A thousand words (or, the emperor’s new clothes)


First of all, I want to say, “Go Brett Murray, go! Excellent work.” Just so that my delight in the Hail to the Thief II exhibition cannot be perceived as ambiguous in any way.  I loved it. I found it reassuring, witty, acute; it expresses absolutely everything I feel about the current ANC government (with the exception perhaps of Aaron Motsoaledi, who I think is soldering on, trying to do the right thing under trying circumstances).

It also momentarily removed me from the precipice of anger and despair. I don’t have anything to add to the debate as such, seething and rampant as it is already, other than to say that I think Mike van Graan’s review of the work itself, Pierre de Vos’ assessment of a possible legal wrangle and J Brooks Spector’s analysis of the furore are the soundest formal contributions to it.

The thing that got me going this morning, actually – and also in the wake of the “tiresome race card” that came with the president’s-spear pandemonium, if I must admit – was the EWN headline “ANC shocked by arrogant Zille”. The thing about the ruling party is that it is so easily shocked by things that are not really shocking. Not so long ago they were shocked by judge Leon Halgryn’s finding that “the publication and chanting of the words ‘dubula ibhunu’, prima facie satisfies the crime of incitement to murder”, and, on top of it, refused the ANC leave to appeal. This left them “perturbed and shocked”.  Helen’s claim – that Thuli Madonsela’s prematurely, and apparently mischievously, released draft report on the Western Cape government’s communications tender process may be legally flawed – is not shocking. It’s just politics. The report suggests that the WCG’s contract with advertising agency TWBA is invalid. Even Thuli said that Helen’s response is reasonable: if the WCG is not happy with the report, it can challenge it in court. The story is ongoing, and I cannot figure out why the presence of a special advisor on the bid evaluation committee is improper, especially seeing that he apparently failed to influence the outcome of the award. Even if it was an ANC advisor and even if it was an ANC tender – if there is no evidence of someone being personally and illegally enriched by the outcome of a process that, according Section 217(1) of the Constitution, should be fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective, then, who cares? Is Helen a director in the company that lost the tender? Is Ryan Coetzee? I am not committed to this point view, but for now, I am sticking to it.

What is shocking, on the other hand, is Zuma’s reinstatement of crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli in spite of strong evidence of nepotism, influencing witnesses and looting the secret services account, and his suspected involvement in murder. And what is shocking (to get back to the Spear) is that he slept with – allegedly raped – his HIV-positive niece and that he fathered a love child with the daughter of a friend. I think he can have as many wives as he pleases, but I find it shocking that the taxpayer is footing the bill for every single one of them. Both politically and personally, the president’s track record is basically a list of shocking outrages and obscenities. The painting is not just about philandering and womanising; it is about a leadership style that celebrates the increasing gap between rich and poor; the ongoing inability of the state to provide the kind of education that could, eventually close that gap, and enrichment of his immediate family at the expense of hundreds of devastated miners.

That  is shocking… really.

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