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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Towards the end…

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Towards the end, during the closing statements, I thought that it had been remiss of me not to count how many times Cyril Ramaphosa had said that we should not be afraid; that we should not fear. Should the constitution then later be ravaged by the ANC, I could refer back to this post and write a new one about how Comrade Breakthrough was sent to the launch of One Law, One Nation: The Making of the South African Constitution at the Constitutional Court last week to make reassuring noises while his comrades looted the Bill of Rights. It was a negative moment, true, in an evening that was otherwise quite pleasant.

I like Cyril. Sometimes I think that he may be a good president… one day. But there is something indecipherable about him and even as one is drawn to his easy and reasonable charm, he remains inaccessible, and it is impossible to know if the words from his mouth are just words. I only met him once. A few years ago I interviewed him for a Nelson Mandela obit doccie (that happily remains in the SABC archives for now) and he said a very strange thing to me while the crew was setting up and I was making preliminary conversation: something to the effect of “from under which rock have you crawled?” It was a disconcerting moment, and I cannot remember how I responded but although the words were nasty, there was nothing in his demeanour but curiosity and humour. I think this describes it.

Anyway. I realise that, as the chairman of the Constitutional Assembly he was not sent to the event by the ANC. He is, after all, on the cover of the book. The photograph captures the striking moment in which he, standing next to Madiba at the signing of the constitution on 10 December 1996, holds the bound document aloft. They are both smiling; his eyes are crinkling. The only words on the first page are also his.

I lifted the constitution into the air in the heat of the moment. I hadn’t planned it. I had to do it to show the people that this is it. This is the document that they had struggled for, died for and wept for. This document binds us all together to a common destiny, a common future and a joint aspiration of what this country should be.

Amen. Or, actually, ahem. Only time will tell, but contrary to Cyril’s crooning reassurance, I think some fear may be called for.

Why women should know how to change a flat tyre

I am a fan of Redi Direko, but was disappointed to hear her eschew the idea of changing her own tyre on the radio this morning, lest she busts a nail or something.

Really Redi.

I got stuck with a flat on the way back from the airport in June. It was seven at night, already dark, in winter, and I must admit that I was really afraid. I was alone on the shoulder of the highway, there were no shops or houses nearby and I knew that even though the AA asks “are you in a safe place?” when you call the emergency number, they will take 45 minutes to get to you, safe or not.

I know this because unlike Redi, whose car sports a number plate beginning with “Z” (or something at the end of the alphabet), my car was first registered in the “D” era, so I have an intimate relationship with the Automobile Association, as the five regular readers of the blog will know.

Any way. Being of kaalvoet-oor-die-Drakensberge stock, however, I whipped out the marie biscuit, the wheel spanner and the jack, and was on my way fifteen minutes later, blood still pounding in my ears. I was pleased that no-one had stopped to help, or worse, or ploughed into me from the back – better get those triangles, I guess.

So, Redi, just from a practical, safety point of view, a girl should be able to change her own tyre. You can always get the nail fixed.

But there are far more entertaining reasons why a girl should be able to fix her own tyre when she is travelling by herself.

1. There really is very little that reinforces the feeling that you can do WHATEVER you want, WHENEVER you want, quite like hauling your own ass out of trouble.

2. Few things are more irritating than a man who is less educated, less successful and who earns less than you do, but who feels superior to you because he can change a tyre. I know there are girls that allow this, because they think, quite rightly probably, that the deluded fellow is really simply doing their bidding. But it is only a girl with absolutely no ambition who wields such manipulation in the matter of a flat tyre rather than, say… the matter of buying a house in Saxonwold.*

3. Although many men suffer terribly from what I like to call the “broken-wing compulsion” (the tendency to fall in love and hook up with women in order to save them from, for example, financial woes, grief over the death of a loved one, illness, excessive self-esteem, dementia or plain old homicidal psychosis) the guy a sensible girl really dreams of is be the one who thinks she doesn’t need him, and is inspired to chase her, court her and woo her relentlessly, in order to gain the privilege of changing her flat tyre.

For example. And then there is the safety thing. As I said, you can always get the nail fixed.

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* Just an example, really.

Heads should roll

I don’t always enjoy reading the M&G.  I would think of it as the vegetables of my newspaper diet if I did not like vegetables so much.  I guess I should just call it a dull old rag. But today it I really got a kick out of it.

My best  story: the R50-million paid to CNBC Africa by the Gauteng government. How is this different from the National Party Government funding the Citizen in 1977? Apart from investment in the province, the intention was also to secure “preferential and regular programming and content slots to the Gauteng Provincial Government.” Outrageous. Heads should roll, but of course they won’t.

(I would have added the link, but the story does not seem to be availabe online, only in the hard copy. Sorry.)

Negotiating the afterlife

So Boris sent me this. I thought it was silly, but funny. And safe (er) to distribute ever since Shaikh Dr Tahir ul-Qadri published a fatwa declaring that terrorism is bad and that suicide bombers will go to hell.

(Although apparently there have been quite a few fatwas of similar sentiment published since 9/11, just in not English or online. This will surely make a huge difference, and change everything.)

Al Qaeda on Strike

Muslim suicide bombers in Britain are set to begin a three-day strike on Monday in a dispute over the number of virgins they are entitled to in the afterlife. Emergency talks with Al Qaeda have so far failed to produce an agreement. The unrest began last Tuesday when Al Qaeda announced that the number of virgins a suicide bomber would receive after his death will be cut by 25% this February from 72 to only 60. The rationale for the cut was the increase in recent years of the number of suicide bombings and a subsequent shortage of virgins in the afterlife.

The suicide bombers’ union, the British Organization of Occupational Martyrs ( or B.O.O.M. ) responded with a statement that this was unacceptable to its members and immediately balloted for strike action. General Secretary Abdullah Amir told the press, “Our members are literally working themselves to death in the cause of Jihad. We don’t ask for much in return; but to be treated like this is like a kick in the teeth”.

Speaking from his shed in Tipton in the West Midlands, in which he currently resides, Al Qaeda chief executive Osama bin Laden explained, “We sympathize with our workers’ concerns; but, Al Qaeda is simply not in a position to meet their demands. They are simply not accepting the realities of modern-day Jihad in a competitive marketplace.

Thanks to Western depravity, there is now a chronic shortage of virgins in the afterlife. It’s a straight choice between reducing expenditure and laying people off. I don’t like cutting wages but I’d hate to have to tell 3000 of my staff that they won’t be able to blow themselves up.”

Spokespersons for the union in the North East of England, Ireland, Wales, and the entire Australian continent stated that the strike would not affect their operations, as “There are no virgins in their areas anyway.”

Apparently, the drop in the number of suicide bombings has been put down to the emergence of Scottish singing star, Susan Boyle – now that Muslims know what an actual virgin looks like, they are not so keen on going to paradise.

Notes on a Friday morning

I saw Jozi last night.

It was everything that the reviewers said it was: charming, endearing, off-beat and left-of-centre amusing, but in the end, no great shakes. (Sorry Robbie.)

What people did not say was that the team had a fantastic and rare opportunity to make a really interesting, and funny, and GOOD movie about Johannesburg. They had some money, they had the time (from conception to completion about four years, I think I heard) they had big-time producers that backed them and WANTED to make a film with them and considerable talent, to boot.

And they produced something that is amusing, but not in any way  impressive, or even particular.  I would call it, really, our first decent TV movie? I feel a little disappointed. (And I really thought the art direction was below par. It looked a little like a student film, from that point of view.) But anyway.

More entertaining by far, unfortunately, is the world at large this morning!

I don’t know where I have been but apparently Beki Cele will now be called “General Cele”. According to the Times this morning, the decision was approved by Cabinet. I am not surprised that they make time to spend on these issues, as discussions about corruption, crime and service delivery must be boring the shit out of them. Upping the rankings of the more colourful panjandrums must be a welcome diversion.

In a letter to the paper Prof Kader Asmal asks,

“Has the Cabinet taken loss of their senses, especially as another proposal was to change the name of the service to ‘Force’ as the deputy minister of police [Fikile Mbalula] with his enormous knowledge of warfare, now desires a military force, which presumably has been discussed in all ANC structures.”

His point is the militarisation of the police services, but I think that by exposing such whimsy as the passing of “idiotic proposals”, he is finally calling a guava a guava.

Also interesting is Gwede Mantashe’s suggestion that Julius’ “kill the boer” invocation at UJ this week should be seen in a “historical context” and that as such, there was nothing wrong with that particular bit of hate speech. Perhaps he has come to the conclusion that Julius really can replace him single-handedly with Fikile Mbalula in 2012, and is hedging his bets.  If we were really perverse, we could argue that Fikile is already building an army (see above) to prop up a classic African military regime. I can just see him and Julius in their camouflage and cigars, tossing valueless currency from the windows of a black state-of-the-art 4×4 in the middle of a two hundred meter convoy.

I sit at my desk of our new offices. The Nelson Mandela bridge is two blocks from my chair. The mid-morning Friday traffic is unhurried and smooth.

Suspense of disbelief

I am sorry, but that Robertson’s Spice ad where the mama tucks her chicken under her arm, scales the highest mountains and sails the roughest seas to get the best spice for it, is just incredible. Like, not credible. Like no sane person can believe it. I watch her shuffle to the quaint little shop next to her house with the chicken, uncovered, I watch her in the row boat and later, climbing majestic mountains in, perhaps, China or somewhere, and all I can think of is… salmonella. I am ready to bet my bottom dollar that the agents of Satan came up with an idea that their client hated, and bullied them into buying said terrible idea for hundreds of thousands during a very slick casting session… or something. Either way, Robertson’s should fire its communications manager or whoever approved the “ends of the earth” pitch. No food product should be that intimately associated visually, for an entire 30 seconds, with possibly gazillions of air-borne- and other pathogens.

No, really. The optimal temperature for pathogens to double in number every 20 minutes is between 5°C and 65°C. I would guess that the chicken in the ad maintained an average temperature of about 26°C for roughly four weeks. (Obviously I don’t think for a second that she rowed ALL the way to China or somewhere.) But let’s move along.

The other thing that is harder to believe than yet another Hollywood ensemble romcom (I have a strong feeling that Valentine’s Day is going to be at least as nauseating as Love, Actually) is how JZ is handling the 20th child debacle. Or 19th child debacle, according to the M&G.

It’s ongoing, it’s still being debated fiercely by radio hosts, callers-in and media scholars alike, and the papers just don’t seem to tire of it. So JZ apologised on the weekend, but nobody seems to buy it. He has apologised, the feeling seems to be, too many times in the past. For frack’s sakes (OK, I confess, I had a little BSG lapse on the weekend) the nation isn’t simply a big happy Catholic church. You don’t get sent home with some Our Fathers and instructions not to sin again every time you leave the confessional.

I really think our prez should get his very own ad agency and an image coach. And if he suspends Julius’s security detail, it won’t even cost the tax payer a cent.

100% disappointed

I have recently found my exchange-family siblings on Facebook. That was very exciting – like this I discovered that even Miet, my Italian mother, can now be reached on email, which is great. These days, considering the hullabaloo that surrounds an actual letter (envelope, stamps, trip to the post office) one has the notion that such a document must be long, well-composed, immaculate in terms of grammar, spelling and of course, wit. Even before starting, one feels the gravity of the task, and that does not make it any easier to embrace. In fact, letter writing in that format becomes a pain in the ass, and for a very busy girl like me, something to avoid. As a result, communication suffers. But now Miet has an email address, so I will compose a missive to her maybe tomorrow.

So what does my Italian family have to do with our Playboy President? (Ha! I think I just gave it away! My first novel, I suspect, should not be a crime thriller.)

Well, being armed with a new email address, I thought about the letter that I would write. And really, today of all days, it was impossible to not even imagine writing about Thandekile Matina Zuma, JZ’s illegitimate 20th child, with Sonono Khoza.

Shame of the Nation! the Sowetan declared, and Redi’s phone rang off the hook with calls from indignant grandmothers, construction workers, members of the opposition and other whites and blacks.

Everything I thought was said: he sends worse AIDS-messages than Mbeki, he is an embarrassment as a statesman and a president, he is a complete fucking idiot. And I felt real shame, and wished that I was living in Spain (on the plain in the rain etc.) where I would obviously not care anymore. Until I mind-composed my letter to Miet. It occurred to me that as clueless politician who just cannot keep his dick in his pants without it making a little dark spot on the wool, JZ differs not that much from Silvio Berlusconi. Other than, of course, that none of JZ’s wives are suing for divorce as a result of the headlines.

This compunction that causes rampantly undignified and indiscreet sexual behaviour has afflicted many kings and presidents through the ages. Solomon was reportedly “loved by many strange women” and had, according the Book of Ultimate Truths, 700 wives AND 300 concubines. JZ has some way to go.

If you take a funny little quiz called “Philandering Presidents” on funtrivia.com, you will find that the shenanigans of JFK and the lovely Bill Clinton were not really all that unusual.

Thomas Jefferson lusted after his neighbour’s wife, one Betsy Walker, and Lyndon Johnson was famous for selecting the White House secretaries according to their looks. “I can’t stand an ugly woman around,” he apparently said. The most awkward was perhaps Franklin Roosevelt, whose mother cut off his allowance when his wife complained to her that Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s social secretary, was writing Frank the most inappropriately intimate letters.

On 702, both Redi in the morning, and David O’ Sullivan in the afternoon harped on about JZ’s responsibilities as president. The issues that they and their callers identified were: 1) the moral high ground; 2) the Mbeki comparison; and 3) the fact that taxpayers are supporting his mushrooming household (there are rumours that Mr Lovepants (Andrew, did I get that right?) will make an honest woman out of Sonono soon). David seemed particularly adamant that as a public figure, the president had no right to a private life, especially when it dented the national budget.

We should call this the American Model of Radio Reporting when Confronted with Possible Moral Ambiguity. Nobody can forget how the Bible belt feasted on the Monica Lewinsky story. And who can blame them? If you run on a family-values ticket, then you better honour and obey.

Unlike the French, who clearly don’t give a toss. During the ML saga, enlightened bloggers relished the discretion with which the French press treated Jacques Chirac’s alleged affair with Claudia Cardinale (unlike the Brits and the Italians) and Francois Mitterand’s protracted extra-marital sex life that also apparently produced offspring. When Paris Match published photographs of his daughter with his long-time mistress Anne Pingeot, he was unashamed. “I have a natural daughter,” he said, “Et alors?”

Here at home JZ, our “100% Zulu Boy” clearly bangs to a different drum when it comes to… er… traditional morality. (I would so love to know how – and if – Ray McCauley is going to address the issue on Sunday.) So I think David O’ S should take his moral outrage and find something imaginative to do with it, even though that is not his job.

The point is that our Zulu boy has been caught with his appendage in the cookie jar not so long ago, and that almost turned out badly for him. This repeat offence makes one think that our president is an idiot savant of sorts, with some mysterious use for True Powers in the Party, who completely underestimated the determination of his Richard to poke its nose into matters quite beyond decency and state, and as a result, are now finding themselves (post-Polokwane) reeling from pillar to post with damage control. Talk about just desserts.

The whole thing would be funny if it wasn’t so horrifying. It’s really (from my point of view) not about the fact that he is president. It’s about the fact that he is the president of the country with the highest prevalence of HIV and AIDS in the world, and that he keeps on fucking around without a condom, and getting bust. As an example of the infinity of human stupidity, he is barely ahead of Julius Malema. And considering his reportedly endless charisma (they LOVED him at Davos, it was said) just imagine the change he could make, if he really cared.

And that, I think, is the real shame.

Stupid. Vain. Arrogant.

Nationalising the Reserve Bank  for the princely sum of R12 billion will, as we know, be of benefit to no-one in this country. It will not even satisfy the arrogance, vanity and stupidity of the ANC panjandrums for very long, as arrogance, vanity and stupidity is never satisfied.

Monetary policy is not determined by the private shareholders of the bank, but perhaps it should be, as the government‘s interpretation of “fiscal prudence” is clearly “let’s piss money down the toilet”. Can the Treasury just say NO? Is this possible? Can the Planning Commission speak with the voice of reason?

Can’t some organisation start a “How to spend R12 billion and actually make a difference to people’s lives” campaign?

Instead of making a few people very rich (Who are the SARB shareholders? Are they mainly white men? Would that be very ironic?)…

Build schools, buy books. Give doctors a pay rise. Establish a centre for homeless people. Help bright kids who worked hard at school to go to university. Build a wind farm – invest in sustainable energy models. Something. Get the entire ANC NEC a brain transplant. I swear that will be of benefit to millions.

For fuck’s sake.