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.

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.

Opportunity for Pravin

So the latest thing that has the DA (the hero on the white horse) frothing at the mouth is Julius Malema’s 24-hour security detail that has been approved by the police ministry as a result of actual death threats he has finally received.

I guess one should not be surprised. We know that Julius simply does not know when it is time to take his feet out of his mouth long enough to put a sock in it, and that eventually, the temptation to shut him up forever must become great. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that there is a person dumb enough to risk getting it up the bum in our correctional services facilities on that count.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu feels that the DA and ID’s objection to spending R300 000 a month on Julius is “outrageous and insensitive”.

The real problem with the cost is that Julius’ need for protection may outlive our capacity to run a fiscal deficit. I mean, can anybody really imagine a time in which somebody would NOT want to kill Julius Malema? It could turn out to be an expensive exercise.

This is, of course, a golden opportunity for Pravin to show us how he intends to root out wastage and corruption. Or is this what he meant by the “reprioritisation of public spending”? Is it?

Sex, real custard and the counter-revolutionaries

Does everybody out there read Hayibo? Well everybody should, because, let’s face it, it’s impossible to take anything one reads in the newspapers these days seriously without taking to drink at the same time.

For example: there is a thing such as World Hypertension Day? What? You send cards and flowers to people with high blood pressure? You eat boring food in solidarity? If it is an awareness campaign, I would like to argue that the people who suffer from hypertension probably know it already, and I am not sure what the rest of us should do. We should certainly not cook the recipes on the Verve pages.

We know that hypertension can lead to heart trouble and kidney failure, and, quite possibly death and/or having to pee into a bag through a pipe for the rest of your life. So, it’s very serious. But I don’t know if I could work my way through Angela’s low sodium recipes even if I was a death’s door and just won the lotto. Cottage cheese with meringues and raspberries? No! I am sure you don’t save a single mg of sodium by not using cream. And custard… Angela makes “custard” with 15ml of custard powder, 15ml of castor sugar and 180ml skim milk. How horrifying. Everybody knows that skim milk tastes like half-milk-half-water, and I would be surprised if the decrease in sodium is even the size of Julius Malema’s brain. What is the point of low-fat custard? Eat a nice, fresh apple if going large in the custard department is not your scene. You need three egg yolks for every cup of half-milk-half-cream, or just leave it alone.

(The polenta triangles sound quite good. I always try not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But not being a baby person, I admit that I have failed in the past.)

Ruth’s ex, in spite of the good and even imagined reasons why we should have an aversion to both him and his memory, once said an interesting thing that I remember. He said (not verbatim, I am the writer here) that choosing to live sensibly by eating and drinking only healthy things, may not necessarily help you live longer, but it is certainly going to feel like that.

In the famed and ancient Washington Post Style Invitational that has been recycled in the SA blogosphere since at least 2006 as “THIS year’ neologism competition” (I have a very old post to prove how old it is) someone entered “decafalon” (entrants had to change, add or subtract one letter in a word and give it a new meaning), which is the “gruelling process of making it through the day consuming only things that are good for you.”

With her low-sodium proffering, Angela tried to condemn us to not only a long life, but clearly a miserable one. I am more a Dusty Springfield kind-of-a-girl: “being good isn’t always easy, no matter how hard I try” and a believer in the old adage that good girls go to heaven, but bad girls go everywhere.

Which brings me to Helen Zille. Ah.   Continue reading

Sunday morning coming down

I liked Wolverine quite a lot. When you fail, despite a determined effort, to spend an entire day in bed alone with books, papers, your modem and the laptop (I don’t know about “Jack”… I am thinking of another name), getting up to catch a quick movie is a great out.  I tried remaining horizontal again today, but had to take back my DVDs (nothing interesting, really, except maybe the first disk of the third series of The Closer, which I had already seen, and is wonderful) and get the papers. While I was doing that I also had to get a double shot tall cappuccino and a slice of  carrot cake at Seattle in Hyde Park, seeing that I was in there already. Obviously.

As I only managed the Independent with those two food items, I had to move onto Rosebank to read the Sunday Times and drink beer. The endorphins created by the consumption of carbohydrates (above) created enough of a feeling of well-being for me to need to increase this euphoria by the consumption of alcohol. Only in rare exceptions, I believe, does alcohol not actually increase whatever feeling of well-being one is already suffering from.

But let’s talk about the papers. They were particularly entertaining this week, with Ben Trovato’s pithy but acute take on swine flu (oops, H1N1) exploring many things I already had in my heart: the fact that Egypt nearly killed its entire pig population without a shred of evidence that 1) pigs actually spread the disease and 2) anybody was actually suffering from it in the whole country. It also added gravitas to this week’s “Irony of the Week”: fifty people die from swine flu and everybody wants to wear a mask. Millions die of AIDS and no one wants to wear a condom. Debra Orr’s piece in the Independent calls both the WHO’s and the media’s responses to swine flu “scare-mongering”, and exposes the panic these agencies caused as shameful.

Last week’s Weekender carried two columns with similar sentiments. Swine flu had been big news, what, with SAFA considering canning the Confederations Cup because of clear and present danger. Anyway. I feel a bit bad now having sported with Paris Hilton’s ignorance on the subject. She may well turn out to have the sanest take on the whole scenario: “I don’t eat that.”

My travels round the social hotspots of the northern suburbs this afternoon also prevented me from finishing the second part of the mental hara-kiri piece. It was taking a long time anyway, because a lot of it is about serious literature, which always takes a long time. It was when I got to AS Byatt’s Possession, but could not remember the author or the title  (I Googled “obsession novel literature” and found books by Jonathan Kellerman and various editions from the Mills and Boon umbrella with pictures of desperate women, often half naked, on the covers) that I became very tired. This meant that I immediately had to get up and drive to the video shop.

On the way I sms’d both Laurence and Ruth with “who wrote obsession?” and Laurence came back almost immediately with “as byatt”. I then sent “Of course. And I think it was actually called possession. Thank you.” And then I got a message saying “but I think you mean possession” and then he must have received my response in between his two because it was followed immediately by “I think sometimes its hard to tell the difference” and I said “I was just thinking that” and he said “I thought you might be PS have you read william boyd Any human heart” and I responded with “No. But have read Kafka on the shore.” He sms’d me last year saying he was reading it and it reminded him of me. I had it on my shelves from some Exclusive Book sale orgy and so I read it. And that was when my faith in modern fiction was restored. But I could not figure out what Laurence meant and did not care to pursue it.

Anyway. Our conversation ended with him offering to lend me the book and me saying “Thx”, and him going “Cool”. I have so much to reading to do at the moment that I might well get round to borrowing the book from him about two years from now.

(Note how we did not use SMS code. I find it idiotic really, especially when someone wants to get a bit sexy and they send messages like, “wot u werin”. No, I just made that up.)

Funny thing, the Independent today had a review of “her (Byatt’s) first full-length fiction in seven years” – there’s synchronicity for you.  There was a picture of her with the caption “As a general principle, I avoid myself,” says novelist AS Byatt.” She looks like somebody’s aunt and somebody’s grandmother. In spite of what I am going to say about what I remember of reading Possession in On writing #5, this endears her to me terribly, and now I am going to have to keep the article and read more of her books, including, possibly, finishing Possession. Shit.

I did not watch the inauguration yesterday, but the newspapers said nothing about heads of state attending from anywhere beyond Africa. Was this so? More than that, I was a little depressed by general reports of shockingly graceless behaviour by the team of our new president in various fora since winning the election. In the National Assembly on Wednesday, ANC chief whip Mathole Mtoshekga had to ask ANC MPs not to heckle and hiss at opposition party members as they were sworn in. They sang, apparently, “Shilowa is a fool”, and “mewed” at Linda Odendaal, Cope MP and second deputy president. Anele Mda “received sarcastic wedding-type ululations for her sweet, silky gown” Caiphus Kgosana wrote in the Independent. Is the National Assembly not a dignified gathering of the leaders of our nation? Is it so absurd to hope for grace in victory by sensible adults, and some realisation of the gravity of the task that lies ahead of them? Instead we have a catty, spiteful attitude to people, and inane attempts to humiliate them merely because they hold different political views. Look. See. The leadership of the ANC.

Similar insults were lobbed at Thabo Mbeki at the inauguration, as he was first booed and then hissed at. He is a cadre, (we had a funny discussion of how to pronounce “cadre” here and in the rest of the world at Giles on Friday night) and one of their own. How frightening. There is no pretense of or an attempt at unity in the ANC. The factions hate each other and are not afraid to make this public. In spite of JZ’s conciliatory speech, the divisions in his party, I think, will not give them a bigger majority in the next election, and will most certainly impede any service delivery he has dreamed of. He is in the centre of this break, and not strong enough to fix it. This is my honest opinion.

And then, finally, Baleka Mbete’s childish refusal to be sworn in as MP, the equivalent of publicly stamping her foot, when she understood that her comrades never REALLY intended for her to be deputy president ALL BY HERSELF. And I think, considering her response to this, they have made one of the rare great decisions that marked our political landscape in the past few weeks. How she still managed to get a R1.8 million annual salary out of the deal is stupefying.

It is all very fucking embarrassing.

I was going to write about the fun things that there were in the papers today as well, but now I just want to have a little lie down.