A letter from FNB’s Paul Harris to his mate “Jeff”, telling him not to be concerned about those in South Africa, had gone viral. Many have responded to billionaire Harris, the kindest rebuttal being that from his elitist perspective, Harris has no clue about what the ordinary South African is facing or concerned about. We first place Harris’ letter to Jeff and then Jeff’s brilliant response. Lastly there is a rebuttal found without reference, but an equally excellent read.
Don’t stress about us in SA
HOPE all is well with you guys. I will drop you a line later with the family news but I would first like to respond to the e-mail you sent me attaching an article by Clem Sunter, which seemed to concern you about us here in South Africa.
You also sent me an article last year by Moeletsi Mbeki warning about the danger of an "Arab Spring" in South Africa. I often get e-mails like this from "concerned friends" worried about us, which is sweet of you guys. Of course we are concerned. Some worrying things have happened but we have been through and survived much worse in much more volatile environments. Including the Boer War, two World Wars, apartheid, the financial crisis without a bank bailout, the Rindapest, Ge Korsten and Die Antwoord!
However, for as long as I can remember there have always been people who think SA has five years left before we go over the cliff. No change from when I was at school in the sixties. The five years went down to a few months at times in the eighties!
But it seems the people who are the most worried live far from the cliff in places like Toronto, Auckland, London and other wet and cold places. Also from St Ives and Rose Bay in Sydney, Dallas and Europe and other "safe places" that are in the grip of the global financial crisis, which by the way is quite scary. Many of them have survived decades of rolling "five years left" since they left South Africa. So maybe they will be right one day!
My message is, please don't stress about us in South Africa. We are fine. We are cool. We know we live in the most beautiful country in the world with warm and vibrant people. There are more people here with smiles on their faces than in any country I have ever been to.
Young people are returning in droves with skills and a positive attitude. Collectively we bumble along and stuff many things up while letting off a hell of a lot of steam (have you heard of a chap called Julius Malema?). Yet in between South Africans do some amazing things like win a few gold medals, big golf tournaments and cricket and rugby matches.
The South Africans I know get off their butts and do things to build our country rather than whinge from a position of comfort. We actively participate in projects that improve the lot of underprivileged communities. I would not trade for anything last Saturday in a hall full of 1500 African teachers singing at the top of their voices and demonstrating their commitment to improving education in their communities.
We have our challenges and surprises. The standard deviation of our emotions are set at MAX. You are never just a "little bit happy" or a "little bit sad". At one moment you can be "off the scale" pissed off or frustrated or sad or worried or fearful or depressed. The next moment you are "off the scale" exhilarated, or enchanted, or inspired, or humbled by a kind deed, or surprised by something beautiful. It makes life interesting and worth living.
We also have passionate debates about the future of SA. Helped of course by red wine which you must taste again because it is getting better every year! Clem makes a great contribution to the debate as others like Moeletsi Mbeki do. Russell Loubser, the former head of the JSE, made a feisty speech the other day that has whipped up emotions. Up to MAX on the emotions meter of the ANC Youth League whose campaign for nationalisation of the mines was attributed to people who have IQs equal to room temperature.
South African politics has always been volatile, we have opinions that could not be further apart and it evokes emotion on a massive scale. Interesting and stimulating for those that want to take it seriously but noise in the system to me. Fortunately we are rid of apartheid that would have definitely pushed us over the cliff. These are the birth pangs of a new and unpredictable democracy. So buckle up and enjoy the ride and contribute! That is the message I convey to South Africans.
Sad as it is, it is true that the South African diaspora has a largely negative influence on confidence in South Africa. It would not be a problem if their fretting about how long we will last before we go over the cliff was merely a reflection of their concern for us, their friends and family.
The problem is that it does impact foreign investment, which is important for economic growth. A person who is thinking of coming to visit or investing is often put off by listening wide-eyed to the stories of people who have gapped it.
As you know I host many foreign visitors and I have never, EVER, met anyone who has visited for the first time without being blown away by the beauty of the country and the warmth of the people. It is not for nothing that South Africa has the highest ratio of repeat visitors of all long-haul destinations.
So, Jeff, how can I help you stop stressing out about us? Maybe best is that you get exposed to some articles and websites that give a more balanced and uplifting perspective of South Africa. So please don't worry and if you get a chance, put in a good word for us.
All the best
* This article was first published in Sunday Times: Business Times
"Jeff's" response to Paul Harris
31 October 2012
David Bullard gets his hands on a leaked copy of the reply to the viral email...
Last week a letter from FNB's Paul Harris to his ex pat mate "Jeff" appeared on the Homecoming Revolution website. It then appeared as a filler piece in the Sunday Times Business Times section and the following morning was used to bulk out Business Day. It's now said to have "gone viral" which is just another way of saying that a lot of people with nothing better to do have e.mailed it to their entire address book.
Thanks to the services of a shadowy group of anarchists known as WikiLies we have managed to get our hands on a leaked response from Jeff to Paul Harris. Read on...
Jeez mate....If I'd known my e.mails to you were going to go public I would never have attached that jpeg of those two obliging dusky maidens who joined us both on my boat on Pittwater. One of the lads down at the yacht club told me that your e.mail to me appeared in some fish-wrap newspaper last Sunday and that I ought to respond because it paints me as a bit of a wowser.
I can take a hint and obviously it was stupid of me to send you copies of articles by the likes of Clem Sunter and Mbeki Jnr when it was perfectly obvious that you would have already read them. So I won't do it again. But what's all this stuff about often getting e-mails from "concerned friends" and telling us that it's sweet of us to care. I hope I haven't grown thin skinned after all these years in Aussie but I did find that a touch patronising old buddy. Those quote marks suggest that you doubt my sincerity which is definitely not the case.
I know you're hooked up to that Homecoming Revolution outfit which tries to persuade South Africans to bring their skills back home after they've qualified for foreign citizenship. Purely out of interest, what is the ratio of black to white South Africans that you're tempting back? It would be interesting to know because some cynical bastard once suggested that Homecoming Revolution's main job was to bring people back to fix up the mess caused by the new elite. In which case I hope it's working for you.
Now I know you've survived many things before like Ge Korsten (a joke...right?) and that your land is beautiful, you are all cool people and even manage to win the odd sporting event once you've persuaded your politicians that the team should be selected on talent rather than demographics. I also know that you have some top business brains there and that there are many hard working people in SA (I used to be one of them, remember?) but please don't accuse those of us who criticise SA's politics of whingeing from a position of comfort. And I'm afraid I had to reach for the sick bag when you started beating the drum about all the good works you do for underprivileged communities. So did Jimmy Savile.
You ask if I've heard of a chap called Julius Malema as if I've been going walkabout in the outback these last few years. We do have telly in Oz you know and broadband that is rather faster than yours so of course I've heard of this thieving layabout. And he worries me more than he seems to worry you.
You've come a long way since those days at Rand Consolidated Investments in the early eighties Paul. I see in the Sunday Times rich list that you are among the top 20 richest men in SA with a fortune estimated at around R2bln. Wow.....who would have thought? I know you live in a very secure complex with 24/7 guards and I am damn sure that your financial affairs have been cleverly structured to legally avoid paying any more tax than you really have to.
That's the privilege of the super rich and I don't have any problem with that. My problem is that I am not sure you are really qualified to speak for the average Saffer when you tell them to buck up and put on a happy face because they're all rainbow children. You're in the very fortunate position of having a lot more choice than the majority of your countrymen and I have no doubt that you have hedge strategies in place should your sunny optimism turn out to be misplaced.
Back in 2007 I recall that you spent R20 million on a campaign to get little Thabo to take crime seriously. I searched the internet and found this piece to refresh your memory. You were forced to withdraw that campaign after government threatened to pull accounts from FNB. It was a PR cock-up of note and to make things worse the rest of the business community put the boot in as well. You were accused of setting up in opposition to the democratically elected government. So it's hardly surprising that your backbone has taken a pummelling and that you are keen to make amends now. But writing complete claptrap and burying your head in the sand is no way to do it.
You claim in your e.mail that you have passionate debates in SA but you know that isn't the case. You know that all the leading newspapers depend on government advertising to survive and that they silence voices they find too strident. You also know that the SABC is a shambles and that Primedia are now seen by many in Gauteng as the national broadcaster. Their saccharine recipe for broadcasting ensures that those too critical of government are labelled un-South African or racist and are, from then on, excluded from the right to debate.
You ask how you can help me from stressing about South Africa Paul. Let me tell you. We ex-pats may sometimes give the impression that we think your politicians are a bunch of incompetent knuckleheads who couldn't pull a greasy stick out of a dead dingo's arse (to coin a local phrase). I assure you that we do this because that's how brand SA comes across after 18 years of freedom. There will be those who demonstrate schadenfreude but many of us still have family there and are genuinely concerned about Clem's 25% failed nation status probability.
What worries me most is that you are a leading business figure and yet you don't seem to be seeing the big picture. On the contrary you seem decidedly laid back and are simply hoping things will work out. I guess if you're worth R2bln and in your sixties then that's a luxury you can afford. What I cannot understand though is how pretending things are OK when they are so obviously far from OK is a good business strategy. Remember that ghastly Dealstream episode, not to mention SPJi and the vast losses in equity trading during your watch? How could you forget? The analysts suggested after the event that the losses could have been much lower if the problems had been recognised and acted upon earlier.
And that's all I'm asking Paul. Your country is being run into the ground by a bunch of commies who don't even support capitalism. How can you expect them to perform? And the amount that is disappearing out of the back door ought to worry you as much as it worries the rest of your less, fortunate countrymen. Kids don't get text books, pregnant women sleep on the floors of ill equipped public hospitals, tenderpreneurs keep the luxury car market buoyant but fail to build the roads they were contracted to.....it's a farce mate. And I won't even mention the succession of dodgy police chiefs you've suffered.
So please Paul, take off those expensive rose tinted specs of yours, smell the raw sewage and stop pretending you have a functioning government. Then I'll be only too happy to put in a good word for you when I get the chance.
See you later
Another rebuttal found online
Billionaire banker says SA is “fine”, psychologists urge public to be gentle with him.
Psychologists have begged South Africans to be compassionate towards billionaire banker Paul Harris, after he wrote a letter announcing that the country was “fine”. “This is what happens when you live in the money-bubble,” said one. “It’s easy to be optimistic about South Africa when you can move to Monaco with the change between your couch pillows.”
Harris made headlines on the weekend after a letter he penned to a friend went viral. In the letter, Harris reveals that the country is “fine”, and assures his friend that “there are more people here with smiles on their faces than any other country I’ve been to”.
This morning the staff at his country seat confirmed that Harris, worth R2-billion, was more than qualified to speak about ordinary South Africans.
Indeed, Mr Harris has got his finger on the pulse of the common man,” confirmed his butler, Fotheringham. “The finger is made of platinum, so he doesn’t actually have to touch the common man, and I disinfect it every day, but still, he does it.”
Housekeeper, Mrs Shortbread, said that Harris often remarked on how all South Africans, regardless of socio-economic status, smiled warmly whenever they saw him.
Och aye, people just light up when he walks into a room!” she gushed. “Some might say it’s because he makes about R10,000 a second and they’re hoping some of that cash will rub off on them, but he prefers to think it’s because South Africans are just intrinsically decent.”
Kitchen maid, Elsie Kleintjoppies, said she had never seen Harris, but had seen pictures of him. “He’s a beautiful bearded man in a long white robe, with light shining out from his head and a lamb curled up at his feet,” she said. “He’s just so incredibly compassionate.”
Meanwhile, psychologists have asked South Africans to “be gentle” with Harris if they encounter him.
Remember, Mr Harris is a superb businessman, with a vast knowledge of finance,” said Dr Naas C. Cyst. “But that money has caused a delusion we call ‘Thinking You Know About How Other People Live’. Unfortunately when you’re super-rich, the scientific term for what you know about ordinary folks is ‘fokkol’.” “Fokkol” is Afrikaans for “f-ckall”
He said that the public should not try to wake Mr Harris up from his “sleepwalking money-bubble”, but instead gently guide him to the nearest polo club where he could be reintroduced to his own species in a calm and nurturing environment.