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.


Just when you thought it could not get any worse

I still use bunny ears – or an equivalent – to tune into the public broadcaster and eTV.  I have had brief fantasies about the perfect picture that a satellite dish and an exorbitant monthly subscription (I think R600-ish a month to watch Masterchef Australia once a week and Super Rugby/Tri-nations once a year is more than a little steep) would bring, but not many.  If I watch without my glasses I don’t really notice the speckle and the fuzzy edges and anyway my expectations of the channel offerings are not high. Anything worth watching is usually scheduled after my bedtime, although it was my intention to break to the rules tonight to catch the new (sic) CSI New York at ten.

Considering all of the above, I was a little puzzled at my dismay when I switched on SABC3 shortly after eight. At first I thought I was watching a choir competition. The fellows sported brown shwe-shwe dashikis and crooned what I thought was something religious. I am accustomed to the fact that its economic woes meant that the SABC has had to rerun 20-year-old Afrikaans drama series to avoid hours of black screen, but the old TV2 and TV3 Sunday afternoon faire, I thought, was a new low.

But when the performance faded to a melodious halt, the man who dashed onto the stage to do the continuity presenting had a funny accent and soon lapsed into some French, which I thought made the whole affair a little more current. This, and the absolutely great suit he was wearing. While I was trying to Google the night’s TV schedule, a full symphony orchestra erupted in the early, delicate notes of Ravel’s Bolero and some ballerinas teetered into the frame.

Hmm. A variety show? As my computer booted up a male dance group joined the swaying swans. The guys were wearing plain white shirts and black pants and they were doing that very old Michael Jackson Thriller-type dancing, except that they were barely synchronised. And then some girl dancers came on with red costumes that were sort of Indian, and they immediately converged on centre stage to do the goddess Durga-lookalike thing when they crouch at various levels behind each other and stick their hands out and flutter them. Hmm. Cross-cultural, crossed purposes and generally pedestrian. I managed to open Chrome and typed in “what’s on SABC3 tonight”. At which stage everything was explained, if not clarified.

SABC3 was going to “cross live to the IOC opening ceremony in Durban”. JZ was going to speak. The Ravel persisted relentlessly, as it does, increasingly urgent and loud. Sanitised gumboot dancers came on to add to the symbolic cultural diversity. I looked at my watch. They were supposed to cross to Top Billing at 8.30, according to the announcement, and it was already 8.38. I wondered if JZ was still going to speak. But then the music terminated and the continuity announcer was back, this time with a sidekick. More English and French, and then more dancers, this time with flags. I knew what I was looking at, but not sure why. I was not sure why the show took the form it did. The orchestra indicated there was lots of money thrown at it – the size of the cast. But who in this day and age designed a variety show with such a budget? I imagined that even Mbongeni Ngema could do better in an afternoon.

I recognised the flag of South Korea. Well, I knew it was one of the two (Google again). Now there is something we could call an actual legacy of the 2010 WC. More South Africans now know more international flags than ever before.

SABC3 cut to Top Billing. Seeing Ursula Stapelfeldt sparkle in an overdesigned house was almost a relief.

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.

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.

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.