The black lives that didn't matter

David Bullard writes on the horrific and deadly fire in the Joburg CBD


When I first came to South Africa back in 1981 I had just been offered a job by a company that was operating from the old stock exchange building known as Eagle Star House in Sauer Street. It had been the home of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange before the JSE had moved to its new home in Diagonal Street.

The company I joined was a successful financial services company and one of our closest rivals at the time was a company owned and run by banking legends GT Ferreira, Paul Harris and Alberto Bottega among others. At one point there was talk of a merger between our respective companies but that never happened because our directors were more concerned with who would have the office with the best view and the antique furniture than they were with growing a financial powerhouse.

This was a huge disappointment to me, particularly when GT and Co. reversed into Rand Merchant Bank and began their spectacular banking careers. Who knows… I could have owned an entire wine estate by now instead of a 1/205th share in one. But that’s life I guess.

At the time of the merger talks we had moved from our Sauer Street premises and bought an entire building on the corner of Rissik and Anderson Streets in Marshalltown. We renamed the building after the company and completely refurbished the entrance to the building in Mazista slate (which we partly owned) complete with a rooftop bar and braai for Friday evening team bonding and staff seduction.  ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

I checked out Google maps the other day and it seems as though the site of my former employer has been demolished along with a few neighbouring buildings extending to Loveday Street and is awaiting development but is a much needed parking area until such time as the developers move in.

I mention this deeply moving piece of nostalgia because I was a mere seven blocks away from where last week’s horrific fire occurred. It was an area that was quite safe to walk back in the 1980’s when the streets were clean and unpot-holed and although I probably had no need to go as far south as Albert Street I did hang out at a pub called the White House (spare ribs at R3.50 back then) fairly frequently which is a three minute walk from the scene of the tragedy.

It’s mind boggling to observe what has happened to the once vibrant city of Johannesburg in the past 30 years under our rather disappointing new democracy. The smart money started moving out long ago of course with many of the big banks and the JSE relocating to the swanky new business hub of Sandton.

The exodus of big business guaranteed the closure of plenty of good restaurants and I’m told that the Carlton Hotel, once the showpiece of Johannesburg, has fallen prey to the same urban decay that has affected much of the city under a disinterested and corrupt administration.

The Rand Club hung on for a while but membership dwindled as members moved north. I can remember visiting the club with the late Alistair Colquhoun when I was working at UAL Merchant Bank and the throng at the long main bar was three deep. When I was last there, albeit eight years ago, there were eight of us in the bar and the barman’s prospect of tips looked very slim.

Nothing short of criminal negligence has allowed the business district of the city which once dared to call itself a ‘world class African city’ to deteriorate to the state it has today. Not that things are much better for those who decided to quit the City of Gold and move north to Sandton.

That has also fallen under the magic spell of ‘controlled decolonisation’ as the rag-bag of political malcontents that make up whichever farcical coalition is in charge this week meticulously unpick everything that worked well and restore the area to its imagined prelapsarian state.

Watching the news of the fire at 80 Albert Street unfold I couldn’t help comparing it to many other news stories featuring those tenderpreneurs and BEE moguls who have done rather well for themselves over the past thirty years.

Whether it was from dodgy hospital tenders, stealing from the lottery or receiving large amounts of money for buffaloes as yet to be delivered it did appear that there were plenty of smiling faces who had every reason to be very chuffed with the transfer of wealth, even if the means might be a bit confusing for simple white folks to understand.

One of the wonders (or curses) of the modern age is social media and it seems that once you’ve accumulated a vast amount of wealth by whatever means you are almost obliged to go onto something called Instagram or Facebook to post pictures and brag about it.

I am unfamiliar with the inner workings of Instagram but I believe it is the medium of choice should you wish to mention the fact that you are wearing R15 000 sneakers and a R500 000 watch to those less fortunate. Oddly, it seems that the more dodgy the Instagram poster, the more the people love it because it is sticking one to the colonialists.

No wonder the country is sinking when the masses worship criminality and see it as the only way to become upwardly mobile. Although, in fairness, as world record holders when it comes to unemployment (and particularly youth unemployment) they probably have a point.

When the only people around you, including leaders of political parties, are getting rich from crime rather than hard work and good ideas then you’d have to be pretty stupid not to follow.

An interesting piece of detective work on Daily Maverick last week concerned the dodgy lawyer Lesley Ramulifho who has allegedly benefited to the tune of tens of millions of rands thanks to his close friendship with the National Lottery Commission’s former sleazy boss Phillemon Letwaba who played a key role in the looting of the lottery.

Although Ramulifho has had his mansion in Mooikloof Country Estate and a mountainside property in Simonstown frozen by the Asset Forfeiture Unit this doesn’t seem to have bothered him unduly. He regularly posts his latest global adventures on Instagram, making sure he is photographed quaffing the most expensive drinks and wearing the most expensive designer clothes (small dick syndrome anybody?) in a clear middle finger salute to the utterly useless National Procrastination Authority who have either been instructed not to prosecute any politically connected figures (bad) or are simply too incompetent to do so (worse).

So in this brave new South Africa in which we find ourselves I invite you to look at the desperate faces of those who managed to escape the horrific fire in Marshalltown and compare them with those that aren’t shy to help themselves to funds intended for charitable purposes. Then tell me with a straight face that Black Lives Matter in this rapidly collapsing gangster state of ours.


Thank heavens for the gift that keeps on giving - the Legacy of Apartheid (L of A). I watched an interview with this week’s mayor of Johannesburg, one Kabelo Kwamanda, just after the Marshalltown fire. One has to feel very sorry for this poor chap because he is clearly so out of his depth that it is a national embarrassment. But if that’s the image the ANC want to project to our overseas audiences then so be it.

Kwamanda doesn’t have any formal qualifications which is hardly encouraging when you consider that he is nominally in charge of the city that is the business hub of the country.

However, to his great credit he rambled on about the problems of inner-city decay before doing what any bureaucrat would do. He set up another boondoggle Mayoral Sub Committee to deal with the state of inner-city buildings. He never once mentioned the L of A.

That was left to Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu who was perhaps channeling Pres Frogboiler when she summed up the whole problem with the tragic Marshalltown conflagration. Nothing to do with ANC neglect, poor coalition politics, corruption, dodgy deals between politicians and slumlords, nonfunctioning NGO’s or anything like that.

It was all the fault of those apartheid bastards who built 80 Albert St in the first place and then used it as a building to process the dreaded dompas. If they hadn’t built it in the first place it wouldn’t have burnt down would it? Stands to reason dunnit? Thank heavens for the L of A and for razor sharp intellects like Lindiwe Zulu.


More bad news for Africa I’m afraid. The Turks have just dug up the partial skull of an ape which experts believe to be from around 8.7 million years ago. That rather knocks Africa’s claim to be the ‘cradle of mankind’ off the perch. The new kid on the block - Anandoluvius turkae - has a pretty decent head start on Africa’s hominin claim of a mere 7 million years, give or take a few hundred thousand.

This suggests that early man originated in Europe and not near Lanseria airport as previous studies have claimed. Since we all apparently originate from Europe (subject to no fossilised remains dating back 9 million years being discovered in Pofadder) this clearly invalidates any land claims the EFF may cherish.