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.


May the fourth be with you

I had a groovy birthday. Ruth made kick-ass oxtail for lunch, by way of celebration the next day, and I baked a cake. Many wished me happy birthday on FB. I was against FB for a very long time, suspicious and dismissive, reading all the conspiracy theories and other alarmist propaganda journalism literature. But I succumbed, and am happy that I did. FB reminds you about people’s birthdays – sometimes, and then I can wish them happy birthday in return. This is good. Sometimes you get a request for birthday info from a friend and the request turns out to be some app that demands all your information – email, phone, sexual-, medical- and institutional history, ID number, literacy level and whether or not you can make mayonnaise without a recipe, so I often just cancel the whole process half-way. It smacks of the rampant invasion of privacy that early sceptics warned about. I no longer wish to be reminded of that. Besides, now when I post, the link goes onto my FB page and then, sometimes, more than ten people read the blog.

But back to my birthday. I share the 4th of May with an unsurprisingly long list of people, but not many famous ones, which makes one wonder how Wikipedia decided who to include. Although, I guess if you were a Greek football fan in the 1970s, you might have known who Antonis Minou was. Robbie probably knows who he was, but I don’t think that makes him famous.  (No, Robbie IS famous.) Their general anonymity, on the other hand, is surprising because a large number of these people were actors and musicians. I was pleased to see that I shared a birthday with Audrey Hepburn and Pia Zadora. Better than Hitler, Wouter Basson or Britney Spears, I say. At the turn of the previous millennium there were a couple of heads of state, and in this millennium, one scientist, one mathematician, one trans-gender surgeon-pioneer,  one bishop and Hosni Mubarak. But mostly the list consists of artists, writers, sportsmen (no sportswomen, actually) and a couple of politicians. I am no exception to this rule. Like most of the people on it, I am also not famous. Which I think is OK. Famous people really have to watch the shit they write – just ask Helen Zille.

I am not going to muse more about turning older, except to say that I find it gets harder as you go along, mostly because of constant improvements in medical science and face creams. Combined with the current fashionable tendency to live healthier lives, innovation in these fields means that we are never ever going to be able to afford to retire: by the time we die the annuity would have been kaput for two decades or more. That stuff is expensive, as I am sure you know. Anyway. I had a good day. Thanks for the good wishes, and may we all turn a wonderful age this year.

These Americans are crazy

You  know, seriously, I just don’t think we have ANY idea, here in South Africa, how demented  conservative Americans really are.  I am not saying that we do not have very interesting groups of our own, like Cosatu, who went marching on Tito  this week demanding a 200 to 300-point rate cut, for example, but still. If Cosatu ran seminars on how dangerous it is to get into debt in the first place, and had weekly workshops (on Saturdays, cutting into shopping time, perhaps) on how to avoid those ubiquitous lay-bye offers flashing in the display windows of furniture salesrooms everywhere, then we could talk. But no, the quick fix is what they are after. Add to this the time they plan to spend marching on Helen Zille… they are ALREADY never at fucking work and they haven’t even started striking yet. At this rate, who is going to notice when they do?

But I digress.

Even here,  gay people can happily get married, despite lengthy consultation with the religious leaders of various religions and denominations (ASIDE: is anybody else also amused by the fact that “denomination” is a term mainly associated with religion and money?)  during the Civil Union Bill hearings, who all argued furiously against the constitutional rights of gay people, I am sure. To this day I do not understand the reason for this consultation, and I get very angry when I think about that, so I am moving along right away.

President JZ has made his feelings on gays quite clear… same-sex marriages are a disgrace to the nation and to God, he said, and homosexuals inspired such revulsion in him that if they merely stood in front him, he would be forced to knock them out. His feelings might have changed since he became president, just like the fact that he is no longer guilty enough of corruption to be charged.

Most South Africans think that gay people are not human, or at least not human enough to enjoy the human rights enshrined in our constitution. (I base this fantastic generalisation on the fact that an alarming proportion of South Africans attend one church or another and that church goers are famously outraged at homosexuals being openly homosexual. It’s okay if they are around, but they should not impress their same-sex desires on anybody else in the congregation and they should definitely not become priests. If you add to this number all the white people in, say, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Vryheid. Ermelo, Wolmeranstad, Rustenburg and Potchefstroom who sleep in on a Sunday, it would probably give you a convincing majority). Nonetheless, in South Africa gay people enjoy the same rights that badly dressed and flabby heterosexuals do. There are out-of-the-closet homosexuals in important positions in government and in the judiciary. They can get married and adopt children.

But not in California. In spite of Alec Baldwin’s wonderfully complex and convincing blog[1] for the Huffington Post, homosexuals cannot get married. They could get married last year. And those marriages are legal, still. But new ones are not.

Does this make sense to anybody? At all? The Onion’s take on it is so radical I am not sure it is funny. Because the senselessness of  it is so close to the bone. CONSERVATIVES WARN QUICK SEX CHANGE ONLY BARRIER BETWEEN GAYS, MARRIAGE, the headline says. In its classic CNN style, the report interviews the “Missouri congressman” who co-authored legislation to close the so-called “gay marriage loop-hole”. The legislation deals with the possibility that homosexuals could simply have “gender reassignment surgery” in order to  make it legal for them to get married. Really. Go see it. It’s not much more absurd than the actual events. If Goscinny and Uderzo had Asterix and Obelix in America, Obelix would have said… “these Americans  are crazy!”

But then I guess they did vote Dubya into office… twice. What does one expect?


[1] I am just kidding. But I am pleased with Alec’s piece, it shows that his heart is in the right place. And I completely understand and forgive the gaffe about the Filipino mail-order bride. He was clearly trying not to offend the Russians, and put his right foot in it, instead.

And foie gras

You know, I really hate to go on and on about Hayibo, but today’s illuminating (and relieving, I promise) piece on Mrs Zille’s “wild whore libido” really made me think twice about applying for that SAPPI job in Nelspruit.

I spent some time this morning with the guys, trying to instil in them valuable production tools such as the twin principles of Independent Thought  and Common Sense as entry-level operational devices. Then I came home.  Mary was here so I put a lovely pot of lentil soup on the stove. While it was cooking,  I proof-read a chapter of a book chronicling the history and likely future of the Great South African Education Debacle. So far so good.

Then we ate. And in that moment I had a real longing for a time when I could drive to Corné Delicatessen just outside Alexandra to pick up a lobe of foie gras and marinate it in black pepper and cognac and poach it in a bain marie and have it with a some baguette and wooded Chardonnay. Look, of course the lentil soup was good, but sometimes practical food really bores me. Oh! The thought of something so spectacular…

So, honestly, by 15h00 the day had already been a crap one.

The thought of the foie gras did inspire me to make a concerted job-search effort, which is when I came upon the SAPPI vacancy, where the “focus will be on providing an efficient Public Affais (sic) service to Ngodwana Mill, Nelspruit – Mpumalanga”. It was instantly attractive. I had not seen the papers today, being so caught up in the joys of underpaid economic activity and so on. But I glanced at the IOL headlines and would-you-believe-it, Mrs Zille and the ANCYL were right up there. That, and the lentils, and the production principles, really just made me wish I could run away to place not even remotely connected with what we reasonably experience as reality.

SAPPI’s suggestion to “conduc[t] communications training, managing and improving exiting (sic) communications conduits (sic) as well as the management and publication of in-house newsletters and communique’s, (sic) the production of publicity material, local press relations (sic) and representing the Mill (sic, I think you get it now) at external events…” was incredibly appealing.

I ran this thought past Boris (we had a quick catch-up on IM) and did not, even when he reminded me that Ngodwana usually smells like a decomposing pack animal, stop twiddling the idea in my head.

What IS this indulgent and determined connection to the sordid every-day morass of Johannesburg and its culture, and its people, and its childish fixation with impeccable grammar? (Okay, maybe that is not a Jozi thing, maybe it’s just a my-life-in-Jozi-thing. But perhaps you understand what I mean.)

And then I read Hayibo, and laughed out loud. They sometimes struggle to finish properly, a little like your average guy-over-45-on-viagra, but today’s issue was faultless. Really. Go there. Things turn rose-coloured at the click of a mouse.

I wonder if they write from Cape Town.  I wonder if that is far enough removed.