“Don’t throw away the cradle because of the death of a child”: Deception, simulation and a ‘get-rich-quick’ culture in the context of increasing economic inequality and the financialisation of everyday life1
Key circumstances associated with increased economic inequality and financialisation in contemporary Johannesburg and Soweto - large-scale unemployment, a lack of retirement planning and deep financial illiteracy, the rising costs of living, incredible upward social mobility for a few, an budding get-rich-quick public culture, the corporatisation and incapacitation of the state through the outsourcing of service functions and tenderisation of procurement processes - have resulted in a growing sense of social and economic uncertainty. These circumstances have created the conditions under which deception, simulation and speculation have become everyday social and economic practices. In this context of jobless growth and high levels of unemployment, and where citizens are exhorted to be entrepreneurs and active entrepreneurs, multilevel marketing networks, pyramid schemes and ‘word of mouth’ recruitment strategies have flourished, simulating in the process the workings of finance and formality. ‘Entrepreneurs’ of all sorts are exploiting these structural conditions under the guise of discourses of ‘empowerment’, ‘humanitarian aid’, ‘black economic nationalism’, ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘the right to consumption’ and ‘religious prosperity’. At the same time a set of cultural values and social logics that are not necessarily produced by neoliberal capitalism and financialisation (but are certainly activated by them) makes it hard for citizens to recognise or admit the forms of deception involved, unless deception is seen to be central to the operation of the modern state and/or the present ‘get-rich-quick’ culture.
The Kine Centre in Commissioner Street downtown Johannesburg is not a landmark building. It languishes in the shadows of the landmark building which stands opposite it on the southern side of Commissioner Street: the tall and imposing Carlton building. The Carlton has for long been a symbol of Johannesburg and indeed of the very changes that have over time taken place in Johannesburg, economically and socially. Everyone born and bred in the City of Gold knows it and recognises it. Many tell stories of Sunday family outings to the Carlton in the eighties, before ‘the foreigners’ took over the city. Many prominent businesses were located in the building, including the Chamber of Mines, before it too joined the flight of white capital during the late 1980s when businesses fled the city and took up residence in Sandton’s emerging CBD (and which have since become the ‘black hole’ of financial capitalism in southern Africa as it sucks in workers’ pension funds and shoots these across the planetary financial markets in the form of investments in futures contracts, sometimes never to return). Still, many people use the towering presence of the Carlton to navigate the city. But while symbols can condense and focus several meanings into one object or image, and thus stand for many things at once, they also tend to hide or detract attention from other things.2 A focus on the sun-catching Carlton, however an important landmark it is, thus detracts attention away from what is taking place in its shadows: the street-level economic occurrences, interactions among congregants in second-floor offices used as churches, businesses transactions in adjacent buildings, and the everyday flow of traffic and people and money. One of the many things Carlton Centre ‘hides’ in its shadow is the Kine Centre, the smaller, relatively non-descript building which over the last decade has been home to several pyramid and multi-level recruitment (or ‘push-push’) schemes. In a sense, it is the (unofficial) headquarters of (illegal) ‘push-push’ schemes in southern Africa, a Sandton simulated for the poor and marginalised. It is from this very building that Pyramid King (and preacher, politician and entrepreneur) Sibusiso Radebe of Miracle 2000 launched yet another ‘empowerment scheme’ in 2005 after he had spent two years in prison for his involvement in Miracle 2000.
Today several NGOs, training institutes, financial services and investment companies and one-man political parties have their offices here, in the area of the CBD where two decades ago white capital and considerable economic power were concentrated. Today the Kine office space is also taken up by several ‘dummy companies’ selling counterfeit Canadian diamonds or gold coins. It is here where agents of international travel companies registered in tax havens in Europe hold daily presentations with projectors and laptops and PowerPoint presentations they had downloaded from the internet, pushing pensioners to become members in multi-level ‘business clubs and networks’. It is in these presentations where incredible rags-to-riches narratives are spun around unsuspecting citizens by overly enthusiastic yet ‘hard-working’ agents who are desperate for new recruits so they can feed their children. Here sleek presenters are offering pensioners and working class women the opportunity to connect to the global world of consumption, leisure and financial investment from which they have been barred by generations of white people. Now is the time to make this yours! God wants you to be blessed now!
My research assistant and I had interviewed a number of women and a few men who had all been ‘victims’ of pyramid and other ‘push-push’ schemes around Gauteng. Many of them had made reference to ‘presentations’ they had attended at Kine Centre (together with a few other offices or centres in Midrand, Soweto and the East Rand) so it was only a matter of time before we had to go and observe for ourselves these ‘presentations’. Thus it was that one week day just before 11am I had parked my car at the underground parking at Carlton Centre and crossed the street to Kine Centre via the Small Street Mall. On the ground floor of Kine Centre between the south and north side entrances were located several businesses selling clothes, computer hard- and software, a short-term commercial credit provider offering quick consumer loans, and a restaurant. In the middle of the ground floor, constituting a lobby of sorts, was a queue of about twenty people. They are all standing in line to sign their names into a register at a security checkpoint before being allowed access through glass security doors to a lift and, eventually, to the other floors of the building. Waiting for my research assistant to arrive from Soweto – he was taking for the first time one of the new busses of the recently launched and City owned bus rapid transport system called Rea Vaya – I decided to join the queue. Earlier that morning I had purchased an airtime voucher from my research grant and had sent the pin code to Oscar’s mobile phone so he could sms me (send me a text message) how far he is from the city. At the garage where I had stopped to buy the airtime I was told I could not purchase the airtime with my credit card, only with cash. The attendant said it was because ‘airtime is like cash’ and if my bank refuses the transaction then the airtime would be lost as it is considered consumed once the pin has been activated.
In front of me in the queue in Kine Centre was standing the only other white person in the queue, a slightly overweight woman of around 45 years old wearing a loose-fitting, conservative dress. I was wondering whether this is ‘Amanda’, the white woman (‘boss lady’) we were told about who runs the ‘CAG presentations’. I was close to the front of the queue when Oscar arrived. I signed in without encountering any problems but when Oscar could not remember his identity number correctly the two security guards accused him of being a foreigner (Oscar is very ‘dark-skinned’ as we say in South Africa). It was only after he had phoned his cousin to get his correct ID number and after repeated protests from me that we eventually made it into the lifts and up to the 7th floor. It was around the time of the waves of attacks on foreigners in working class neighbourhoods all around South Africa so we thought their reluctance to let him in was linked to those events. Or perhaps they beefed up security after Sibusiso Radebe was shot by angry investors in his office in this very building a few years ago. Either way, Oscar and I had been here before: the previous Saturday we had attended a presentation of ‘TVI Express’i but then Oscar had his ID with him. Today however we had come to sit in on a presentation on the recommendation of Ma Beth, a family friend of Oscar’s who attends the same Methodist congregation as his mother and who lives in the same Sowetan neighbourhood he hails form (and where I resided during my PhD research).
Ma Beth is a pensioner of around 60 years old who previously worked as a social worker. Her husband is a taxi owner who still runs his business, even though he is ‘taking it slow’. They live in a very comfortable (middle-class) house in a quiet part of a neighbourhood in deep Soweto. The backyard behind the house is large, large enough for Ma Beth to run from there a crèche for about twenty children with two full-time employees. Ma Beth is a tiny woman, but exhibits a lot of energy, enthusiasm and self-motivation. She never stops talking. She seems forever involved in some opportunity or another that seems to stem from a discontent of not having been given the opportunities earlier in her life which she believes she deserved. The fact that her one neighbour’s sons is now a leading figure in the financial services world and very, very rich also does not make it easier on her. I can sympathise with her anxiety about social status, given how under apartheid energetic and active people like her had few avenues through which to channel their social energy and aspirations other than in status competitions and ‘prestige tournaments’ with fellow victims of the system. When during interviews with her our discussion touched on crime and corruption, a sad shadow would cross her face for a moment but then she would pull herself together, put on a brave smile, wave the worries and ‘negative talk’ away, and talk about something more ‘positive’. Among many of the other things she does, Ma Beth is an agent for CAG Airtime Scheme. When we first met, she spoke non-stop about CAG Airtime Scheme and a little bit about Direct Advantage, a multi-level marketing company which launch she had attended a few days earlier in upmarket Gallagher Estate, Midrandii. But it was CAG Airtime Scheme she was most keen to talk to me about, even after I had explained the nature of my research to her.
Halfway through our first interview, with me asking terribly difficult and straightforward questions about the exact nature of CAG Airtime Scheme’s business and in the process dropping a reference to Sibusiso Radebe’s Miracle 2000 pyramid scheme, she said: “We have a saying in my mother tongue, Zulu, that you don’t throw away the cradle because of the death of a child....We say you don’t throw away the cradle because of death. Say you’ve been getting miscarriages, you’re getting stillborns but you don’t throw away the cradle. Meaning, you don’t lose hope”. And then she smiled and asked whether I want to join her ‘downline’, quick to imagine the large numbers of students in my social and work network who need extra money and who can join ‘under me’ (whom I can recruit) and who will ‘push’ her up (the pyramid, although she never used this word). Before I could tell her that that was not really a workable idea, she continued: “Look, I’m going to arrange. I’ll be speaking to my up liners. I would like you to meet the directors personally. But I don’t want you to be disturbed in your studies. I also want good results so that your parents in Cape Town will say, ‘You see, you said you are going to study and now you are no longer studying about businesses but doing business’. I don’t want you to lose the focus of studying. Can you see that I’m a good upliner? But it’s all good things that I want to happen in your family. We bury the past.... Ja, and they [your parents] must see that you are working hard.... hulle moet hierso kom [they must come here]. We book them a nice hotel in Sandton, you can now afford.” I was taken aback: “Sandton”? To which she replied: “Yes, why not? You book them a nice hotel where they will relax and say to them, ‘Feel at home’”. By now she was on a roll: “And when they ask you where you get so much money you will say: ‘Ek leer en ek werk [I learn and work]’. That will make them happy. That’s all what you need, good relationships so that God will bless us. Am I wrong or right?” Of course I could not tell Ma Beth she was wrong. I knew enough about protocol not to disagree with an older woman who could claim or emphasise or enact the social convention that she is my mother. And she knew that I knew, and exploited these very skilfully.
So there Oscar and I were going up the elevators to floor 17 hoping to learn more about the CAG Airtime Scheme which Ma Beth is an agent for and which she wants me to introduce to students at Wits University. I was taking a few pictures of the inside of the building when no one was looking, and eventually we found our way the right office which was the very same office we were in the previous Saturday for a TVI Express presentation. Ma Beth had smsed us that she was running late for the start of the presentation and our scheduled introduction to ‘Amanda’, so we joined the ten other women who were sitting on plastic chairs waiting for the presentation to begin. Seven of these were old enough to be pensioners while three were around their thirties. These women were not ‘black diamonds’ or ‘graduates’ but ‘semi-literate’ as Oscar described them afterwards. Then a woman appeared from an adjoining office, walked up to the front and introduced herself as Brenda Mokoena and the presenter for today.3 She talked for a while and then Ma Beth joined us, apologising profusely for being late. Then the woman I saw earlier in the queue at the security entrance appearing from the adjoining office. Brenda introduced her as Amanda and Amanda took the stage. She spoke in English with a thick Afrikaans accent for about 15 minutes during which she explained the scheme to everyone. She also handed out a form (see appendix) and one manual which we passed around but had to return after the meeting or purchase for R50. A few times during the presentation she looked nervously in my direction but was seemingly comforted when I asked a silly, non-threatening question during question time.
In summary, she described the scheme as a business club one can join for R20 (on top of that CAG Solution will deduct R2500 per year automatically from your commission fees once you reach level four). In order to reap the benefits of being a member, you must recruit other members. The more members you recruit, the higher you move up in the club. For every six members you recruit, you move up to the next level and you are rewarded by a commission fee as well as airtime – “then you will start earning interest and you can even earn enough money to buy a new cellphone”. It is important to recruit people who work hard so they can “unlock your business”, she said. After she spoke she offered people from the audience the opportunity to ask questions: “Ask me, ask me if there is anything”. No one had a question at this point so she introduced one of the agents called Diana, cracking a joke and demonstrating familiarity by holding her hand for a few seconds. Diana, a forty-year old woman, speaking in Sotho, then continued to regale the audience with stories of success and wealth and hard work. Her performance was part testimony, part business plan and part sermon. She told us how at the beginning of the previous December she was very sceptical and not very active in this scheme. But then she heard people talking about how they can make money from only R20: “You think that R20 will give me a cellphone! And can give me such a lot of money like this?”
She told us how she recruited her first six people and how she went to FNB (First National Bank) and deposited the R120. She then placed the deposit slip on the form Amanda had provided and faxed it to CAG. “Immediately after that, same day, I received my airtime” she boasted. After making such a deposit, she said, Amanda will fax you your ‘downline’. Then she spoke of helping the first six people she had recruited so they could recruit more people because “I am rushing for that fourth level’ (you get your first cash payout on this level; R6110-R2500=R3610). When she got to the third level, Diana explained, she got R260 airtime. And when she got to level four she got her first cash with which she bought a new phone. At this point she was waving around her new phone as evidence and Amanda was interjecting loudly: “Ask what she has received so far!” The Diana fiddled with her phone to find a text message which she then showed to those in the audience closest to her. I also stretched my neck out to see it so she passed it around the audience so we could all read the message she had gotten from Standard Bank informing her that she had received a deposit from CAG Solutions (I read it and was not convinced it really came from Standard Bank). And this is only the beginning, she promised. With that initial R20 you can get a monthly salary, with phones, laptops, property, cars and even a R6000 petrol allowance. All of that for only R20! What a great business opportunity, she exclaimed, inviting members of the audience to invite her to make presentations to their savings and burial clubs and any other meeting. Ma Beth was a bit restless sitting next to me, whispering a comment about Diana into my ear every now and then, trying to ensure that I will join her ‘downline’ and not Diana’s. At the end of it all, Diana ended her presentation on a wrong note. She had told the audience about how she went to Kagiso the week before and how she had ‘made a presentation’ at one of the schools there. “The whole school, the children, are joining because they say yooo we are going to get money from this work”, she broadcasted.
One the way back with all three of us in my motor car, Oscar and Diana agreed that it was not right to try and sell such a scheme to children. They are vulnerable and still young. During a later interview Ma Beth told us a story of a woman from Bronkhorstspruit who tried to recruit her into a multilevel marketing business which was selling medicine. Ma Beth told her: “Look Helen, you know what, yes, I need money, but I don’t want to take medicine to people because of money...Not for money but yes, they can buy the medication but it must have an impact on their diseases, their sicknesses...as much as we need money but with sick people I don’t want to take an advantage, Detlev. Ek soek nie daai ding. Ek will nie ryk word nie, ek is oud and die Here sal my weg jaag. Next week ek gaan dood en die Here sal sê, ‘Kyk hierso, jy het mense se geld gevat vir medisyne wat nie werk nie’ [I am not looking for that. I don’t want to become rich, I am old and the Lord will chase me away. Next week I will die and the Lord will say: Look here, you took people’s money for medicine which does not work. I don’t want that. I must limit my sins, isn’t it?] That was the closest Ma Beth ever got to admitting that some question mark was hanging over this ‘push-push’ business. A few weeks later, CAG Airtime Scheme had collapsed and Ma Beth told me to focus on Direct Advantage.
This rather long ethnographic introduction raises a number of questions. Are such companies and their business strategies and practices new or have they been around for a while? If they are new, do their very organisation, practices and popularity say something about present-day city life and society, religious and economic discourses and perhaps even South African capitalism? What is the profile of the ‘market’ for these ‘push-push’ schemes? Why has ‘multi-level recruitment’ become such an important part of how (legal and illegal) businesses are hoping to grow their number of clients and how they market their products? Why do so many informants and ‘victims’ of such schemes talk about ‘investing’ their monies in these schemes as ‘gambling’, as ‘trying their luck’ while criticising state officials for their corrupt practices and BEE deals for ‘benefitting only a few’? Why do many of them talk about the uncertainty of their present-day lives and sometimes express a nostalgic longing for the days of apartheid? Is a financial investment or a share (or airtime or cash) a ‘product’ in terms of consumer legislation, given that legislation differentiates between multilevel marketing companies and ponzi-schemes on the basis of having a product to sell or not (and thus between legality and illegality)? Before I attempt to weave all of these questions into a narrative and interpretation here, let me first sketch something about the social, political and economic character of urban Johannesburg and Soweto in post-apartheid South Africa as I view these to be constitutive to the narrative I am constructing here.
Economic inequality, state dependency and financialisation in post-apartheid urban society
It is widely accepted that economic inequality in South Africa has widened since the negotiated settlement and the introduction of constitutional democracy. Income inequality within the black population has widened dramatically and is manifested in the growing numbers of households that are said to belong to the Black Elite and the Black Middle Class. Concomitantly, we have seen a growth in the number of (urban) households who are said to constitute a Black Underclass (Seekings & Nattrass 2000; Terreblanche 2002). This gap between rich and poor households has become especially large in the context of metropolitan areas as urbanisation and migration to cities continue unabated in the context of the shrinking of rural economies (Posel 2006).4 Such visible inequality has given rise to heated debates in the media about the conspicuous consumption among the Black Elite, the ‘demonisation of black wealth’, and a near perpetual moral panic about the over-indebtedness of the poor and emerging black middle class. Some argue that the root cause of this widening gap between poor and rich black citizens has been the impact of affirmative action and black economic empowerment policies. Others point to the impact of neo-liberal macro-economic policies which has resulted in large outflows of capital, ‘jobless growth’,5 high salaries for manager but low wages for workers, and the outsourcing of water and electricity provision by city authorities – all of which have negatively impacted on poor households already struggling with low wages and the impact of HIV/AIDS (Bond 2004, 2007). Others have challenged this label of the South African state as neo-liberal while pointing out the considerable amount of money it is spending on social security.
One result of this widening inequality and deepening poverty has been the growth of issue-based urban social movements such as the Anti –Privatisation Forum, Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, Treatment Action Campaign and various shack dwellers movements which have sought to resist some of the state’s (neo-liberal) policies around housing, HIV/AIDS (Robbins 2006), the introduction of cost recovery mechanisms and privatisation of water and electricity provision utilities (Bond 2004; Ngwane 2003; McDonald & Pape 2002) and the new forms of governmentality that arises from the introduction of such policies (Hart 2005; Ruiters 2007). The roots of the growing middle class and of greater inequality must however also be traced back to the ‘Era of Reform’ which the apartheid government introduced after the 1976 Student Uprisings. In order to appease the black middle class the then state offered reforms which included the lifting of trading restrictions in the townships, the introduction of new property regimes (lease-hold on council houses) and so forth. Even before the Era of Reform, the ‘geography of class’ in the public housing complexes and freehold areas meant that middle class households were living side by side with poor households (Crankshaw 2005). In other words while economic inequality and social differentiation are not post-apartheid phenomena they have increased drastically (and visibly so) since the early 1990s.
In the context of jobless growth, high unemployment rates, the availability of cheap and undocumented labour and the informalisation of work and labour, the sad reality is that most of the unemployed urban underclass will never work in the formal sector again. But this does not always translate into diminishing expectations on behalf of citizens who keep hoping and maintaining their desire to participate in circuits of wealth-creation, especially in the seemingly ever-expanding and massively rich financial services sector. But when this does not occur, a new form of dependency on the state emerges, over and above dependency on state welfare grants. In the words of the SACP’s Blade Nzimande in a recent address to a National Union of Mineworkers’ central committee meeting: “If you have less and less opportunity to accumulate wealth in the broader private sector, then people target the state”.6 But when the state is increasingly corporatized and incapacitated through a system of outsourcing of tenders, a culture of ‘easy money’ is fermented and possibilities for deception and fraud multiply.
The SACP has been advocating for years now a return to the “developmental state” in response to the neo-liberal agenda of the “lean and mean” state, embodied in South Africa by the “1996 Class Project”. The SACP and COSATO have been very vocal in their struggle against the intensification of corruption and “patronage networks in the public sector, and between the public and private sectors”.7 Their 2009 discussion document (in which they coined the term ‘tenderpreneur’ which has taken to media by storm), the SACP noted some of the major elements of corruption in the public service, including the extensive corporatisation of the state; the “tenderisation” of the state procurement processes; and the consequent emergence of “tenderpreneurs”.8 The document note that while corporatisation in itself does not equal corruption, it does open up “huge potential spaces for corruption, especially given the increased intersection between government and business interests fostered by the 1996 class project. (This is an intersection that is now being deepened everywhere with the increasing dependency of national capital on national states for rescue packages, stimulus packages, buy-outs, etc., in the current global recession)”. The system of outsourcing and tenderisation on every level of government lies at the heart of the newer forms of dependence on the state. And it has multiplied opportunities for fraud, deception, the establishment of patronage networks and rent-seeking. Thus it is that Cronin (2005) has lamented that “established and emerging capital have succeeded in exerting considerable dominance over the state”. He has warned that the state might become the slave of narrow capital interests as BEE policy effectively disguises the cultivation of patronage relationships between officials and ‘entrepreneurs’. He no doubts worries that “SA is following the road of some other post-colonial states in which liberation movement elites have thrown off colonial oppression only themselves to become parasites looting state resources” (Butler n.d.).
Another part of our post-apartheid trajectory that somehow feeds into what I described above is captured by the concept of financialisation. Employed mainly by Merenskian macro economists and in the fields of International Political Economy and Cultural Political Economy (Epstein 2005; Foster 2007), the concept financialisation9 has been used as a replacement for the rather general concepts ‘globalisation’ and ‘financial globalisation’ and has tended to emphasise the global structural architecture of financial capitalism. Epstein (2005:3) for example writes that “some writers use the term ‘financialization’ to mean the ascendancy of ‘shareholder value’ as a mode of corporate governance; some use it to refer to the growing dominance of capital market financial systems over bank-based financial systems; some follow Hilferding’s lead and use the term ‘financialization’ to refer to the increasing political and economic power of a particular class grouping: the rentier class; for some financialization represents the explosion of financial trading with a myriad of new financial instruments; finally, for Krippner herself, the term refers to a ‘pattern of accumulation in which profit making occurs increasingly through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production’ (Krippner 2004: 14)10. Since the mid- to late 1970s or early 1980s, Epstein (2005:4) argues that “structural shifts of dramatic proportions took place in a number of countries that led to significant increases in financial transactions, real interest rates, the profitability of financial firms, and the shares of national income accruing to the holders of financial assets. This set of phenomena reflects the processes of financialization in the world economy”. Other scholars such as Martin (2002) and Langley (2007) have used the concept and applied it to everyday life and how the proliferation of financial instruments, financial companies, intermediaries and legislation effectively call forth new ‘financial subjects’ who have to individualise risk management, deal with overindebtedness as a result of ‘deficits of the will’ while citizens are being re-framed from passive savers to active investors through the ‘democratisation of finance’.
How relevant is the concept of financialisation to South Africa? Patrick Bond has coupled the financialisation of the South African economy with deindustrialisation. He argues that the present-day economy is much more integrated with the global financial economy and much more “oriented to profit-taking from financial markets than production of real products” (Bond 2008). As a result, SA’s two most successful major sectors from 1994-2004 were communications (12.2% growth per year) and finance (7.6%), while labour-intensive sectors such as textiles, footwear and gold mining shrunk by 1-5% per year, and overall, manufacturing as a percentage of GDP also declined. Some of the policies that made the financialisation of the economy possible include the removal of impediments to free flow of capital, giving primacy to price stability, fiscal restraint. Ben Fine has argued that “the idea that finance efficiently mobilises and allocates resources on behalf of the real economy borders on the ridiculous” (Fine n.d.). In South Africa, he argues, the financial services sector has indeed been the fasted growing sector since the overthrow of apartheid and now contributes 20% of GDP, more than the mining sector and the agricultural sector. But, he warns, 40% of the population do not have access to most financial services. For Fine this means that financialisation in South Africa has “been deployed to financialise and globalise the operations of previously internationally constrained, highly concentrated, domestic conglomerates – that is to export domestic capital and surplus generated within the economy. Effectively, far from contributing 20% of GDP, finance has appropriated a quarter of it, claiming this to be a contribution to what has been produced.”
While this may be an accurate statement of the role of financial services on a macro level, it does not address or capture the pervasive (if not insidious) influence of the financial and auditing sector and the logics of finance on the ‘tenderisation’ of state procurement practices, the creation of new forms of state dependence, new forms of deception to capture flows of informal flows of monies and simulate formal finance, and the very nature of Black Economic Empowerment deals that are debt-financed. It also prevents us from seeing the influence of ‘finance in general’ on advertising, public representations of and narratives about wealth, upward mobility and ‘the good life’. It does not capture the influence and even mainstreaming of the logic of high finance – particularly risk-taking and speculation (and social arbitrage11) - into economic and social behaviour. Newspapers are filled with advertisements from commercial banks, insurance companies and telecommunication companies. These same companies dominate sponsorships of rugby, soccer and cricket teams. They are consistently voted the most known company brands in South Africa. Billboards on the roads, railways and in airports proclaim their latest products as ‘financial innovations’ while insurance companies and banks’ capital divisions are building new mansions or renovating mansions that a hundred years ago were built by the Randlords. Airtime has become a currency. Banks and cellular phone companies now run daily lotteries as a part of their core business. National art festivals and environmental awards are sponsored by commercial banks. The presence and power of corporate finance and telecommunication is ubiquitous. While financialisation may not run that deep on a macro level in the national economy as say the UK, we can make a strong argument for the financialisation of everyday life (Martin 2002) in how it shapes financial subjectivities, citizens’ expectations and public discourse.
What makes the idea of financialisation of everyday life an appropriate concept is, inter alia, the increasing role of finance in the lives of both the Black Elite and the Black Underclass. For some members of the Black Elite it is debt-funded BEE deals financed by commercial banks and other vendor companies which propelled them into the category in the first place.12 In the case of the Black Underclass, the state has been more active in putting pressure on banks to get the unbanked ‘banked’ than they have in creating actual jobs. The state discourses on empowerment thus complement the logic of financialisation though framing financial exclusion as a product of histories of racial exploitation and linking access to a bank account as economic freedom. The fact that the state now pays social welfare grants through bank accounts has also increased the importance of having a bank account for the Black Underclass, while it has allows for large-scale fraud through payments of grants to ‘ghost accounts’.13 In the same way that political freedom and democracy has come to stand for the right to consume (Posel 2005), so the right to access financial services has come to stand for participation in the formal and global economy. All of this has happened in the context of shocking low levels of financial literacyiii as well as a history of weak financial consumer activism.