The truly worrying thing about Sexwale is that he’s by no means ...

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The truly worrying thing about Sexwale is that he’s by no means alone

The Tokyo Sexwale debacle is an indicator of how gullible South Africans are and it’s very worrying

Columnist
Let's take heed of Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago's words: 'When something sounds too good to be true, it is probably too good to be true.'
YES, YOU Let's take heed of Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago's words: 'When something sounds too good to be true, it is probably too good to be true.'
Image: Trevor Samson

The only thing worse than seeing politician and businessman Tokyo Sexwale embarrass himself so spectacularly last week was realising how many people believed his tall tales.

That so many seemingly smart, rational, considered people even said his wild utterances deserved serious investigation tells you something about this country: we are closer to disaster than we think. We have become uncritical in accepting falsehoods because we saw them “on the internet” or because “I received an e-mail”. We don’t stop to interrogate falsehoods or apply our mental faculties. Things are true because they came to us through a screen. This is why charlatans such as “Prophet” Shepherd Bushiri and the Guptas proliferate here. We are a country of schmucks, ready for the plucking.

The Tokyo debacle illustrates the dangers of misinformation in governance today. Some fool can write, without any evidence, that foreigners “are stealing our wives” or have some magical business powers which “they must share with us” and leaders such as Sexwale will believe them simply because they “sent me an e-mail”. Someone sends an e-mail saying they are rich and have donated trillions to SA and all we need to do is “download” the money — a leader such as Sexwale believes such nonsense. It’s scary.

Sexwale is not just any Tom, Tau or Sipho. He is a man who has come close to power several times. When Chris Hani, the ANC’s second-most popular leader in the early 1990s, was murdered, many speculated whether Sexwale would fill his shoes.

After leading Gauteng, the country’s economic powerhouse, as premier, Sexwale went into business. Being premier of Gauteng is no joke. If Gauteng fails, then SA fails. It is the vault and Sexwale held the keys. Now imagine if he had received an e-mail from a man called Goodwin Webb or Chuck Leong saying that, out of the goodness of their hearts, they wanted to donate trillions of rand to “the economy” to build schools, finance tertiary education, fight Covid-19 ... essentially, bail out SA. But for the funds to be released, government had to pay so many millions into an offshore account to “secure” the deal. From last week’s events it is clear Sexwale would have paid it. I shudder at the thought.

In the 2000s Sexwale ran for ANC president. He ran a decent campaign, but failed. He was too decent a man for the dirty politics of the 2007 and 2012 campaigns of the ANC. He halfheartedly tried again in 2017, but was one of those knocked out early in the game.

The man who today is sadly lacking the smarts to see that he is being scammed is a man who could easily have been sitting in the Union Buildings. Before you laugh, remember that a man who believed a shower prevented HIV transmission — or that his young wife was poisoning him — sat in the Union Buildings for nine years.

Nelson Mandela loved Sexwale. The businessman was one of the late president’s directors in a family venture that sold his artwork. He sat on the board of the Mandela Foundation. Through these associations and through his own charisma Sexwale made hundreds of friends who love and care for him. One must ask: why didn’t he reach out to just a handful of them for advice? Why haven’t they been reaching out to him and saying: “Look, chief ...”

Mvelaphanda, Sexwale’s former business, was loaded with experts in finance. All he has to do is pick up the phone and ask: “How does this work?” He has failed to do the basics.

When one is being scammed one of the first things to confront is the shame that comes with realising that one has been made a fool of. It would make any of us feel ashamed. Yet digging in is not the solution. Acknowledging the problem is.

Sexwale is digging in. It’s too sad for words.

Yet here is the thing: there are many South Africans who receive letters of solicitation from people who claim to love them, to be doing them a favour or to be providing some sort of service. Every day one wins a million euro or ten million dollars. You don’t need to be a genius to realise these things are fraudulent. As Reserve Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago very wisely said in response to the Sexwale travesty: “When something sounds too good to be true, it is probably too good to be true.”

People won’t listen to Kganyago, though. Evidence is mounting that the Guptas were giving bags of cash to Anoj Singh, Brian Molefe and Malusi Gigaba. Yet gullible people are still seriously questioning the corruption of the Zuma era.

What the Tokyo meltdown tells us is that we are very prone to misinformation in SA. It is very worrying for the future of our country.