Trillion reasons to kick this poorface orgy to the kerb

Ideas

Trillion reasons to kick this poorface orgy to the kerb

Fat cats could do more sitting on their bums than in the sleeping-bag pantomime of the CEO SleepOut

Columnist

You've heard of tone-deaf crackers dressing up in blackface. Now get ready for tone-deaf millionaires dressing up in poorface. It’s time to brace yourself for South Africa’s annual masturbatory orgy of poverty porn: the wholly hideous CEO SleepOut.
“Poorface” is a term coined by British writer Jack Monroe after living in poverty and watching London’s elite experiment with being “poor for a day” to raise “awareness”, exclaiming at how hard it is to eat fresh fruit on a limited budget.
The organisers of this year’s event, however, don’t call it poorfacing. They call it a “movement”, like, I suppose, a bowel movement.
Certainly, it takes a very special kind of shit to imagine that it is a good idea to bid millions of rand to spend a night in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, something that was on offer until Twitter found out about it and raised a stink.
At the time of writing is it unclear whether the Mandela cell event will go ahead, with Robben Island curators saying they didn’t know about the plan.In other words, it’s devolved into a microcosm of modern South Africa: either we have a state-affiliated institution that didn’t get the memo and doesn’t know what day of the week it is, or we have a squad of corporate Komodo dragons who auctioned off property that didn’t belong to them without asking anyone’s permission.
I understand why many people found the cell auction repulsive, but I’m not opposed to it in principle: I think many CEOs should have the opportunity to spend a night in a prison cell. Or many nights, in fact.
The main event, however, will still go ahead in mid-July. So you’ve still got plenty of time to let your eggs rot properly before you have to throw them.
Given how emotive the SleepOut circus has proved in the past, we should, however, pause and make sure that we are not being unfairly critical.
Its supporters, for example, point out that it has raised a great deal of money for various worthy causes. Indeed, the Onanistic Rapture of Poorfacing, sorry, I mean CEO SleepOut Movement, has given a total of R38.5-million to what it calls “primary beneficiaries” over the past three years. (I’m not sure what this means, since the primary beneficiaries of the event are the egos of the CEOs doing it, but I assume they mean various civic organisations.)
R38.5-million over three years works out to R12.8-million a year. It sounds like a lot.But here’s the thing.
Right now, corporate South Africa is sitting on a pile of around R1.4-trillion. This is the unofficial investment boycott we hear about from time to time: the suits refusing to spend a cent until the state shows signs of being able to make South Africa a viable concern.
Now I’m not an accountant but I do have a bank account, so I know that if you deposited R1.4-trillion in a normal account, paying 5% interest, you would make R19-million a day in interest. That R12.8-million the CEO SleepOut has averaged per year? That’s about 16 hours’ worth of interest, which the corporate sector could raise simply by sitting on its bum, without the pantomime of sleeping bags on pavements.
Yes, cry its supporters, but what have you done? How much have you given to worthy causes?
Well, let’s see. If you give R12.8-million a year in the name of Corporate South Africa, an entity that has R1.4-trillion in the bank, you’re effectively giving away 0.0009% of your savings every year.For someone with R1-million in the bank, that works out to giving away R9.14 a year.
Or, for someone with R50,000 in the bank, 45 cents per year.
So what have ordinary South Africans contributed, compared with the CEO SleepOut “movement”? Well, let’s just say that, proportionally, they’re doing okay.
And much more importantly, they’re doing it discretely. Long before the CEO SleepOut movement, the CEO of another movement suggested: “Therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

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