Adam Habib and the critique of crass enrichment

Does the UJ deputy vice-chancellor practice what he preaches?

In Moneyweb on Friday Professor Adam Habib, deputy vice chancellor, research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg, wrote an indignant reply to an earlier article on that website by the economist Mike Schüssler.

Schüssler had argued earlier in the week that, according to StatsSA data, the typical employer earned far less than you would expect from all the overheated rhetoric in the media about South Africa's overpaid bosses. He stated: it is "madness to believe that all employers earn what the 100 richest earners in the country get, in fact often the top earners are employees themselves. ... I can hear the screams of disbelief from clever folks that this cannot be true. Sensational rich lists which highlight the earnings of the top 100 earners in the country are just NOT a reflection of reality. Analysts should quote them as if though they are."

Habib, for some reason, took offence at this criticism though he was not directly named. He said that what analysts, like himself, were taking issue with was the culture of "crass enrichment in our society." He noted:

"I have criticised cabinet ministers when they pulled out expensive cars on getting into office as an example of crass enrichment. I criticised CEOs in parastatals of enrichment even though I was aware that they did not own the enterprise. Similarly I have criticised some CEOs of private companies of enrichment, and I have criticised those employers who it pertained to. The critique was always against enrichment by whomever it applied to."

Habib proceeded to accuse Schüssler of falsely pretending to "care for the poor bloke on the street" while actually defending this culture: "Why is productivity the stick with which you berate workers for the ‘inflated' wage demands, but you remain silent on executives who get multi-million rand bonuses even when the performance of their companies is lacklustre? It is this kind of hypocrisy that enrages union activists and lies at the core of the recent strikes in the country."

He continued: "Let me conclude by clarifying why many of us condemn this crass enrichment. It is not because we do not want people to be rich. Rather it is because we realise that for us to move forward as a society, we are all going to have to be circumspect in how much we spend today."

At this point you would be entitled to take out a handkerchief and wipe a tear from your eye. After all who would not be overwhelmed by emotion by such a voice of principle? Professor Habib - a man who chose the life of the mind (and academic penury) over the pursuit of worldly pleasures - is the voice of conscience our society has been crying out for.

It is at this particular point, as you choke back a second tear, that you may feel the cold bony finger of cynicism tapping you on the shoulder and asking: "Didn't you see someone the other day, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Professor Habib, driving a rather expensive German motor vehicle into your local gym."

Now this is just the sort of mean-spirited observation that gives cynicism such a bad name. It turns out that last year Professor Habib earned a rather humble salary of R1,331,783 per annum. Fortunately, it was topped up with allowances of R142,626 and employer contributions of R241,117. Add in R61,773 for leave days sold and a well deserved merit bonus of R473,177 and Professor Habib's total package was a mere R2,250,477.

To give you an idea quite how modest and unassuming this is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Max Price, earned a whopping R2,133,209 last year (his deputies received around R1,3m). The fact that Professor Habib was willing to accept a salary package only R 117,268 greater than Dr Price's - despite his manifestly superior talents - tells of his great circumspection. 

Indeed, imagine how far we'd move on as a society if we all practiced similar levels of self-denial. 

Professor Adam Habib's remuneration package from the University of Johannesburg for 2010:



Employer Contributions


Leave days sold

Merit bonus

Grand Total

R 1,331,783

R 142,627

R 241,117

R 1,715,527

R 61,773

R 473,177

R 2,250,477

Source: University of Johannesburg, Annual Financial Statements, 2010 (see here - PDF)

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