Keeping up appearances by hook ... or by crook

In a remote corner somewhere, someone is watching the Carl Niehaus saga as it unfolds with a lot of empathy.

That "someone" - and post-1994 South Africa is teeming with characters of that ilk - knows full well that, in another time and a different set of circumstances, Niehaus's woes could have been his.

Everything the immediate past ANC spin doctor has done in his imprudent handling of his finances is as current as BEE, plasma television, tenders and the game of golf among blacks.

The only novelty our former ambassador to the Netherlands has introduced to the equation is daring to perfect the art of pathological lying.

Spare a thought for his landlord, Eric Corbishley, who was at the receiving end of the fibs why Niehaus could not consistently come up with the R45000 monthly rental for the plush R5million home since July.

Try as you might, you will not find a more fascinating read than the SMS correspondence between Niehaus and his landlord about his repeated failure to cough up!

But had Corbishley known, it would have dawned on him a lot sooner that even the well-connected or, in Niehaus's case, those still wishing to be connected (to the Brett Kebbles of this world) think nothing wrong about living beyond their means.

This trait is as human as ambition. Did Niehaus really need three cars - the Porsche, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Jeep Cherokee? Probably not. He could easily have traversed from point A to B in a less fancy contraption.

But the desire to keep up with the Joneses clouded the rational thinking the ANC struggle icon is famous for.

But he was just being human. The only difference between him and the next man is that the number one news item of the day carries the Niehaus name.

One famous line synonymous with the (Judge Benjamin) Pickard Commission, set up to look into irregularities in soccer sponsorships, carries the "copyright" of one Solomon Stix Morewa, the late Safa boss who had to quit in the wake of the commission.

"Money," said Morewa at the time, in defence of his pilfering, "is always in need."

Here's one man who was as streetwise as his generation came. He was perhaps merely adding a spin to the township cliché: (The love for) money is the root of all evil.

Years after his death, those in the same Morewa-now-Niehaus boat are taking the axiom a notch up. Niehaus's predecessor at Luthuli House, Smuts Ngonyama, who has since crosstituted to Cope, famously said: "I did not join the struggle to be poor."

This, if for anything, was in defence of upping his standard of living, by hook or by crook.

To maintain a lifestyle that his pay cheque could not give him, Morewa, according to reports at the time, "took bundles of cash personally, including a R500000 payment from businessman Brian Mahon".

The commission also heard he got a luxury car as a "gift" from a company that landed a sponsorship deal with Safa and that he "also paid himself a bonus of R90000, and helped executives pilfer Safa's education fund".

Before Morewa there was Abdul Bhamjee, a colourful public relations man who was also famous for the one-liner: "I'm doing this merely for the love of soccer; I'm not getting a cent out of it."

When he stopped talking, the courts found he'd embezzled no less than R7million of sponsorship funds with colleague Cyril Kobus. They were both slapped with jail terms. Outside soccer, people also did their best to augment their salaries and fund particular lifestyles.

Remember the charlatan who passed himself off as Eugene Nyathi, as opposed to the Albert Nana that stood in his birth certificate?

Ensconced in South Africa, a far cry from the life he led back home in Zimbabwe, he added a few zeroes to the figure he quoted the Mpumalanga provincial government for consultation. The extra noughts were added "by mistake".

Malose Langa is a lecturer in psychology at Wits. All he's read about Niehaus so far points to a troubled soul.

The job-hopping and the women coming in and out of Niehaus's life tell Langa of a depressed man. "The sodomy in prison may have played a role too," says the psychologist.

The life of debt became addictive, says Langa, and the arrogance that soon gave way to tears means Niehaus is emotionally troubled.

He needs counselling as he has to face a future without his previous lifestyle, says the psychologist.