“WHAT? WHY?” I was dismayed.
“Because he brought the World Cup to Africa,” Jeremy said.
“WHAT?!” I felt genuine outrage. “He did not BRING the World Cup to Africa. Africa sucked his dick till his eyes popped out to bring the World Cup to Africa. Sepp Blatter did not BRING it.” Africa also paid through the nose to have Fifa rammed up its ass for four years, but I did not say it. I suspected that my view of the matter had been sufficiently unambiguously expressed.
We were driving to the Awards Ceremony of the National Orders at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria. It was raining, a soft but persistent rain that made the sky darker than it should have been at 16h45.
Jeremy laughed. Unlike Joseph Sepp Blatter, he would not receive The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo later that evening, nor the Order of Mendi for Bravery, the Order of Ikhamanga, Luthuli, Mapungubwe or the Order of the Baobab – obstinately pronounced “Bah-hoh-bahb” by every single luminary who had anything to say out loud in the course of the proceedings.
The only other pronunciation issue that grinded a bit was JZ’s lisping “ahpar-thade”. It was a little embarrassing. It would be OK from a 15-year old American writing a piece on the history of black oppression in the world: the spelling of the word does lend itself to combining the “th” rather than spewing out “Apart – hate”. But from someone who, as we learned, captained the A side of the Makana Football Association (who received a Silver Order of Ikhamanga, along with Ernst van Dyk and Winston Ntshona) on Robben Island, one would expect the correct pronunciation of the system he and others paid dearly to overthrow.
(Oh! Do have a look at Hayibo’s “Zuma extends apartheid blame cut-off deadline as cadres panic”.)
Anyway. The speeches were mostly interminable and dull, and only MC Vusi Mona shone a little when, by way of introducing the proceedings, he made a poignant reference to the justification of the evening: to celebrate our heroes, and to “replace negative, mediocre role-models with positive ones”. Such role models, he went on to explain, were not “about fancy cars and bank balances”. I swear I could hear Siphiwe Nyanda ignore that jibe from right across the room of 400-odd invited guests.
There were many fleets of silver Mercs and black BMW 4x4s parked in the muddy field outside, and men in black with electronics in their ears hovering about the place, as an impressive number (don’t know) of our Ministers were attending the event. The economics cluster sat barely two rows in front of me, right next to Justice and someone that looked like Felicia Mabuza-Suttle but wasn’t. To our left, Trevor and Maria seemed to enjoy the wide grins of the Wits choir as its rainbow contingent crooned brightly in vernac. The room was awash with very important people, like Ray McCauley, plump and pleased, who came on his own. I was very sorry that I forgot my glasses at home.
At some stage, amazingly on schedule, Vusi announced JZ’s arrival. He was preceded by Vusi Mavimbela, Chancellor of National Orders, and the obligatory imbongi dressed in skins and heaping what I imagined was quite groundless praise on our national leader, as the job demands. It was the first time I saw the President in person, and he seemed to be small in stature, as if he somehow took up too little space for a statesman of our time. Once on stage he continued to disappoint: he read a halting oration in a charmless monotone. Why, I thought to myself, with all the resources at the disposal of the party and the government, did someone not simply take him to task and teach him to speak with confidence, teach him to be less of a county bumpkin in a suit and more of a leader of a nation? These skills CAN be acquired. For some it may be more difficult than for others, but there is a swan in anybody with the right bank balance. And if resources were tight, JZ and Gordon Brown could have SHARED a coach of sorts – or coaches, as they both seem to need a lot of help.
Fortunately he did not drone on about burying ahpar-thade on the 27th of April for too long, and by about 7pm the handing out of the Orders started. This was a very startling process, initially, and would have been entertaining throughout if it did not take so long.
Before every Order, the lights would dim and a deep, booming voice would illuminate the audience on the background of the award, accompanied by an utterly mystifying sequence of audiovisual images on the large screens on either side of the stage. If you can imaging James Earl Jones playing God, or Zeus, in some 70’s fantasy in which everybody wore dramatic togas (or actually, Darth Vader in Star Wars), you may understand what I am talking about. In Afrikaans we have a very lovely way of expressing that kind of speech-making: we say “hy het ons bebulder”. But this aside.
The roaring voice-over and funny pictures were followed by young ones of all races and languages who would march on, three per Order, and read the same phrase about the establishment of the Orders with Act 108 of 1996 in a different language. Then we would be told, “pray silence” for the bestowal of the Order.
The only other highlight of this part of the proceedings was the shocking version of Nessun’ Dorma that erupted from a very sexy opera trio after the Orders of Mendi were concluded. I wondered if they were family of a minister or something, as they would never have made the cut, for example, for the handing out of the US Congressional Medal of Honour. But in Pretoria, that night, everything did seem to be slightly home-made.
And so on. Eventually everybody was duly honoured and we could go and eat. We shuffled down a long corridor on a red carpet only to find, when we got outside, that it was still raining, and that there was a 50-meter open-air sprint between the Guest House and the dinner marquee. We hovered, wondering if some guy in black was going to dash over with an umbrella, but the late rains seem to have caught the Guest House staff off guard.
But then Trevor and Maria came out and jostled straight to the front of the dithering crowd. He looked a bit curious about our hesitation. “I guess we will just walk, then,” he said. Jeremy said, “Trevor will lead us,” and Minister Manual laughed, and turned and said hello to Jeremy, and shook my hand, because I was standing next to him, I guess. I wondered if that was an appropriate moment to ask him to save Giulietta, who has been increasingly unhappy at the Treasury since the Pravin took over. But the moment passed so I did not.
And we followed him, and walked through the light drizzle to the tent. I really do think that Trevor should be president. He was completely undistrubed by the circumstances and by comparison, our hesitation seemed a little prima donna. At our table people introduced each other and Jeremy called me his second wife. Well, I said, it is an evening in which we celebrate our role-models, after all.
The food was OK. I was glad I had the opportunity to go.
(Sepp Blatter did not come to collect his Order in person, and I was not surprised. Friend of South Africa my ass.)