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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.
(A quick and lightweight aside on a Sunday morning … not part of the ‘deep blue’ series, but bleak enough – I wouldn’t want to disappoint anybody.)
Mandela ailing in the last few days before Mangaung?
Perhaps the universe does have a sense of humour; one that delights in casual cruelties, sneering irony and a deep, dark and impenetrable sarcasm.
Are we facing the death of the universally beloved founder of the (now) great teetering edifice of the South African democracy just as the ANC elects Jacob Zuma for a second term as president?
Just because it is chance and random does not mean that we are not compelled, by out basic humanity, to seek hidden connections and meanings in such coincidence … or rather such impending coincidences.
When the gods smite the earth with earthquakes and floods and drought (as they are regularly wont to do), representatives of those gods have forever and always said through their thin lips: “Well, what do you think? If you behave like this of course he is going to be furious. Bring me a virgin and sharp knife, quickly!”
I can imagine the voluptuaries in the halls of the African National Congress (or at least those halls that the hoi polloi don’t get to see – where real power is bought and sold and bought again), wiping their plump, greasy hands as they push suddenly away from the laden centenary celebration tables, their sweaty faces shocked, goose liver shiny lips pursed in a meaty sphincter: “oh …. my … god!”
(Yes, yes, I know that in amongst the many thousands of Nkandla beneficiaries (and friends and family), assassins, warlords, desperately confused hoi polloi, drivers of large gleaming cars, meeting-chair-breakers, confused little old ladies who had meant to go to the church next door, rent-a-crowd members … and those who are only there for the tshirts and braai, there are several good people fighting the good fight, making famous last stands and that sort of thing. So I obviously don’t mean you have any goose fat to wipe off your faces or that you have plump, grasping little hands … that’s those others, at the top-table – who have spent more on liposuction in the last 5 years than you will earn in your lifetime – no, don’t get up, we know who you are. Glad to have cleared that up.)
The point is that it is going to be impossible not to think of Mandela’s death as some kind of inevitable yin to Mangaung’s yang (it works the other way around too.)
A slaughter of a whole reed dance of virgins will not appease these gods (which are nothing more than our ape brain need to impute narrative to randomness) but might make a few supporters of the Traditional Courts Bill feel pious.
To ridiculously (and messily) extend the religious metaphor: what god would pop snake or stones into our trusting mouths, open to receive meat and bread?
The trickster/Pan/Loki would do precisely that, just as he/she would take Mandela with the one hand and give us the Nkandla legacy cast in military grade bunker cement with the other.
Okay, now I am ready to read the Sunday papers.
I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.
The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.
In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.
I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.
Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.
(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at email@example.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)
If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy - fill your boots! “
He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.
I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.
He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.
This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.
He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.
Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was looking scary.
And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.
I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.
I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.
Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.
I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.
President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.
Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.
The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism
I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.
For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.
At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.
The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.
It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.
This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.
Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.
Helen Zille also rises
My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language, is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.
Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.
Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes
I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.
There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.
The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.
Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?
I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.
The cacophony – let it stop!!
It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.
I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’ or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.
It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.
I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.
Real debates about societal problems and ways of fixing them have little to do with elections – which of necessity appeal to the most base and common human drives.
What we have is a Hallmark Hell of platitudes, populism, red herrings and whining.
Spare a thought for those few politicians for whom the behaviour required to win elections is so abhorrent that they develop peculiar lines on their faces that can only have been etched by sickly smiles designed to disguise disgust.
It seems like a gift from the comic gods that the Toilet Saga has become central to this election.
Well for ‘relief’ (you will see in a moment how that joke works in relation to the DA/ANC spat) from the elections and other bodily discomforts here is one of the finest comic sketches ever to see the stage.
Rowan Atkinson, masterfully combining a sort of pre-Mr Bean goofy prissiness with English reserve plays The Devil welcoming the recent recruits to hell.
Two asides before you click on the link:
- first, be warned that gentle digs at “the French”, “the Germans”, Christians, lawyers and atheists could, in cases of extreme sensitivity, cause offence;
- second, I attach the text of the skit below the video, because this is the first time I have embedded a link to YouTube and I have elsewhere experienced the irritation of such links not working for some arcane YouTube management or copyright protection related reason – but it is Atkinson’s delivery that makes it so funny, so watch the video if you can.
The Devil’s Welcoming Speech
Ah hello! It’s nice to see you all here. As the more perceptive of you have probably realised by now, this is Hell, and I am the Devil, good evening, but you can call me Toby, if you like. We try to keep things informal here, as well as infernal. That’s just a little joke of mine. I tell it every time.
Now, you’re all here for….. Eternity! Ooh, which I hardly need tell you is a heck of a long time, so you’ll all get to know each other pretty well by the end.
But for now I’m going to have to split you up in groups.
Will You Stop Screaming!
Now, murderers? Murderers over here, please, thank you. Looters and Pillagers over there. Thieves, if you could join them, and Lawyers, you’re in that lot too.
Fornicators – if you could step forward? My God, there are a lot of you! Could I split you up into Adulterers and the rest? Male adulterers, if you could just form a line in front of that small Guillotine in the corner.
Em… The French, are you here? If you would just like to come down here with the Germans. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about.
Okay, atheists? Atheists over here please. You must be feeling a right bunch of Nitwits. Never mind.
And finally, Christians. Christians? Ah, yes, I’m sorry but I’m afraid the Jews were right. If you would come down here, that would be really fine.
Okay! Right, well are there any questions? Yes. No, I’m afraid there aren’t any toilets. If you read your Bible, you might have seen that it was damnation without relief, so if you did not go before you came, then I’m afraid you’re not going to enjoy yourself very much, but then I believe that’s the idea.
Okay. Well, it’s over to you, Adolf! And I’ll catch you all later at the barbecue. Bye!
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
For a brief time in the late 1980′s I had occasion to spend some time with Chris Hani, then Chief of Staff of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe and Secretary General of the South African Communist Party.
I was working for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) and a meeting between the ANC’s military and the South African Defence Force seemed like a natural extension and deepening of the work IDASA had done in putting the white establishment in contact with the ANC.
I met Chris several times in Lusaka where we prepared the agenda – and then, obviously, at the conference and several times afterwards.
He was an interesting guy – serious, charming and slightly too ready to tell me the story of how he travelled, through the underground, into danger, with Pliny, Virgil and Shakespeare in his knapsack … I’m not perfectly sure of the actual authors and titles of the classics he carried, but the point was that he mentioned, more than once, that he did so.
I was already aware in those days of the depth of murderous gangsterism that had enveloped Joe Modise’s leadership of MK – a trend and tendency he took with him into Mandela’s first cabinet and helped set the ANC’s elite on the course for the destination it has reached.
Chris was the great hope for cleaning up Modise’s mess and he was also seen as an antidote to Thabo Mbeki’s technocratic shuttle-diplomacy.
I became aware while organising the conference that some ANC strategists were using the opportunity to show Chris Hani was just as charming and able to talk to whites as Mbeki.
I asked him, in my naivety, about the rumours that he and Mbeki were competitors. He convincingly, to my ears, pooh-poohed the idea saying that he and Thabo were like a tag team, each with his own strengths, but united in the identical goal – and further, he claimed, they were good friends as well.
I had no special intelligence to validate (or otherwise) this claim. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they would have been the A-Team of the post Mandela administration, balancing each other’s faults, playing to each other’s strengths. I know it’s unlikely, but it is difficult not to dream of how things might have been.
As it happened Chris was almost disturbingly charming and persuasive at the conference.
We only managed to get ex-SADF and Bantustan leaders as well as a whole lot of shady and not so shady military and arms dealer types on the domestic delegation.
I have reason to suspect that I might have brought the running dogs of the global arms trade along with that delegation and I often shudder at the thought that I might have played a role in helping the global arms corporations bury their deadly wasp eggs deep into the ANC, later to hatch and gorge themselves just carefully enough so that the host stays alive … but I comfort myself with the fact that Joe Modise had long since sold his and the ANC’s soul to the worst and most rapacious branch of global capitalism.
I remember watching Chris holding forth late one night; he stood behind two seated and coyly smiling white men with thick rugby players necks – there is a reason stereotypes are stereotypes! Chris had a hand on each of their shoulders and he was rubbing them as he spoke with languid and swelling rhythms, about the future of non-racialism and shared patriotism that awaited us.
The big white guys were in love; it gleamed out of their teary eyes and Chris had his head back and eyes closed like he was conducting an exorcism.
I don’t know if Chris Hani would have made a difference if he had lived.
Only a precious few have managed to resist the seemingly irresistible pull towards corruption and greed. You watch all of your friends and comrades become part of that system (the same system that laid its eggs in the ANC that would later hatch into the Arms Scandal and worse), the memory of the ideals that drove you become vague … everyone else is doing it, what is the point in me hanging on while they are all busy with the business of securing themselves for life?
It was Tokyo Sexwale who wept beside Chris Hani’s body on 10th April 1993 outside the house in Boksburg. There was something about Chris that reminds me of Tokyo Sexwale (who I do not know personally but seems to exude a similar charisma that makes one think of a suspiciously charming pirate).
Reading Mandy Wiener’s Killing Kebble over the weekend and getting the insight provided by Fikile Mbalula flattening a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue in Kebble’s home … Mbalula and his ANC Youth League comrades treating the servants with extreme arrogance, trashing the house like spoiled children … it is difficult not to be filled with a sense of loss and longing.
9 18 (oops) years old when I sat with Chris Hani in Lusaka planning how best to drive wedges into Apartheid’s army and win any potential enemies to our side.
I don’t know for sure what he would have thought of this thrust to catapult the “new generation” of leadership into power in 2012 – including, horrifyingly, Fikile Mbalula for Secretary General.
But I suspect he would have drawn the line here. The ANC is not yet in the hands of Mbalula and his cronies – who are so reminiscent of Joe Modise, only slightly more refined.
There have always been heroes in the liberation movement who fought the tendency towards cronyism and rent-seeking abuse. I thought Chris Hani was in the process of becoming one of those when I worked with him in the late 80′s.
Like James Dean and Jesus Christ, Chris Hani’s virtues are frozen as an historical artefact.
There is a part of me that is relieved he will never be tried and found wanting.
(Note: my friend the fabulous artist Isabel Thompson helped organise that conference and my fellow Bruce Springsteen fan and mentor to so many of us Gavin Evans took the pics and posted them on facebook which is where I found them.)
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
Has anything changed?
The guy in the middle is the ANC and his lying entreaties are addressed to Cosatu and the SACP while his real passion – and the furtive fumbling in the dark – are with business, global and domestic.
I commissioned that cartoon in 1999 and Cathy Quickfall did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.
In the intervening 11 years I have used this same cartoon on several occasions (here’s one) to ask whether the game has changed.
I believe this is still the game: the ANC’s vacillation between a “left” agenda (consisting of a combination of growing state welfare, increasing effective taxation on the wealthy and expanded intervention into shaping the economy’s trajectory) versus the promise (made more strongly in private) to global and local capital that it’s rights to property and the retention of the large share of profits are inviolate.
All governments are faced with a similar dilemma, but it is a peculiarly South African phenomenon that the “left” agenda is married to the ruling party through the formal institution of the Ruling Alliance and that the political choices have, for clear historical and structural reasons, been cast in ‘racial’ as opposed to ‘class’ terms.
The cartoon as constructed worked perfectly well for the end of the Mandela era as well as the whole of the Mbeki era – even if, in typical soap opera fashion, the relationships became so complicated and entagled that the essential nature of the clandestine affair became difficult to percieve.
The analytical challenge for myself for 2011 will be to establish whether it holds true today.
There are indicators, including vaguely in the January the 8th statement and government murmurings about the New Growth Path, that hint that the grand French style affair might be coming to an end.
The rise of Jacob Zuma was, in part, the result of a tactical manoeuvre by Cosatu and the SACP to stop the deepening and elaboration of the affair between the ANC and some of the uglier strands of global capitalism.
The strategy seemed to fail when the Zuma administration appeared initially to be all about continuity of Mbeki’s economic policies combined with replacing his BEE beneficiaries with the Nkandla Crew – the worst of both worlds.
I am starting to suspect that a combination of the strategic choices that have been forced on Zuma (by manoeuvrings to his right) and the absolute imperative that the ANC increase delivery to the poorest South Africans (who are the majority of voters) bring us closer to the breaking of the triangle that the cartoon represents than we have been since 1994.
I will continue to gnaw at the bones of this question in this blog and I welcome any contribution you might make to this or any other discussion that takes place here.
My sister was a famous model and in that capacity was invited to judge the Miss World competition at Sun City in 1995.
She asked me to accompany her as her official partner for a whole weekend of glitzy celebration and judging.
The event was interesting to me for a number of different reasons but the only aspect that might apply to a column on politics and investment risk is the astonishing effect that being treated as a celebrity can have on one’s moral and intellectual soul.
I had been living alone on a farm in the Southern Cape for 5 years when Josie invited me to accompany her to the competition.
I had spent the 1980′s involved in “the struggle” in various capacities. By 1990 I’d had enough and I left politics and my myriad comrades and friends as they got on with the business of negotiating the peace and then running the country.
Of course I had some contact from afar with previous friends, but those who had moved into the ethereal realms of Mandela’s first cabinet seemed to have been lifted body and soul out of the social networks they had previously occupied .
I would only meet again those of my old friends who had become senior politicians in government a year and a half after the Miss World competition when I returned to ‘civilisation’ to become a father and take up a permanent position as a political analyst for a Cape Town based investment broker.
At the Miss World competition we stayed in the The Palace of the Lost City at Sun City (a big step for me because we had spent the 1980′s promoting the boycott of the resort that was built in the then bantustan of Bophuthatswana).
The point I wanted to make about all of this is that from early morning to late at night the organisers of the event and the hotel treated me as if I was a celebrity. It was a peculiar but not altogether unpleasant experience. I couldn’t walk out of my room without a dapper assistant type person reaching for my arm to accompany me to waiting vehicles or parties of fabulously beautiful women sipping at drinks.
Every second of the day there was someone right beside me nodding with interest at everything I said and did. Everything was paid for. It was like being in a dream where the lights swirl around you and you are the centre of the attention of some vast organisation of doormen, waiters and compliant and beautiful people.
An air-conditioned limousine (there really is such a thing – it is not just a cliché in bad spy novels) delivered me to Jan Smuts airport for my trip back to the farm after the celebrations were finally over.
What I remember most vividly about the whole weekend was standing alone with my bag just in the entrance to the airport.
“Hello!” I might have thought shrilly to myself . “Excuse me? I’m here – where the hell is everybody?”
Two years later I met again, mostly in their formal capacities, my previous friends who had become ministers and deputy ministers, ambassadors and persons of similar august standing in society.
I was never shocked and surprised at the grandiosity and extraordinary pomposity most of them came to exhibit.
I have since sat around tables with men I had previously watched fight Apartheid police with their fists and feet and watched as they lean back from the table, eyes closed, their voices drawling as their massive new brains formulate positions that keep all of those present silent as the great man speaks.
I have sat with ambassadors at formal dinners where the guest are subjected to a reading by the said ambassador of her extremely bad poetry. We all sit in silence and most nod in awed approval.
This is a different world they inhabit.
Their whole lives, every moment of the waking day, is spent surrounded by a system that takes them extremely seriously. They travel first class and they are met at the plane by luxury vehicles driven by people trained to give the impression that this is the most precious cargo they have ever carried.
Everyone they interact with confirms the lived reality that they are, in fact, a different kind of person: cleverer, more interesting and more valuable.
There is often a faux gentleness and compassion that goes along with this kind of celebrity. When someone with whom you might once have thrown stones at the police as you dodged through billowing clouds of tear gas puts her hand on your arm and looks into your eyes and says “we really appreciate the work you are doing” you don’t screw up your face and ask “what work?” You just nod.
I believe there is something intrinsically harmful to ourselves and our society in the way we elevate our politicians. I recommend taking every opportunity to deflate the individuals, prick the bubble that we have surrounded them with.
I do not think it is inevitable that politicians, ministers or even super models become pompous wind bags but I can name very few who have escaped the corroding effects of celebrity and power.
I still see Jeremy Cronin flying with real people on the plane and chatting like a normal human being (what will we do if that stalwart ever goes over to the dark side?)
And my lovely sister Josie seems to have escaped with her humility and charm intact – although I rather suspect that is because even as whole restaurants full of New Yorkers would break into spontaneous applause as she entered in the 1980′s she never quite lost the sense that there had been some huge and embarrassing mistake – one she was just too polite and sweet to correct.
*from the poem: Heron Rex by Michael Ondaatje in The Cinnamon Peeler – Selected Poems – 1989 … my long time favourite collection of poetry.
Commentators and politicians are outdoing themselves announcing either the end or the permanence of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance.
This is Jacob Zuma on the subject – at the Kwazulu-Natal ANC General Council on Friday:
I have read so many alliance obituaries. If leaders express their views, people think that we are fighting … The alliance will be with us for a very long time. (Catch that here)
And this is my (humble) opinion on the subject:
This strike - as a culmination of other things but also in and of itself – is the death knell for the ruling alliance. (Catch that here)
This business about claiming that the alliance is about to break or will last until the Second Coming is something of a secret code for insiders in the political analysis business. “Insiders” are smugly convinced that the tripartite alliance benefits its constituent elements and these constituents will therefore never leave – and we love to use the analogy of a marriage where the couple fights endlessly but is bound by children, finances and habit so tightly that the partners will be together until death parts them.* I discuss some of the ties that bind here.
“Outsiders” – including those who have never belonged to any of the organisations concerned, as well as foreigners and supporters of parliamentary opposition parties – listen to the noise coming out of ‘the alliance’ and they take the noise-makers at their word: the alliance is heading for the rocks; it is obvious to anyone with eyes and ears.
The “outsiders” have it.
Philosophically, I am one of those who believes we are what we do. Thus, it is not what Zuma, or Malema or Nzimande or Vavi claim, it is what they, and their organisations, do that counts.
The ruling alliance is not, primarily, a name. It is a description of a shared history, set of values and, most importantly, an accepted set of policies and an agreed upon process for deciding about such policies; and is also the formal forums and organisational structures through which such decisions are taken and implemented.
The only thing of significance that “the ruling alliance” did was throw Mbeki out of office and replace him with Jacob Zuma. Everything that has happened since needs to be seen through the “you are what you do” prism. The constituent organisations have done nothing together except violently disagree, actively try to undermine each other (and each other’s leadership ) – and they have agreed upon nothing and done nothing in concert.
Except for the media appeals tribunal (catch my criticism of Jeremy Cronin’s defence of that here) which, bizarrely, is the single thing that the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have agreed upon – although Cosatu is wavering even on this as the damage done by the public sector wage strike to their relationship with the ANC deepens and intensifies.
It is as if they are saying: “We (as ‘the alliance’) have nothing to offer – but we have a plan to slap anyone down who point that out.” Frankly, I am not surprised.
* (note) What the “Insiders” are actually referring to is a sense of identity invested in the struggle against Apartheid under the broad leadership of the ANC and, crucially, that traces its ideological lineage through to the “Congress Movement” – from the United Democratic Front, the Natal Indian Congress, South African Congress of Trade Unions, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of Democrats, the Transvaal Indian Congress and the African National Congress.
(Hmm, I am adding this half an hour after posting the above, just to make myself as clear as I am able, and in case anyone missed the point: If the structures don’t exist, if the decisions are not taken or implemented, if there is real and intense conflict over policy then ‘the alliance’ has already ended – and it makes no difference what the various leaders and commentators say. This is the de facto situation, even if it is still possible to argue that, de jure, the alliance continues on and on.)
Just when all hope flees, as the last good politician still within government leaves his/her post to join the feeding frenzy and as the last decent officials trying to do a public service throw up their hands in disgust; and as the striking workers blockade the last functional HIV/AIDS clinic and trash the streets again; and as the broken bits of the Ruling Alliance go for the kill in their eye gouging, groin stamping gutter fight – just as all hope flees, whose silhouette is it that appears, backlit and heroic, flying in low over the horizon?
Is it a plane?
Is it a bird?
No, it’s … hmm, I’m not really sure.
When things are going as badly wrong as they are going for us, the person to look out for is the one who seems to have been sent by history itself as the solution to all of our problems.
I am not suggesting, as my old Granny used to say: don’t worry, cometh the moment, cometh the man or all’s well that ends well. I am suggesting the very opposite.
This is more of a warning to be careful about decisions we make when we are desperate than it is anything else.
Societies, political parties and whole nations are uniquely vulnerable at times like these. Our desperate need is for someone who can raise an anti-corruption army, is prepared to control the unions, able to fix service delivery and able to make the difficult decisions that will allow job rich economic growth.
The darker and more dire things become – and goodness knows they are as dark and dire as anyone can remember – the stronger our wish fulfilment drive becomes.
Where is the good-looking one, with the strong jaw and the easy, comforting manner, and the very firm but gentle eye and the plan and the promise and the words – and the record, or at least one you can, in your desperation, convince yourself of?
This is the moment in which nice Germans welcomed Adolf Hitler and Spaniards General Franco. King Constantine II of Greece inducted the awful “Regime of the Colonels” in 1967 saying he was “certain they had acted in order to save the country” and there was a (brief) Argentinian sigh of relief when Brigadier-General Jorge Videla overthrew the execrable, incompetent and authoritarian regime of “Evita” – as popular culture has dubbed Isabel Martínez de Perón.
I am not suggesting that a fascist opportunist and criminal is about to present him or herself as the saviour from our woes – or that things are so bad that we risk losing our judgement and welcoming him/her into the stockade. Well, not yet.
But explicitly and implicitly various political factions and individuals have presented themselves as alternatives, and the solution to our current problems.
There’s Zwelinzima Vavi – and whatever kind of workerist paradise he represents – who heroically criticised the media appeals tribunal and has laid about himself with a stout cudgel at all the worst of the cabinet ministers and officials trying to stuff the last tasty bits of the family roast into their distended bellies. And he’s available next year.
Deputy Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula suggested (of criminals) we should “shoot the bastards!” and in so doing presents a kind of law-and-order (and anti-communist) alternative, clearly being supported by the ANC Youth League and tenderpreneurs everywhere.
Lindiwe Sisulu dresses nicely and would be excellent if we ever panicked enough to need a kind of Cleopatra/Boadicea empress to save us.
Tokyo Sexwale is getting the kind of press that suggests he is an effective anti-corruption campaigner and an excellent Minister of Human Settlements i.e. he’s clean and gives good service delivery – and he’s bright, presentable, charming, good-looking and available – very available.
(This added as an afterthought: don’t discount Kgalema Motlanthe as a sort of leftish compromise that we have grown used to and, obviously, Mathews Phosa with his charming Afrikaans poetry and his friendly demeanour and his market friendly comments and his bitter struggle with ANC leader and communist Gwede Mantashe. Also consider a scenario, one I discuss elsewhere, where none of the contending factions achieves dominance and everyone agrees to stick with the burdensome incumbent … all is still possible.)
The National General Council of the African National Congress (to be held in Durban from 20 – 24 September) will reveal the main factions and their key representatives for leadership. The last NGC resulted in a rebellion against Mbeki and foretold his rout at Polokwane. This one is likely to be as instructive.
The point I wish to make here is a simple one. Those who appear to offer solutions must be judged in terms of who they are, what they have done and what they really represent. Just because we are in trouble does not mean we can afford to lose our critical faculties. My long gone Granny would have had two more things to say on the subject: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, and don’t jump from the frying pan into the fire.
* The title of this post comes from the glorious “Thunder Road” by the inimitable Bruce Springsteen (it doesn’t really fit the story … but I really love the song:
You can hide `neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a saviour to rise from these streets
Well now Im no hero
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
I am going to have to keep a straight face as I do this.
I am not unaware that “sex sells” – and I come from a political tradition that is endlessly anxious about the depiction of women’s bodies and about whose cause is being served by that depiction – but here goes …
The latest issue of GQ Magazine carries – amongst many interesting and stimulating articles and photographs – my thoughts on the Fifa World Cup. What you might find interesting is that I wrote it before the event – but the magazine has only now hit the market. I think I got it right … but you decide for yourself.
(Thanks to that excellent editor and friend Craig Tyson for the various permissions to republish this here. So go and buy the magazine – it is an interesting read).
Click on the image of the cover to link to the article.
Take a look-see at the names that are linked in Evelyn Groenink’s excellent story about IT billionaire Robert Gumede’s wedding to Dr Portia Mkhize in Nelspruit last weekend.
Ignore if you can the author’s articulate disgust at the complacent and self-satisfied comrade billionaires and their squeezes grunting at the golden trough while Leandra burns.
Think instead of the names she links, almost as an aside: Mathews Phosa, Tokyo Sexwale, Julius Malema, Fikile Mbalula and then outwards into realms more obviously dark and filled with foreboding.
It’s an interesting social calendar piece that pushes the boundaries of the genre. Catch it here.