Profiting from a crisis

It is increasingly evident that the Covid-19 lockdowns across the world have served the interests of certain elites who have benefitted greatly during this time.

Forbes magazine, which regularly releases “rich lists”, has been tracking the fortunes of the wealthiest billionaires in the USA during that country’s lockdown restrictions and ensuing economic downturn. Their latest figures released on Tuesday show that the accumulated wealth of the top seven increased by $219-billion since March 18.

Topping the list is Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, whose wealth soared from $113-billion to $189-billion. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who is also behind the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, saw his wealth increase by $16-billion, from $98-billion to $114-billion. Next in line is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose wealth increased from $55-billion to $97-billion.

Warren Buffett’s fortune increased from $68-billion to $80-billion. Next in line are two less familiar names, Larry Ellison and Steve Ballmer – each worth $71-billion, but in seventh place is South African export Elon Musk, whose wealth more than doubled from $25-billion to $68-billion.

At a time when businesses have been closing, people have lost jobs and the throngs dependent on charitable handouts have multiplied, it is obscene that the super-rich have become even richer.

How Bezos has benefitted is obvious, as social distancing rules and the enforced closure of traditional businesses has seen exponential growth in online shopping. You could say he has simply benefitted from circumstances, but it is hard not to have suspicions that these lockdowns have been orchestrated for the financial gain of powerful elites.

Twice-failed presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders has taken a lot of flak for his socialist tendencies, but he is right in his call for a tax on the ultra-wealthy to benefit ordinary people who have been suffering and struggling during this time.

Here in SA, with both similar and different circumstances, it is the “Covidpreneurs” who have benefitted from state contracts for PPE amounting to billions of rands. Many are well connected to the ruling party.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko’s husband was awarded a contract worth R124m by the Gauteng health department; Hlulani Siweya, a relative of deputy minister in the presidency and ANC national executive committee member Thembi Siweya, scored more than R800,000 worth of contracts to supply the Limpopo health department with PPE; ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s eldest son Tshepiso’s Motheko Projects received a contract for R2.29m and Tshepiso’s brother Thato’s Marvel Deeds scored R427,221 from the Free State treasury.

DA leader John Steenhuisen is correct in saying that the governing party and those connected to its elite cannot be allowed to repurpose a national state of disaster as a means of self-enrichment.

We hope that the various probes into these tenders, including that by the Special Investigating Unit, will expose the corrupt who will face real consequences.

– Jon Houzet

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