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Forgive the dearth of postings here … I was brought low by some late winter dreaded lurgy and as a result my life came to grinding halt for almost two weeks.
The big story (which I will deal with later today or tomorrow) is the astonishingly decisively manner in which the ANC and its government is blocking Cosatu on a whole range of policy issues … immediately prior to an election.
Later today I will attempt to assess whether the medium-term budget policy statement holds the same line, particularly with regard to the public sector wage bill. If it does then I am going to have to start reassessing whether Jacob this-isn’t-some-African-shithole Zuma is quite as soft-in-the-middle on policy as I have previously asserted. The implications of the putatively shifting position are huge and, I suspect, driven by a complex and contradictory set of factors.
Meanwhile here is an excerpt from my weekly news commentary describing the rising decibels and pitch of the moan coming from business and its representatives (and from financial markets in general) around policy, especially policy related to the labour market. The ascending pitch and loudness of the whine are undoubtedly two of the factors pushing Zuma’s showdown with Cosatu – but I think it would be premature to think of the president’s actions as primarily about bowing down to business and the diktats of global capital markets.
South Africa deteriorating investment destination
Complaints about South Africa’s hostile policy environment are getting louder.
Pepkor chairman Christo Wiese added his voice to a chorus complaining about a hostile investment environment in South Africa. In other African countries “infrastructure is improving, border crossings are becoming easier, more property development is taking place and, in some cases, they are offering more opportunities.” But in South Africa government is “certainly not cooperative” and “one is left with the impression that government sees business as the opposition, not as a partner … you can’t have German rules because we can’t administer them,”
The wizened and iconoclastic Christo Wiese held up Angola, Nigeria and, especially, Rwanda as improving business destinations. South Africa’s labour regime, according to Wiese, is becoming one of the greatest inducements to invest in other African countries. (Wiese was quoted in an interesting interview with Chris Barron in the Sunday Times 22/10/2013 – here’s a link to the republished article in Business Day … Barron is always interesting and not to be missed in your weekly news read.)
Wiese’s comments came soon after Moody’s Investor Services said in a credit opinion on 12 October that South Africa’s elevated strike activity continues to affect the investment climate. “BMW’s announcement that South Africa has been removed for consideration for the new car is tangible evidence of the negative impact that the increase in work days lost to strikes in the past two years is likely to pose for the medium-term outlook of the economy … Such decisions are likely to be repeated by other companies when such significant losses are incurred -” Bloomberg and Moody’s Credit Opinion 12/10/2013.
In the same week Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said (after the company was again battered by strikes) that it “is not possible that we can continue with these kinds of strikes, which are having an effect not only on the mining sector but all sectors of the economy. It’s hurting the economy … It is impacting jobs” – Business Day 16/10/2013.
From extensive plans to cut 230,000ozs of achievable platinum as well as 14 000 jobs announced in January this year, Amplats appears to have been steadily successfully bullied back by unions, government and the ANC from doing what it initially intended.
Read against South Africa’s scores in the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2013 – 2014 (click here for a full copy) some of this anxiety seems justified. While South Africa is ranked 53rd this year out of 148 countries, the quality of the educational system is very poor at 146th, as was labour market efficiency at 116th – and ‘hiring and firing practices’ and ‘wage flexibility’ at 147th and 144th respectively. The ability of the employer to respond quickly to changing production needs for skills and size of workforce is called ‘labour market flexibility’- and aggregating our performance in these categories suggests a serious deficit compared with our peers.
Okay, so that sets the background for a follow-on post (today or tomorrow) dealing with the now unavoidable conclusion that Zuma’s government appears to be risking the wrath of its left-wing allies with regard to a range of policy measures. The important question to answer is ‘why’ is the ANC drawing the line? And why now?
He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.
The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles - on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.
Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?
When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.
But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.
My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.
Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.
Which brings me back to Machiavelli.
I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.
I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book. Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).
However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.
(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)
So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.
Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:
Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici
It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.
This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.
Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.
Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.
I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.
Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.
It is difficult to avoid an abiding suspicion that the protesters flinging faeces in the general direction of the DA led Cape Town and Western Cape provincial administrations are not always, as they claim, signed up members of the downtrodden masses.
Among the reasons I am suspicious is a good friend told me that when the recent group of 176 protesters carrying bags of shit – let’s call it what it is - were offloaded at Esplanade train station in Woodstock she couldn’t help but notice the pitter-patter of Carvella clad feet, the swish of Gucci handbags (in the hands not carrying the shit …. hmm, whatever) and the sleekly clad and buxom bodies diagnostic of a certain species of yuppie political activist.
A more interesting take, one that doesn’t bother with the relatively minor question of political parties’ attempts to manipulate or ride the underlying grievances of the poorest and most marginalised South Africans, is an excellent article by Gillian Schutte on The South African Civil Society Information Service website (SACSIS describes it’s function as: “
Though ‘shitting’ has to be one of the most taboo subjects around, it is a matter that we all deal with, on average once or twice a day. Defecation, and the rules governing it, undoubtedly comprises the complete gamut of human behaviour yet open discussion around it is deemed distasteful and disgusting. Indeed this is exactly how it played out when protesters dumped the contents of portable toilets on the steps of the Western Cape legislature in a backlash against the sanitation policy of Helen Zille’s administration. This policy offers communal portable flush toilets to shack dwellers at no cost — a system, which they say, is inadequate and often ends up filthy and untended.
Catch Schutte’s article here and I would recommend that you subscribe to the free SACSIS.org.za email service.
That being said, spare a thought for the put-upon DA premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.
I stumbled across a thorough report from the Presidency (Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation) into the state of sanitation services across the country. The report (download it here) makes a detailed comparison between provinces. I laboriously screen-snipped the graphs for provincial performances in informal housing areas and put them together in a graphic (which is a stretch for me, so I hope someone finds this useful).
This is what the scoreboard looks like:
(When you look at relative performance in formal areas the Western Cape also performs well, bested only by Gauteng – although, I suppose, it is not useful to run this like it was a competition. The ANC has faced rolling service delivery protests across the country for many years and the tit-for-tat between the DA and the ANC with regard to the toilet issue has almost nothing to do with ‘the facts’ or ‘the truth’.)
However the graphic does confirm that the DA has outperformed in relation to a crucial area of service delivery to informal areas – the very areas from which it is getting flack in Cape Town. And that raises an interesting point about the stability of societies as they move away from authoritarian rule and high levels of absolute and relative poverty.
There is a peculiar fact, confirmed across the world and over a long period of time, that improved service delivery itself is a good predictor of protest and disaffection.
I have an instinctive feeling of why this might be true. The uniformly downtrodden, those with no hope and no expectation of relief from ‘the powers that be’ are less likely to be moved to demand more.
Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950′s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations are related to the possibility revolt but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meet an unexpected slowing in that delivery. His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.
Here is the point expressed graphically:
So the theory is that as a middle-class emerges from previously marginalised groups, as education and social infrastructure improves, the expectation of improvement begins to outstrip the maximum rate, or the sustainable rate, of real improvement. The first thing that happens is that resistance and dissatisfaction intensifies.
This is one of the many reasons transitions like ours can be scary and unstable. The old ways of doing things and the old, essentially stable, structure is abandoned before what is replacing it has moved in and filled the vacuum and the available space.
We are in the moment when ‘the old’ is gone but ‘the new is not yet born’.
Sunday’s newspapers were more interesting from a political risk and investment point of views than normal.
This is what I thought mattered, as far as financial markets were concerned, in last week’s Mail & Guardian, the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and City Press:
Construction industry – possible prosecution and fines for fraud and racketeering
Government and the national prosecuting authority are reported to be facing a dilemma: managers in at least 20 major constructions firms might be guilty of serious criminal practices relating to may years of in-industry collusion, but a successful prosecution of the guilty parties would rip the whole management level out of up to 20 top companies and thereby sink government’s infrastructure plans – Mail and Guardian.
The stories are covered in the Mail & Guardian and the City Press – both drawing their details from a series of leaked 2011 affidavits apparently produced by individual managers at Sefanutti Stocks when they (Stafanutti) realised that despite co-operating with a Competition Commission investigation, individual managers were likely to be liable for criminal prosecution (by the Hawks and the NPA) and that the punishment could include imprisonment.
Paul Ramaloko, Hawks spokesperson said “This case is bigger than people think. We are going to take our time and do a thorough investigation” (Mail & Guardian), but in City Press he says the investigation was in its “early stages” and that he would only comment once it had “matured”.
So What? Sounds like a political dilemma. The NPA and the Hawks are not (entirely) governed by the political priorities of government (despite apparently decisive co-ordination between the Hawks, SARS and the Public Protector in the Julius Malema fraud, money laundering and tax evasion investigation). However, government is likely to do what it can to make sure the companies survive intact – albeit compliantly chastened and grateful for leniency. Of course, the NPA and the Hawks might, alternatively, feel these managers would make good examples of how ‘old-order’ and ‘untransformed’ individuals and companies are as important sources of corruption as the ANC, its leaders, supports and structures.
Either way, the reputation and coherency of the companies concerned could be seriously impacted. However it is not clear from the news reports that there is any differentiation between, “winners and losers” … no-one appears more or less guilty than anyone else – which rather suggests the sector as a whole is risky, with no safe havens.
Key Jacob Zuma allies Atul and Rajesh Gupta (using family vehicle Oakbay Investments) are reported to be on the verge of adding a 24-hour continent-wide news channel to their media portfolio (which includes New Age newspaper) in partnership with Essel Media and an unnamed black empowerment firm. Multichoice will likely be providing the platform but purely on a commercial basis and is not expected to be partner in the venture (Mail & Guardian).
Well, one of the Guptas’ current empowerment partners is President Zuma’s son Duduzane and the Guptas themselves have become key ANC funders and power players in South African politics. The Mail & Guardian has a picture of Atul and Rajesh Gupta (who came to the country from India in the early 90’s) ensconced at the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung in December. Obviously, the more the merrier on the news diversity front – and who says government and the ANC shouldn’t spend more money in the space? South Africa has a free and open media culture – to the point of government and ANC leadership spending a considerable amount of their time denying allegations and defending government policy against feisty attacks. It is unlikely to be harmful if government and the ANC strengthen their ability to put their point of view. Influence trading is always a feature of politics and is no worse or better in South Africa than it is in many countries across the world.
Telecommunications – new political upheavals on the cards
All the weeklies report that Communications Minister Dina Pule is about to be removed from her post in a cabinet reshuffle. At least part of the reason is because she is accused of “routing large sums of money to her alleged lover” – Sunday Independent. So many individuals are touted as possible replacements, but the one person who comes up time and against is Lindiwe Zulu. This is what the Mail and Guardian has to say about this close Zuma confidant: “Zulu has just been appointed head of the ANC’s communications and her star has been rising under Zuma. A government source said Zuma trusted her opinions. She is his adviser on international relations. ‘He likes her bravery. The way she’s handling the Zimbabwe issue in a fearless manner has impressed him.’ She is one of Zuma’s three envoys on that country.”
So what? Pule will be the third minister to exit this portfolio in four years and instability in the department has raised fears that SA will continue to wander in the policy wilderness as far as migration to digital TV, Telkom’s business plan chaos, spectrum allocation and unbundling of the local loop (to name but a few pressing policy mattings) are concerned.
Mining Indaba – policy confusion as rife as ever
The Business Times has a depressing few pages about the Mining Indaba that implied that if anything the industry is more concerned than ever about policy uncertainty. On the proposed Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Amendment Bill: “The move has again flooded the country’s struggling mining sector with uncertainty” – Loni Prinsloo.
“On the exploration side” said Magnus Ericsson, Chairman of Raw Material Group, in the lead story, “I think it’s a general hesitation … if you find something in South Africa, what will be the BEE requirements? What are the other requirements? For some foreign investors they are seen as difficult”.
The same series of articles argues that the pressure to “quarantine” SA assets is becoming fierce. “A valuation by AngloGold Ashanti’s biggest shareholder, Paulson & Co, indicated that South Africa’s biggest gold miner could boost its share price by as much as 68% if it split out it local assets.” Elsewhere on the front page of the Business Times, the paper argues: “The true investor sentiment will be measured tomorrow (now yesterday– ed) when Sibanye (Gold Fields’ local assets – ed) lists separately.”
So what? To my mind regulatory uncertainty, especially in the minerals sector, remains the key politically driven investment risk in South Africa. The risk is being driven by pressures (felt by the ANC and government) to improve delivery and redistribution. These pressures will increase going forward and the increased regulatory burdens government is placing on private mining companies is unlikely to achieve any of government’s objectives … in fact, the reverse is more likely to be true. This is an unhappy environment for those searching for policy certainty.
Bits and pieces
- The brutal rape, torture and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp filled many column inches in all four weeklies – hoping to stimulate the kind of outrage against rape that swept India recently. Many of the stories point out that South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world.
- Ramphele – will she or wont she? The press is full of speculation about whether Mamphela Ramphele (former anti-apartheid activists and close friend of Steve Biko, a doctor, academic, successful businesswoman, a former director at the World Bank and former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cape Town) will set up a political party and that that party will capture a significant percentage of urban black support. I think she might, but I doubt whether the party will make a dent on South Africa’s politics. The most likely scenario, to my mind, is Ramphele ends up in the Democratic Alliance.
- There was much speculation about what President Zuma might say in his State of the Nation address this Thursday – with a generally excited consensus emerging that Zuma is less beholden to special interest groups (post his decisive victory at Mangaung) than he was previously. I am not convinced this will lead to bold new steps. I am watching for tension between this speech and the National Budget on the 27th of February. I expect the political plans in Zuma’s State of the Nation to be at odds with Pravin Gordhan’s plans to balance the books … but I expect that tension to be hidden.
- The Mail & Guardian gave a list of who it thought is in Zuma’s inner circle: (Lakela Kaunda, Lindiwe Zulu, Mac Maharaj, Collins Shabane, Gwede Mantashe, Nathi Mthethwa and Batandwa Siswana), but then spoiled any special insight that might have given us by adding :
“Those privy to Zuma’s kitchen Cabinets say the president also has a high regard for Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, National Planning Commission Minister Trevor Manuel and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe. Other key confidants include Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti, Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and, to some extent, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. People outside government who are in the president’s good books include businessperson Sandile Zungu, film producer Duma ka Ndlovu and businessperson Deebo Mzobe, widely considered the man behind the building of “Zumaville”, the town surrounding the president’s homestead.”
… hmmm, must have a pretty big kitchen.
I have been interviewed several times this week about the Cosatu strike.
Is this an irreparable breakdown between the ANC and Cosatu?
Does this have implications for Zuma’s bid for re-election at Mangaung?
How stable is the ANC/Cosatu alliance?
What do I think of Jackson Mthembu’s response to Vavi’s claim that the ANC says “Cosatu is exaggerating poverty of workers in South Africa”? (… or whatever … If you can’t follow the subjects and objects in that sentence check out the ANC statement here - or not.)
Where is the SACP in all of this … and is Cosatu split between its president and secretary general?
Where is all this leading … what is going to happen … what does it all mean?
I’ll give those of you who are interested a kind of answer to those questions in a separate post, but I first wanted to say: it’s a peculiar business this being a ‘talking head’, someone whose views are sought on something as slippery as what’s really happening in our politics, where it’s all leading and why.
This is not (only) an idle existential question to while away a windy Cape Town Saturday morning … it is brought on by a perilous attempt at humour by that leading bastion of irony and satire, the South African Communist Party and their laugh-a-minute, Umsebenzi Online – and more particularly the March 8 “Red Alert” that you can catch here.
(Perhaps only start reading from the “Succession battles at leading newspaper” headline. That way you might still be open to that old Marxist quip: history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce” – here for Wikipedia’s sketch of the source of that quote, Karl Marx’s excellent The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon - something I find it difficult to believe the writers of Umsebenzi Online have actually read or understood … but that is just by the by.)
The SACP’s satire is a teasing poke at … well, at people and institutions that do what I do for a living.
The premise is that Umsebenzi Online has come into possession of “dramatic new evidence” of a deep factional split at 195 Jan Smuts Avenue … which is the address of the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
The premise is that editor Nic Dawes is being challenged by “the ring-leader of the Young Turks” Matuma Letsoalo.
And the issue over which they are divided?
Whether to stick with the fading Julius Malema as the leading character in the soap opera the M&G produces or replace him with “the unions” as the new villain.
Umsebenzi Online then seeks the views of “two well-known, dial-a-quote, soap opera specialists – Aubrey Habib and Eusebius Mashele”* who proceed to pontificate incoherently about the split at the M&G.
There is a whole cast of villains in Umsebenzi Online’s slightly stilted (hardly unexpected that – Ed) attempt at humour.
And all the villains are ‘talking heads’ … people who have come to make their primary living from giving their views on the South African political soap opera.
I think there is a real question to be answered about political analysts – poorly asked and answered in this pinkish satire
Are the views of ‘political analysts’ any more reliable than anyone else’s? It’s not like there is a professional association that erects barriers to entry and puts in a whole lot of quality controls. And anyway such associations are usually just a gang hierarchy that protects the turf from competition.
My own answer – and I have to have one, or my tongue would shrivel up and drop out of my head and my fingers fuse uselessly to this keyboard – is that political analysts are to politics what critics are to art and literature. The critics don’t have to be artists or writers themselves – in fact, that might well be a drawback to them performing their function.
Critics come to be what they are through a market mechanism – their views are sought out and some consumer ends up paying for them. The art consuming public is looking for confirmation, information or rebuttal; they are looking for a view against which they can balance their own view, or learn something from – or just to think about.
The best critics are a mirror for the artist – trusted or hated by the practitioner, it doesn’t necessarily matter.
Rubbish critics can find an oppulent home in rubbish publications and TV stations – because mediocrity does so often rule the mass market mechanism.
Fine critics can quietly go about their business and eke out an interstitial existence of quiet excellence and the small comfort of professional respect.
Or the other way around.
I am all in favour of communists using satire to further their aims – it is so much more desirable than the dystopian bureaucratic terror which appears to be the default instrument – when available – of this vanguard of leading intellectuals.
But I wish this satire had been more … well, funny … and clever – basically, more thoughtful. We are bludgeoned daily by the views of “experts” – and it might not have escaped you that I both bludgeon and am bludgeoned in my turn.
How and why political analysts come to be part of our lives and part of the cultural and public intellectual process is an important question – one we should think about before consuming the sometimes suspicious fruits they offer.
* Those fake names are a melding of the real Professor Adam Habib:
(Right you four, you can send donations to The Association of Professional Standards in Political Analysis for the free publicity – Ed)
A good friend of mine in New York* recently put me on to “A Song of Ice and Fire” – a seemingly endless series of swords and sorcery novels by George R R Martin.
This is the crack cocaine of fantasy fiction but it is also a surprisingly brilliant study of politics and power vacuums.
The fictional edifice of the “Song of Ice and Fire” is built around the consequences of the death of a powerful king. In the aftermath the kingdom collapses into factional chaos, pretenders to the throne contest for power and war rages across the land.
Scheming power-brokers manipulate and assassinate their way through the dysfunctional court as provincial lords and petty “hedge nights” ransack, pillage and rape “the small folk” all across the Seven Kingdoms.
What an excellent metaphor.
The demise of Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane in December 2007 and the political cycle towards Mangaung in December 2012 is our own Song of Ice and Fire and the intrigue and viciousness in the ANC’s internal struggle feels like it is being run by the Lady of Casterly Rock, Cersei Lannister – but you will have to read the books to fully understand how apt and awful that comparison is.
Two weeks ago the increasingly excellent City Press published the following schematic of what it sees as the individuals in the main factions contesting for power at Mangaung (using Malema as the proxy for the broader conflict):
(see at the end of the story for my optional key to that graphic)
One of the problems with factional battles like this one is that it is not always possible for the participants to choose which side they are on – or, in fact, whether to be on any side at all.
As the powerful interests clash in the Ruling Alliance there can be no ‘innocent bystanders’ or anyone above the fray. A factional dispute like this one is a bit like the Cold War used to be. It imposes itself upon the whole structure; every forum, every election and every policy debate gets forced into the dominant paradigm of the overall contest for power.
One of the dangers – with this analysis and with the more general struggle – is that it is increasingly difficult to work out what each side stands for and how they might differ from each other.
When we use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as the proxy for the broader struggle it is easy to portray the challengers as the most voracious faction, fighting for the right to loot the state and dominate patronage networks. The problem is that the incumbents, certainly Jacob Zuma himself, can hardly be portrayed as the good and brave king to Malema’s dastardly evil knight.
There are shades of grey here that we are going to need to have a more subtle sense of as we get closer to whatever compromises might emerge at Mangaung.
It’s best not to act as a cheerleader for any one faction or part of a faction in a struggle as complex as the one unfolding within the Ruling Alliance. And while today’s heroes can be tomorrows villains and vice versa I would still use Julius Malema’s friends and foes as a rough guide to who the most dangerous enemies of our democracy are. Malema himself is a bit player, just the most visible aspect of a fight that is much deeper and more involved than his personal future. But he’s a useful proxy, nonetheless.
One of the pay-off line from A Song of Ice and Fire is a phrase that is the perfect warning to give the players in the ANC’s internal conflict:
‘In this Game of Thrones you win or you die.”
But George RR Martin has another device that he keeps repeating, threateningly, as the lords and knights struggle and murder each other for the throne.
“Winter is coming”, he keeps warning, constantly reminding the reader and his characters that there are much greater threats than the outcome of their brutal squabbles.
Winter is coming.
* That’s Tony Karon, editor at Time Online and expert on all things Middle East. He tells me he has also, several times, used metaphors from A Song of Ice and Fire, including: “Goldman-Sachs are like the Lannisters — no matter who’s on the throne, they’re always on the Small Council.”)
(My schematic key to the graphic – not required reading, and a little bit cobbled together: the friends are Mathews Phosa, ANC treasurer general and previous premier of Mpumalanga, one of the ANC’s top six, National Working Committee (NWC) member and a member of the 81 person National Executive Committee (NEC); Fikile Mbalula, previous ANC Youth League president, currently a head of campaigns in the ANC as well as minister of sport in government – highly effective in both positions he is being pushed by this faction to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC secretary general – on the NWC and NEC; Tony Yengeni, fraud convict and ex-ANC speaker of parliament (during which time he was caught defrauding parliament by accepting a discount on a luxury car during the tendering process for the arms deal while he was the member of a parliamentary committee reporting on the same deal), ex-member of the ANC underground, tortured by Apartheid police agents in the late 80’s. He is on the ANC National Executive Committee and on the National Working Committee; Winnie Madikizela-Mandela convicted fraudster, wicked step-mother of the nation, she who famously said “with our boxes of matches and necklaces we will free our country”, prime ANC populist who was married to Nelson Mandela and struggled bravely while he was imprisoned, but later accused of several human rights abuses …. and has taken every opportunity to identify herself with Julius Malema and his various calls for nationalisation and expropriation of “white owned” property. On the NEC and generally still influential and symbolically powerful as any member of the ruling party; Siphiwe Nyanda chief of staff of ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and later head of South African National Defence Force (in which capacity he was regularly accused of being a significant recipient of some of the billions paid in arms deal bribes) and lately minister of telecommunications from which he was fired by Jacob Zuma during an avalanche of accusations that he had illegally enriched himself by getting R55m tenders from Transnet for his security company (GNS or General Nyanda Security) – also eviscerated by the media for his extremely expensive habits and choice of vehicles as a minister – on ANC NEC and NWC; Tokyo Sexwale, has long been thought to be the power behind the Malema challenge, although little evidence had been presented to prove this – and he was recently reported as referring to Malema as “that loud mouthed young man” – he was a popular premier of Gauteng when the fell foul of Thabo Mbeki machinations in the late 90’s, he withdrew from politics and became a successful business man – now reported to be extremely wealthy (through the company he founded, Mvelaphanda Holdings) – he has returned to politics and threw his hat into the ring in the lead-up to Polokwane in 2007 indicating that he would be prepared to take the ANC presidency if he was so nominated and elected. Instead Jacob Zuma became president and ended up appointing Tokyo as Minister of Human Settlements – a difficult position in which he has appeared to perform adequately – his wealth makes his election to the ANC top spot a difficult road …. but his determination and deep pockets make him a serious challenger; Cassel Mathale, premier of Limpopo and the closest of close allies (business and politics) to Julius Malema – the Limpopo province is beset by very high levels of cronyism and tender abuse by senior ANC politicians …..; Nomvula Mokonyane – surprised to see her on the list, premier of Gauteng and former housing minister – she has conflicted with another very powerful player Paul Mashetile (ANC Chair in Gauteng) who I would have thought was closer to Malema that she – she is on the NEC (ex-officio, which means she wasn’t elected there); Baleka Mbete, ANC Chairperson, NEC and NWC – powerful … conflicted with Zuma and Motlanthe over whether she could keep the Deputy President post she help under Kgalema Mothlathe’s caretaker presidency – which put her in conflict with the Zuma camp at the start of his government in 2008; Sindiso Magaqa Secretary General of ANC YL and powerful Malema henchman.
And foes: Jeremy Cronin; key ANC intellectual and deputy secretary general of South African Communist Party (SACP) – as well as effective deputy minister of Transport – he has been the main intellectual opposition to Malema taking him on around mine nationalisation (accusing him of dishonestly fronting BEE interests and being interested in plunder) and on his general populist politics which Cronin and the SACP characterise as racially chauvinistic and even “proto-Fascist” comparing Malema arc explicitly to Germany in the 1930’s on the ANC NEC; Gwede Mantashe powerful ANC secretary general who also holds the position of SACP Chairman – he is one of the main targets of the Malema fronted faction as a leading voice against cronyism in the ANC – the push from the right is to replace him with Fikile Mbalula who is probably the best organiser of the opposition – Mantashe is gruff and famously speaks his mind, a characteristic that has put him in conflict with the most voracious cronies – in the ANC and the trade union movement – NEC and NWC …; Malusi Gigaba – ex-President of the ANC Youth League, but now adequate minister of Public Enterprises (but not about to shoot the lights out) in Zuma’s cabinet – gradually assumed to role of being a key defender of Zuma and the incumbents against the Malema battering-ram on the NEC; Blade Nzimande – top Secretary General of SACP and (adequate minister of higher education) – came in for a lot of flack from Cosatu for not focussing on building the SACP as well as for his expensive choice of cars as Minister, NEC and NWC; Collins Chabane – key intellectual and minister in the presidency (monitoring and evaluation) – respected ally of Zuma, opposed mine nationalisation – ANC NEC and NWC; Angie Motshekga - minister of basic education (shaping up well) and ANC Women’s League president … denies she recently suggested that one of the solutions to current crisis was dissolution of the ANC Youth League – NEC and NWC; Mathole Motshekga – ANC Chief Whip in parliament (always a powerful position) and law lecturer at Unisa in his spare time. ANC NEC … maybe opposition to Malema thrust is a family affair?; David Mabuza; Mpumalanga premier and ANC chairperson recently accused by ANC Youth League of “interfering” in the Youth League politics i.e. backing Lebogang Maile to replace Malema and the recent ANCYL national conference … a challenge that fizzled – he is on the ANC NEC; Lindiwe Zulu, senior foreign affairs official previous Ambassador to Brazil, close Zuma confidant and powerful behind the scenes player building his image abroad …. she ran into flak from the ANC YL for appearing to back the MDC in Zimbabwe against ZanuPF. She is also close link with Angola for Zuma. ANC NEC.)
Two brief thoughts – on a rainy Cape Town Sunday:
Firstly – a by-product of Malema’s (possible) retreat
I have a feeling that debates ranging from mine nationalisation, land distribution and continued white economic dominance in the South African economy have just been saved from the gangsters in the ANC Youth League who have been using these as a cover for looting.
It has been difficult not to lump every statement about ongoing race based inequality with the smokescreen slogans used by the ANC Youth League leadership – and many equally corrupt politicians.
The latest Commission of Employment Equity Annual Report says whites still occupy 73.1 percent of top management positions – and blacks 12.7, Indians 6.8 and coloureds 4.6? Yeah, well they would say that wouldn’t they – after all, that is (one of) Jimmy Manyi’s old outfits and he is the grandmaster of running racial interference for pillaging resources destined for development!
Willing-seller, willing buyer policy of land distribution responsible for only 5 percent of redistribution targets met? Yeah, well, guess who are trying to get themselves a portfolio of farms a la Zanu-PF?
Nationalise the mines? Yeah, so you can rescue your BEE backers and get a piece of the action yourself?
But that was last week.
Those issues are back on the agenda, but this time the discussion might be led by people genuinely looking to harness the country’s resources for development and transformation – not looters, corrupt tenderpreneurs and “demagogic populists” disguising their true intentions.
If anyone thought we could go on with the levels of unemployment, inequality, poverty and racially skewed distribution of ownership and control of this economy I suspect they will find they have been very much mistaken.
One of the consequences of the retreat of the Malema agenda is that we will all have to deal with the issues we have, up until now, been able to dismiss or deflect because they were ‘owned” and propagated by thugs.
Itumeleng Mahabane says it like it is
In a similar vein – and my favourite read of the week – was Itumeleng Mahabane’s column in Friday’s Business Day.
He deals with a variety of aspects of the country’s debates about development and transformation.
In tones that have been tightly stripped – of anger, I suspect – Mahabane appeals for the debate to lose the “prejudicial invectives” and that participants should “desist from creating cardboard villains”.
He makes 4 main points (actually he makes a whole lot more, and it is not impossible that I misinterpret him here – and he is certainly more subtle and nuanced than my summary below – so read the original column – the link again.)
Firstly he suggests (although in the form of a question, not the statement as I have it here) that we have to acknowledge the damage our Apartheid past has done our country, leaving “the inequity of our income distribution and the historic systematic destruction of black capability”.
Secondly he hints that the state cannot assume more economic responsibility before we have fixed accountability – and thereby arrested corruption.
Thirdly he appeals for a sophistication of our views on the labour market – I think by suggesting that a degree of duality is crucial.
But, he warns:
I do not subscribe to the simplistic and questionable idea that the inability to hire and fire people is the core cause of structural unemployment. The balanced high growth would create demand for labour, regardless of labour rigidity.
Fourthly he asked us analysts why:
we casually, without considering the social implications, vilify workers and the working class, making them useful villains for complex economic challenges? We almost never give view to the body of evidence that shows that market rigidity and anticompetitive behaviour is a significant factor in deterring investment and output and that, in fact, it contributes to SA’s excessive business and skilled-labour rents.
Those are important views – and an important corrective to aspects of our debate about development.
You might have picked up from warm and welcoming statements by the Democratic Alliance and a flood of beaming news stories that our Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan said something slightly more exciting about economic policy than the bland pap from the policy kitchen of the increasingly awkward compromise which is the Ruling Alliance.
But before anyone gets too excited we should look at exactly what he said.
First up, in the main body of his speech to the 14th annual conference of the Board of the Institute of Internal Auditors – a body I suspect has hitherto not been allowed to bask at the centre of an important breaking news story – he suggested as part of his list of things that need to be done to “energetically reposition, restructure and reform our economy” :
Lower the cost of young, inexperienced low-skilled workers for firms to stimulate the demand for labour
That is from the paper as published on the the Treasury’s website – catch that here – it is well worth a read.
Then press stories – this from the New Age – seem to imply that he took things a little further in discussion. I give you the full text below, especially as the journalist has left off quotation marks on the key sentence, making me wonder if this is more a case of hearing what you want to hear than it is an accurate reflection of exactly what the minister said:
The New Growth Path envisages the creation of five million jobs by 2020. Gordhan suggested that South Africa might have to relax its labour laws in certain cases to grow jobs. “We may have to change the way we see the labour dispensation in South Africa,” he said.
For example, a balance needed to be found to retain the jobs of the 10,000 people working at clothing factories in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, while still allowing them to earn a reasonable wage and keeping the factories open.
There is no doubt in my mind that the inflexibility of our labour market is partly responsible for the high levels of unemployment in this country.
I have tired of pointing out that as the representative of the ‘already employed’ Cosatu is not to be trusted to talk on behalf of the ‘unemployed’ – with whom its interests often conflict (see here, but a number of other places as well).
The Minister of Finance’s job is to find an economic policy that somehow reflects the national interest – and not the sectional interest of organised labour.
The most important government priority is to find ways to grow the economy in a manner that helps create the greatest number of jobs.
With a government gone soft in the middle, led by a compromised and beholden president, it is a relief to hear someone in power, however tentatively, at least name the nettle if not actually grasp it.
Here’s something important to read and understand.
From a South African Communist Party Central Committee statement released today – I just caught it on Politicsweb here.
You can disagree with the communists about a range of points of strategy and of principle, but they accurately and urgently identify populism as exemplified by the ANC Youth League ruling faction (and be clear, this is what they are talking about) as the greatest threat to the ruling alliance and, more importantly, to the South African democracy.
This is their call to arms:
We are dealing with an anti-worker, anti-left, anti-communist, pseudo-militant demagogy that betrays all of our long-held ANC-alliance traditions of internal organizational democracy, mutual respect for comrades, non-racialism, and service to our people. It has created substantial space for an anti-majoritarian, conservative reactive groundswell that seeks to tarnish the whole movement, portraying us all as anti-constitutionalist and as narrow nationalist chauvinists.
It was only a matter of time before a rescue attempt of the sliding democratic project was launched from within the alliance. It was always going to come either from Cosatu or the SACP – and despite its lack of a mass base, the SACP is more venerable and respected within the ANC
The communist leadership has dissipate into government and its voice has been softer and more defensive as a result. It remains to be seen if the party is still able to crack the whip loud enough to drive our domestic version of Zanu-PF back into its cage.
Yesterday President Jacob Zuma met white farmers in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands and reassured them about nationalisation of mines and about land seizures.
He said: “What Malema said is neither the ANC’s nor the government’s policy … the farming community must not be shaken by his comments.”
A few moments ago the ANC Youth League responded – and I put the full statement below.
This morning I argued to my paying clients – mostly asset managers and pensions funds who are concerned about these issues:
The noise about uncompensated land seizures and mine nationalisation will continue up until the ANC’s Centenary Conference in Bloemfontein mid-year 2012 but current investor friendly policies are likely, in broad terms, to be reaffirmed at that conference.
This ANC Youth League statement does not change my view, but I am sure the financial markets can feel the heat:
ANC YOUTH LEAGUE NATIONAL WORKING COMMITTEE STATEMENT ON PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA’S COMMENTS ABOUT LAND REFORM AND NATIONALISATION OF MINES.
12 May 2011
The ANC Youth League National Working Committee met on the Thursday, the 12th of May 2011. Amongst other issues, the NWC noted the comments of ANC President Jacob Zuma on Land Reform and Nationalisation of Mines in response to the questions by the people he addressed in KwaZulu Natal. In response to the fears and insecurities expressed by those people, particularly in relation to land reform, the President is reported to have amongst other things said, “Malema is on a learning curve and the farming community must not be shaken by his comments. What he says are simply his views”.
The ANC Youth League is concerned by the manner in which President Jacob Zuma addresses policy issues contained in the discussion documents of the ANC Youth League towards the 24th National Congress. The question of expropriation of land without compensation is a policy proposal contained in ANC Youth League discussion documents for the 24th National Congress, and not “simply his [President Julius Malema] views”. Attributing the views expressed in the discussion document to ANC Youth League President Julius Malema is not helpful and can only serve to isolate him from the organisation. The views expressed in the 24th National Congress discussion documents have gone through the processes of the ANC National Working and Executive Committees and never personal views of ANC Youth League President.
The ANC Youth League is concerned because we believe it is appropriate for all members of the Movement to engage the ANC Youth League on its policy positions and not isolate any of its leaders. This assists all communities the ANC engages to appropriately understand the policy making processes of the ANC, which the ANC Youth League participates in. We believe that the manner in which the issue of land reform was responded to is not consistent with this principle. The President of the ANC Youth League is expressing views contained in the ANC Youth League discussion document, which is inspired by the ANC 52nd National Conference’s observation which says “We have only succeeded in redistributing 4% of agricultural land since 1994, while more than 80% of agricultural land remains in the hands of fewer than 50,000 white farmers and agribusinesses. The willing-seller, willing-buyer approach to land acquisition has constrained the pace and efficacy of land reform. It is clear from our experience, that the market is unable to effectively alter the patterns of land ownership in favour of an equitable and efficient distribution of land”.
The ANC Youth League on further concerned on how the question of Nationalisation of Mines is responded to because the ANC has a resolution on how the question of Nationalisation of Mines should be approached, in line with the ANC National General Council’s “greater consensus on nationalisation of Mines and other strategic sectors of the economy” and the Freedom Charter. The ANC has put in place a process on how best the issue of Nationalisation of Mines and other strategic sectors of the economy should be approached. The ANC Youth League is of the view that the response by ANC President to the farmers is not consistent with the resolution of the ANC National General Council and what the National Executive Committee instructed should happen.
Once again, the ANC Youth League calls on all South Africans—black and white, members and leaders of all ANC led alliance structures, all leaders of the ANC and all people concerned about the future of South Africa to read ANC Youth League discussion documents and ANC 52nd National Conference resolutions and engage the issues raised there. This will benefit those who want to engage us and sharpen the perspectives of the ANC Youth League towards the ANC YL 24th National Congress and ANC 53rd National Conference.
Issued by the ANC Youth League National Working Committee
From one of my favourite books of all time: Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.
The first few are new here, but I then
attend append – not sure what I was thinking – to the end of the post “Some light weekend contempt” (August 21 2009) and “Some (more) light weekend contempt” (October 25 2009) – because those quotes are mostly excellent, funny and timeless and I have good reason to believe you haven’t seen them before and I hope they delight you as much as they do me.
On the lead-up to May 18
People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
Otto von Bismarck
Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
George Jean Nathan
In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.
Terry M. Townshend, speech 1940
Whatever politicians, activists and manipulators propose, it is the phlegmatic, indifferent, ingrained electorate which disposes.
Don Aitkin, quoted, 1969
On why I don’t trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability and recall
What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665
There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694
The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see of his behind.
General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell
On democracy’s ability to hide underlying power dynamics – and how it is invariably abused by the powerful
A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.
V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917
Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.
Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912
Parliaments are the great lie of our times.
Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896
(Hmm, this reminds of something):
That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.
Woodrow Wilson, 1917
On whose fault it is, anyway
Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
George Bernard Shaw
Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916
On the (slightly fascist) idea that in as far as democracy allows the views of ‘the average man and women’ to be the dominant view, it is an awful system of government
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
Democracy: a festival of mediocrity.
E. M. Cioran
The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.
Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941
A man may have strong humanitarian and democratic principles, but if he happens to have been brought up as a bath-taking, shirt-changing lover of fresh air, he will have to overcome certain physical repugnances before he can bring himself to put these principles into practice.
Aldous Huxley, Jesting Pilate, 1926
An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.
Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923
Some light weekend contempt
Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.
James Russel Lowell
Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
H.L. Mencken, 1916
An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.
Simon Cameron, 1860
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke – 1769
A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.
A horrible voice, bad breath, and a vulgar manner – the characteristics of a popular politician.
Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.
David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973
Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911
Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.
Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955
What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.
Some (more) light weekend contempt
On the drift to the left in South African policy making:
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
- P. J. O’Rourke
On certain young leaders in South African politics:
Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.
- Thomas Fuller 1732
On the much revered family of North American mythology – and a metaphor for the Ruling Alliance:
Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.
- August Strindberg 1886
On love – and the current state of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance:
The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.
- Henry Haskins 1940
On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?
What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?
- Bertolt Brecht 1928
A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.
- Robert Frost
A woman can look both moral and exciting – if she looks as if it were quite a struggle.
- Edna Ferber 1954
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.
- H.L. Mencken 1956
The rules are that a caller shouts out particular categories of people or people who have undergone a particular experience. When you are called you must leave the dance floor immediately.
There is no hidden political message – apart from the last line … and the silly part of myself that wishes they would all get off the stage - it was just an excuse to use the composite picture I just made and because I thought the poem might charm and delight some of you.
The quotes in the beginning are placed by Ondaatje himself in the original poem:
Elimination Dance (an intermission) by Michael Ondaatje
‘Nothing I’d read prepared me for a body this unfair’
‘Toll we be roten, kan we not rypen’
Those who are allergic to the sea
Those who have resisted depravity
Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs
American rock stars who wear Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweaters
Those who (while visiting a foreign country) have lost the end of a Q-tip in their ear and have been unable to explain their problem
Gentlemen who have placed a microphone beside a naked woman’s stomach after lunch and later, after slowing down the sound considerably, have sold these noises on the open market as whale songs
All actors and poets who spit into the first row while they perform
Men who fear to use an electric lawn-mower feeling they could drowse off and be dragged by it into a swimming pool
Any dinner guest who has consumed the host’s missing contact lens along with the dessert
Any person who has had the following dream. You are in a subway station of a major city. At the far end you see a coffee machine. You put in two coins. The Holy Grail drops down. Then blood pours into the chalice.
Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail
All those belle-lettrists who feel that should have been ‘an urine sample’
Anyone who has had to step into an elevator with all of the Irish Rovers
Those who have filled in a bilingual and confidential pig survey from Statistics Canada. (Une enquệte sur les porcs, strictement confidentielle)
Those who have written to the age old brotherhood of Rosicrucians for a free copy of their book ‘The Mastery of Life’ in order to release the inner consciousness and to experience (in the privacy of the home) momentary flights of consciousness
Those who have accidentally stapled themselves
Anyone who has been penetrated by a mountie
Any university professor who has danced with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Jean Genet
Those who have unintentionally locked themselves within a sleeping bag at a camping goods store
Any woman whose i.u.d. has set off an alarm system at the airport
Those who, after a swim, find the sensation of water dribbling out of their ears erotic
Men who have never touched a whippet
Women who gave up the accordian because of pinched breasts
Those who have pissed out of the back of moving trucks
Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor
Anyone whose knees have been ruined as a result of performing sexual acts in elevators
Those who have so much as contemplated the possibility of creeping up to one’s enemy with two Bic lighters, pressing simultaneously the butane switches— one into each nostril— and so gassing him to death
Literary critics who have swum the Hellespont
Anyone who has been hired as a ‘professional beater’ and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother
Any lover who has gone into a flower shop on Valentine’s Day and asked for clitoris when he meant clematis
Those who have come across their own telephone numbers underneath terse insults or compliments in the washroom of the Bay Street Bus Terminal
Those who have used the following techniques of seduction:
-small talk at a falconry convention
-entering a spa town disguised as Ford Madox Ford
-making erotic rotations of the pelvis, backstage, during the storm scene of King Lear
-underlining suggestive phrases in the prefaces of Joseph Conrad
Anyone who has testified as a character witness for a dog in a court of law
Any writer who has been photographed for the jacket of a book in one of the following poses: sitting in the back of a 1956 Dodge with two roosters; in a tuxedo with the Sydney Opera House in the distance; studying the vanishing point on a jar of Dutch Cleanser; against a gravestone with dramatic back lighting; with a false nose on; in the vicinity of Macchu Pichu; or sitting in a study and looking intensely at one’s own book
The person who borrowed my Martin Beck thriller, read it in a sauna which melted the glue off the spine so the pages drifted to the floor, stapled them together and returned the book, thinking I wouldn’t notice
Any person who has burst into tears at the Liquor Control Board
Anyone with pain
Two startling contributions to the raging race debate – from below and slightly behind, so to speak.
White (male) drivers
The first is a letter to the editor of the increasingly excellent Business Day from one Oscar Mosito in Rosslyn
His issue is with white male drivers.
What is most endearing about Mr Mosito’s letter is his calm restraint that profoundly fails to hide his seething stew of road rage with a racial twist (or perhaps race rage on the twisted road – or twisted rage in the race … no, that’s enough … sorry.)
“For years since the dawn of democracy,” Oscar calmly begins “I have observed the behaviour of white (male) drivers on our roads, particularly on the freeway.”
“I am not sure if I should call it frustration by white people and their difficulty in accepting that black people are in power,” he continues “… or whether it is caused by the fact the Democratic Alliance is not opposition enough to defeat the African National Congress in elections, but there is a lot of frustration in most white male drivers. It is directed towards taxi drivers or our leaders …”
There follows a delightfully unconscious diatribe against white male (drivers) not respecting black political leadership, driving in the yellow line to prevent noble taxi drivers getting past on the inside lane (?) and continuously showing disrespect to “ministers, MECs, the deputy president or the president himself.”
I have even noticed that every time they see a black person driving a luxury car, they give him a certain kind of look, but when the same black person is in a taxi, they hardly look. So, it is my plea for all white drivers who do not want to accept change to respect our leaders, whether on the road, boardroom or in sports. It’s time you accepted change … I just hope that next time you see a convoy of BMWs, you give way and know that those are your leaders … Please set a good example for your innocent children.
It is so perfect I fear to say anything more in case I break its spell. Let’s just point out the innocence of the “convoy of BMWs” … which made me think for a while that it was a DA hoax, but then the rest convinced me otherwise … but maybe it’s still a hoax … I dunno? Maybe I am naive, maybe I am too hopeful …
In the hope that this is not a hoax (and that Oscar is a real black man and not a clever white racist trying to cause trouble) I would just like to take this opportunity to agree with him.
The white male drivers that I encounter on the roads of Cape Town are ignorant, unreasonable, arrogant, entitled oafs that I feel deeply homicidal towards.
But then so are the white women.
And the coloured men? Don’t even start me.
Oh, yeah and the black men and the coloured women and the black women … I told you, don’t get me started!
And the occasional Indians – of all genders – that mistakenly find their way here … where did they buy their licences, I ask you?
Okay, there – I feel better now.
Cape Town drivers are enough to get the blood pumping. They are a wonderful example of multi-ethnic unity – they all drive like Oscar’s very own vision of white males.
Catch the full text of Oscar’s spirited letter here.
The other example is even more delightful.
“Do not be friends with white people – they will Satinise you”
(My spell check keeps trying to change that to “Sanitise” – which is a racist little wordplay joke in itself.)
But anyway …
Stalwart Sadtu (South African Democratic Teachers Union) Chairperson Moss Senye who is also the principal of Meadowlands High, addressing 1000 teachers in Soweto in the lead-up to his trial for assaulting a 17 year old pupil said (and I pull it all out of this Sowetan article but I indicate how I have stitched it together with the dot … dot … dot):
Whether Barbara (Creecy) likes it or not, we will have our meetings. Despite Barbara, we will vote for the ANC during the elections and they will remove her. Let us not embrace satanic people. Down with Satanism. You cannot be friends with white people, they will Satanise you …The bank called and asked when I would pay for my car. I cannot pay and I do not care. They can repossess it. We must show strength as a region. Barbara is trying to destroy us. Angie (Motshekga tried and now she is gone. Mary (Metcalfe) tried and now she has vanished. People have tried to destroy the union and failed. At no stage should you be friends with white people, they will satanise you … Our region has 10,000 members and only 75 of them are white. This is a non-racial union. We welcome everyone. We have never had a problem with Indian teachers. They have always been our members. There are two white learners at Meadowlands High. Barbara is not happy about this. She wants them to go to Parktown and other schools in the suburbs.
Again, what could I add to that that would make it any more hilarious and horrifying than it already is?