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The Other News Round-Up: Money for Something

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Each week, Daily Maverick brings you some of the odder happenings in South Africa and the rest of the world. This week: How to moonlight without working for the Guptas.

It’s the definition of a vicious circle: corruption leaves everyone barring a select few counting their cents. And there’s plenty of that going around at the moment.  

So we’re not entirely surprised to see Julius Malema pontificating that Andile Mngxitama could have been driven into the arms of the Guptas by money troubles. Schadenfreude, Julius? Tsk tsk. Perhaps what he meant to say was that it’s a pity his old buddy didn’t have Adriano Mazzotti in his corner, but sometimes under pressure our tongues slip.

Not that Mngxitama is having any of it, mind you. He’s holding his own just fine. But we’ll get to that.

Mngxitama, remember, has been strapped for Randelas for a while now, although he’s not alone. In May last year, he described himself as “broke like any other black person”, which may have seemed surprising coming from a bloke who was at the time having six properties auctioned off after losing his R80,000 per month income. (So, maybe not exactly like any other black person. The overall average income in SA is around R138,168 per annum, and the average black South African earns just over R90,000 per year – one fifth of what the average white person does per year, and close to what the lowest-paid MPs earn per month. This inequality irks BLF too, no?)

Anyway, after reports that the BLF leader got an instruction from the Guptas to write an article about BizNews editor Alec Hogg on their behalf, Mngxitama somewhat irritably told media that while he would take money from the Guptas, he hadn’t.

“We are not at war with the Guptas. In fact, we will accept money from the Guptas,” he said on Monday in an interview with eNCA. “It is not a scandal; there’s no need for them [media] to lie.”

Subtle like a hurricane, bud. Maybe send a WhatsApp just to make it a little clearer. LOVE U GUYS. WILL KEEP LOVING 4 CASH. LMK. KTHANXBYE.

But I’m not here to give a guy a hard time. Nothing wrong with a little moonlighting, right? Just the other day, the Times ran a feature on a phenomenon of the ailing economy: the “slashers”, which are not characters from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but rather people who are driven to taking second or third jobs to make ends meet, especially in these tough economic times. Some of these job combinations are run-of-the-mill (author/speaker); others are very surprising: engineer/stand-up comic; HR specialist/aerobics instructor; PR manager/ horror writer; investment banker/ bird trainer. That last one, let me tell you, was a bit of a head scratcher.

But the point is, diversifying isn’t a bad idea when the going gets rough. Not everyone can get in with the Guptas. Or stay there, for that matter. If a “donation” or “commission” isn’t coming your way, it might be worth looking at some alternatives out there, which let’s face it, is the case for most South Africans. You know the pawpaw has hit the fan when you overhear a couple in the Constantia Woolies discussing selling their daughter’s pony. It really lent a certain poignancy to the claim I’ve heard from many wealthy white folks that their parents “sacrificed everything” to give them an education.

It’s at those moments you always want to suggest the parents ask for their money back.

But ja, seriously, though. The scary thing about all of this is that it makes for a concerning misunderstanding. Economic disaster is masquerading as an equalising force – look, the rich are finally affected! – when in reality, inequality is worse than we ever thought, and set to continue in this direction. And recession only makes it worse.

More worrying still: we know that those who reach early to mid-career level during a recession can damage their progress, and their salary prospects, for decades. Our economic disaster isn’t just something that’s going to leave us up Gupta creek without a paddle for a few years, and then straighten out when Thuli Madonsela comes sliding in on a rainbow, waves a magic wand and the ruling party gets its act together. With Helen and Mamps joining hands in the background, singing “We are the Children” as Juju and Pravin start up a drum circle.

So what are people doing about it? Surprisingly proactive things. Workers across the globe are coming up with really creative ways to cash in. I’m not talking about the interesting jobs of old (fortune cookie writer, teddy bear surgeon) but other, less expected methods of moonlighting. You know, the things that really give meaning to the term “odd job”.  Ever heard of a legal bank robber? These folks – also known as “penetration testers” – rob banks to test security levels within a building. (Everyone’s a critic.) Then there are professional sleepers, who get, one supposes, a certain level of danger pay for testing out the conditions in NASA’s experiments. One group got paid $18,000 to test the effects of lying still for 70 days, which, when one puts it like that, does sound pretty bad. Lying still for ten weeks isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, especially when it’s done in order to test what would happen if we were to transport people en masse to other worlds. (Yes, that was the rationale. For real.)

A few other cash spinners: take paid surveys (presumably if you want to spend the rest of your life fielding telemarketers and spam emails) sell jellyfish and pet oysters online (yes, apparently this is a thing) or become a professional weight loser. Yup, people bet on their own weight loss at a website called HealthyWage, which apparently is legitimately interested in people’s health, in much the same way casinos are legitimately interested in people’s wealth.

Then there are the sales of strange items. Some sell their hair, which can fetch a remarkably good price considering it’s something most of us grow for ourselves, even (a tiny bit, anyway) after we’re dead. One online user claims to have made several hundred dollars selling odd board game pieces online to collectors.

There are virtual bookkeepers, reviewers and personal assistants, which apparently fetch fairly good rates for part-time workers. Coupon sellers, website testers. Tour guides can operate from multiple destinations. Less successful was the ill-fated, which offered unspecified guidance via text message. The site gave a bizarre service where members could text any question, and for a small fee, their text gurus would answer it. Questions could range from “What shall I do with my hair?” to “Why do I keep losing at Scrabble?” or “What is the capital of Peru?” Payment for answering a question was small. But, assuming a person was willing to use up their data answering presumably fairly banal questions all day long, slow and steady could win the race. At one stage, 20,000 guides had registered and the company had raised US$6 million in development funds. This included support from Bezos Expeditions, a personal investment firm owned by Jeff Bezos, the entrepreneur behind

That is, until the owner moved to Hawaii and refused to pay the guides the money they were owed after shutting down the program without notice.

So yes, creative – and legal – alternatives aplenty. The problem is, they still rest on the premise that resources aren’t finite. That even if the river’s a little dry over here, we’ll get our share over there. But what happens when it all runs out? Or if our stockpile just doesn’t survive the grotesque overuse by a few? No amount of time or multi-tasking or up-skilling has managed to solve that yet.

Maybe it’s the one question the ChaCha guides just couldn’t answer. And let’s face it, neither can we. DM


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