There is something strangely compelling about Chris Griffith’s now infamous comments about his salary and perks – published in Business Day last week.

Remember these are the words of the CEO of Amplats, the biggest platinum company in the world. It cannot have escaped your notice that a bitter and grinding strike throughout the South African platinum sector is entering its 17th week. The Business Day story about the comments also refers to the 2013 Amplats annual report that mentions Mr Griffiths was paid R17.6m, of which R6.7m was a basic salary, for that year.

I have put the following quotes from Chris Griffith in the order in which they appear in the story but they did not necessarily flow together like this in the original interview:

If this debate is around the comparison of CEO pay and somebody else, then we’re completely missing the point. There is a greater supply of lower-skilled people … What the unions are doing is putting more people out on the street … Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth.

Since then Griffith has apologised, saying:

I wish to apologise to the employees of Anglo American Platinum and the readership for comments I made in a Business Day article on Wednesday … My choice of words was inappropriate and a poor way to describe the extremely challenging situation we find ourselves in.

But the truth of the matter is that Griffith’s original comments are clearly what the company believes because this is what it does. Everything else is public relations and spin.

At the AGM of a listed company shareholders vote approval or otherwise of executive remuneration. So in one way or another the actual owners of this company are happy to pay Griffith’s fee. The company either believes he is worth that (and they pay him for it) or they do not believe he is worth it (and they pay him less … and perhaps he doesn’t accept the job.)

This might feel monstrous and unfair to you and me – especially when we read of the hardship experienced by the workers on those mines and the sacrifices they seem prepared to make to improve their lot. But in the world in which these hugely powerful companies operate, supply and demand is the basic mechanism that determines the price of everything.

I don’t like euphemisms – it is (almost) always better to see the snarling teeth of the beast rather than to be beguiled by its fake smile.

The whole exchange reminds me of a P. J. O’Rourke essay I read several years ago.

He’s talking about bigotry in apartheid South Africa (and be warned he uses language often considered to be rude or impolite*):

Everywhere you go in the world somebody’s raping women, expelling the ethnic Chinese, enslaving stone-age tribesmen, shooting communists, rounding up Jews, kidnapping Americans, settling fire to Sikhs, keeping Catholics out of the country clubs and hunting peasants from helicopters with automatic weapons. The world is built on discrimination of the most horrible kind. The problem with South Africans is they admit it. They don’t say, like the French, “Algerians have a legal right to live in the sixteenth arrondissement, but they can’t afford to.” They don’t say, like the Israelis, “Arabs have a legal right to live in West Jerusalem, but they’re afraid to.” They don’t say, like the Americans, “Indians have a legal right to live in Ohio, but oops, we killed them all.” The South Africans just say, “Fuck you.” I believe it’s right there in their constitution: “Article IV: Fuck you. We’re bigots.” We hate them for this. And we’re going to hold indignant demonstrations…until the South Africans learn to stand up and lie like white men.

That’s P. J. O’Rourke, Holidays In Hell,  Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. It’s very, very funny – albeit irritatingly smug and right-wing. I have long since lost the book, but I found that quote here.

 

(Below anxiously added a few hours after initial publication.)

* And be further warned that he (O’Rourke) is sneakily winking at apartheid … weellll, at least they** don’t lie about it! 

** And be even further warned that he talked about “South Africans” in 1988 as if the term referred elusively exclusively to white South Africans who supported apartheid.

(Lawdy, enough already! Just leave it alone, the damage is done – Ed.)

(… and finally, despite Ed’s protestations, and after having glanced over this several weeks after publishing it: PJO also failed to understand the systemic and systematic nature of apartheid …. ‘hunting peasants from helicopters’ is an outrage, but comparing that to ‘apartheid’, the specific historical system of government and social control for a whole country,  is a category error.)

 

 

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