OPINION: Rupert schooled in the art of talking but not listening
The interview with Johann Rupert encapsulated what many South African citizens feel: everyone talks and shouts. The other side awaits their chance to respond. But no-one listens, writes Charlene Naidoo.
"Why now? Why did you agree to do an interview now?"
So asked PowerFM's Given Mkhari to business mogul Johann Rupert on Tuesday evening during the Chairman's Conversation.
In the ensuing ripostes and insta-quotables between the two, this was an interesting nugget. Rupert has previously refused to give media interviews.
Rupert responded with a bit of corporate-ese many of us are familiar with, so common as to be redundant:
"We need to engage more. We need to talk openly."
Do we though?
Engaging is not the problem in South Africa. We engage enough. South Africans talk a lot, from individuals on social media to politicians, newsmakers, influencers – ad nauseum. The problem isn't a dearth of talking; it's that the other side only keeps quiet until it's their turn to talk again.
Proper discourse is fast eroding. Respectful engagement, with an eye to progress and growth, ideally involves mutual respect and agency.
Rupert's tactic was not unusual and sadly, what we've become accustomed to from those in power. He listened and responded from his vantage point without consideration to external perceptions, and more importantly – context. The conversation proceeded with tactless slurs, peppered with racial stereotypes, defensive phrasing, outright denials and an unrepentant stance.
"I'm now with the snowflake generation," he sorry-but-not-sorry shot back when the interviewer corrected him on one occasion.
Is it even worth it to be irked by comments like: "In a sense, the Afrikaner was downtrodden. They studied like crazy, they saved like crazy. They didn't go and buy BMWs and hang around at Taboo or The Sands all the time."
He even managed to drop in a "…but I have black friends!" (In New York, no less). Fancy.
The interview encapsulated what many South African citizens feel: everyone talks and shouts. The other side awaits their chance to respond. But no-one listens.
Rupert was a figurative and literal rich reminder of such.
The news here is not in his racial offensiveness. It's not in his use of stereotypes. We know these. Black, coloured and Indian people have long been on the receiving end of these, and still are. What does it matter that another rich old-money white man gets to say it out loud for the country to hear?
The interview served no purpose but to reiterate a rich white man's individual discernments. An arguable product of his time, protected by wealth and privilege, with no intent of venturing a toe into the waters of real engagement.
Engaging? If the definition of engagement means on one's own terms with no cause to assimilate with the person on the other end. When you have an old-school business tycoon like Johann Rupert unwilling to even entertain the concept of white monopoly capital in a post-apartheid South Africa – there goes the notion of engagement.
The real takeaway here is the confirmation that we are living in Orwellian times. "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."
So, "why now"? Well, what better time than now to reaffirm our mental space as a country?
We are still not at the point where those in power, the tailors behind the curtain of South Africa, are ready to admit that two plus two equals four.
- Charlene Naidoo is a content producer at 24.com.
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