickle the clients can be. Many restaurants are seasonal— in the Western Cape, for instance. You simply cannot appoint full time staff and hope to survive.
And for tips… A winemaker once cynically remarked to me that waiters in many restaurants make more on tips serving a bottle of wine than the gross margin on the bottle of wine itself that he has produced. He has transported his bottle of wine over hundreds of kilometers while the waiter transports it perhaps 20 to 30 meters, from the cellar to the table.
And he pays tax on any profits that he makes, unlike tips which do not attract tax.
Socialism destroying the country
It is this socialistic narrative that is permeating almost every aspect of our economy, even in the financial services sector. It has become so pervasive in recent years that many people who ordinarily would describe themselves as free entrepreneurs and capitalists, often fall into the jargon spouted by the likes of Nzimande. Note how often the words such as “rip off, crook, shyster, exploit etc. are used when it comes to describe a wide range of services in our economy.
All of us — socialists, communists, capitalists and free marketeers — survive and prosper because, somewhere, someone made a profit on some kind of economic activity. This applies to the multitude of economic organisms, many millions of them, that make up what we call the economy. Out of that profit comes the tax revenue that feeds the voracious state. Kill the organisms, even a small number of them, and the economy starts withering.
Just look at the current state of our economy.
I would like to suggest that Nzimande and his gang of communists/socialists in government take some time off from their busy schedules this week and read, but thoroughly, the statement put out by S&P Global Ratings over the weekend giving the reasons for downgrading SA’s local and foreign debt into junk territory.
Simply put: it’s the socialist direction we have taken over the past number of years, that has landed us where we are. Our financial situation is now compared to that of basket case Venezuela. The government spends too much money redistributing money from a shrinking base of taxpayers. And you can only tax someone if they have made a profit. No profit, no taxes.
All the ratings agencies have in recent times pointed at SA’s very inflexible labour situation as one of the major contributing factors for low and slowing economic growth — but according to Nzimande, we need more and stricter laws to solve the situation.
S&P (and Moody’s) are not confident that the current trajectory can be turned around very quickly. It sees it getting worse… and then I am the negative one.
There is a misplaced hope that a win by Cyril Ramaphosa as the new ANC leader next month will turn things around. Any such win might bring about a short-term feel good factor but I have not read anything in any of his speeches thus far which fills me with hope. It contains the usual verbiage about radical economic transformation, transfer of land and redistribution of wealth.
I feel that radical free enterprise is the only hope to get the economy growing again. We must become the Asian Tiger of the African continent. An economy growing at say 5% is the fastest and surest way to ensure radical economic transformation.
So to all those thousands and thousands of people employed part-time/half-time/full time in the hospitality and restaurant industry who might feel exploited, remember this: there is only one thing worse than being exploited by capitalism and that is not being exploited by capitalism. Get it?
*Magnus Heystek is the investment strategist at Brenthurst Wealth. He can be reached at email@example.com for ideas and suggestions.