Ja, ja, Yahya

Gambia’s president, who once vowed to rule for a billion years, was voted out of power today shortly before his billionth birthday. Here’s something I wrote six years ago.

……

I once made the mistake of agreeing to work for a Dutchman – a real one, from Holland – who made millions out of a project which on the surface appeared designed to help develop impoverished African countries but which turned out to be aimed more at developing his own offshore bank accounts.

It was through this piece of white Eurotrash that I met His Excellency President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, honorary admiral in the Nebraskan navy, defender of the constitution and ruler of Gambia.

For those who may not know where Gambia is – which is understandable given its size – I can only describe it in geo-biological terms. If Senegal were a woman, Gambia would be her vagina. It’s a weird sausage of a country consisting of little more than 300kms of river banks and a million semi-destitute mango sellers.

Gambia is a popular destination for sex tourists. They come from all over. Germany, England, America. The men spend their evenings drinking gin and tonics, decanting their colostomy bags and pawing well-maintained, reasonably priced hookers.

I’d heard about the bumsters – strapping Rastas who hang about the beach offering their services to foreign visitors. This could mean anything from tour guiding  to sado-masochistic role-playing involving 200kg dominatrixes from Dortrecht.

The European women are fat and ugly. They spend their evenings plying their hook-ups with free drinks until the bars close, then Kunte Kinte has to go back to the B&B and perform his lucrative but highly unenviable duty.

The morning I had to shoot an interview with President Jammeh came after a long night of playing pool against a bar full of local hustlers. The night was hot. The Julbrews were cold. I was on top form. Nothing could put me off, not even coconuts crashing through the thatched roof and ricochetting off the table.

I was less on form the next day. After setting up the video equipment inside State House, I stood there sweating like a cornered rat,  fighting off the dry heaves and hoping to god I wouldn’t vomit on the red carpet. The president kept us waiting for two hours.

Earlier I had stared into the terrible maw of a Banjul jail after armed guards caught me filming in the grounds. I don’t know why I risked it. The place was rubbish. Paint peeling from the walls. Gardens overgrown with weeds. Dogs barking at me in Wolof.

By the time Jammeh made his appearance, my central nervous system was shot to hell. He cut an impressive figure, with the blackness of his face contrasting with his beautiful white dress. It played havoc with my attempts to get a white balance.

My second worst moment came when I had to lean over him to attach the microphone to his collar. I stank of beer and had to breathe through my eyes. Some Muslim leaders would have had me executed on the spot.

My worst moment came when I tripped over one of the cables. If I hadn’t moved fast, I would still be in Mile Two Prison. First the British colonise their country and sell them into slavery, then I come along and kill their leader with an 800w tungsten light.

The man is barking mad, of course. He won’t allow men to play football in the rural areas during the rainy season, saying they should be farming instead. He claims to have found a herbal cure for HIV/Aids and recently rounded up hundreds of “witches” and made them drink poison. He has said he would cut off the heads of homosexuals and if you didn’t believe in God you were lower than a pig. Journalists disappear and critics are jailed.

Speaking about next year’s elections, Jammeh said: “Come 2011, whether you vote for me or not, I will win.” That’s the spirit, Yahya. You’re a credit to the continent.

  • That was then and this is now. To his credit, Jammeh has conceded defeat  to Adama Barrow. Go Gambia.

    _92804404_ap_jammeh

The kids are all riot

There are certain phrases one hears when young that, decades later, still have the capacity to chill one to the bone.

One of them is, “Bend over.” It’s not what you might think. I have never encountered a Catholic priest, nor was there an Uncle Pervy in my family. I have been frisked and body-searched a couple of times, sure, but that’s when I was older and the officers were kind enough to keep the search external.

The instruction to bend over came, instead, from the headmaster of my high school. A cross between the Marquis de Sade and Genghis Khan, he was a firm believer in the principles of democracy. Not, obviously, to the extent he believed that black people should be given the vote. But certainly he felt his sheltered white charges deserved the right to choose the cane with which they’d prefer to be whipped. Not being whipped at all wasn’t among the options.

There were four canes he kept behind his door. Probably inside a hollowed out rhino’s foot. They ranged from thin to thick, much like my classmates. The thinnest stung like buggery – not, as we have established, that I know what buggery feels like – while the thickest was more of a blunt trauma experience. Both left bleeding welts. Since this wasn’t a private school, none of us particularly cared about the aesthetic appearance of our bottoms. This was a government school. We were discouraged from exploring our sensitive sides, instead being shamed and bullied into playing the apex homoerotic sport of rugby. I can say this without fear because even homosexuals think the Springboks play like a bunch of gaylords.

But a mere lashing wasn’t enough for the Marquis. Upon entering his inner sanctum – that would be his office, not his orifice – he would briefly list the charges. Homework not done. Cheating in class. Hair too long. Legs too short. As far as kangaroo courts go, we had more chance of getting justice were an actual kangaroo in charge.

Bending over for one’s beating wasn’t nearly enough to slake Genghis’s insatiable hunger to punish the young. One was also expected to put one’s head beneath his desk. The reflexive straightening up upon each lash meant a righteous crack on the back of the nut.

Ah, yes. I’m very proud of my alma mater. St Bastard’s in Durban North produced a solid crop of brain-damaged sado-masochists with low self esteem, many of whom went on to carve out careers in journalism. More bludgeon than carve, to be honest.

Then, just as things were about to fall apart, that rough beast Democracy, its hour come around at last, slouched into Pretoria to be born. The National Party government had by then instructed white schools to select one of four models, A, B, C or D. Almost all opted for C, semi-autonomous with additional funding from parents and alumni.

The ANC did away with the classification, but whenever white people come across a functioning government school, they nod and whisper, “Must be model C. Bet the principal’s one of us.”

A newspaper headline caught my eye this week. It said, “Top Limpopo school goes to the dogs.” When I was a bright-eyed newshound at the peak of my bacchanalian powers, the low-slung snarling alcoholics on the subs desk were friends of neither cliché nor idiom. A headline of that ilk, had they to write it, would almost certainly have led into a story about a dog school.

I bought the paper on the strength of this headline because I believe dogs should go to school. In the foreseeable future, the smart people of Earth will be living on other planets in our solar system under the gentle but firm hand of Emperor Musk. Intelligent dogs, being smarter than stupid humans, will have to take charge. But they do need a certain amount of schooling first. Their table manners are atrocious and their driving skills even worse. Their unpleasant butt-sniffing, territory-marking habits also need work. What do I care, though? I’ll be on the sunny side of Uranus by then.

Returning to the newspaper and its lazy headline. The metaphorical dogs are in fact pupils at the once exalted Settlers Agricultural High School. They appear to have turned rogue.

Raymond Read, an old boy, warned his former classmates against visiting the school. “There’s barely anything left to see,” he cried. “You’ll just end up ruining your day.”

Some parents have begun pulling their kids out, saying the former model C school is awash in sex, drugs and alcohol. This sounds like the best school ever. Not for me, obviously. I wouldn’t want anything to do with sex, drugs or alcohol if it meant having to also write exams. Or even wear a tie.

The fees are are around R30 000 a year. Presumably the school governing body came to this figure after factoring in the cost of rehab and childbirth. Oh, wait. There is no governing body. They disbanded. This is also good news. Words like ‘governing’ harsh any kid’s mellow.

The school, and indeed the town itself, might never have existed had it not been for Lord Alfred Milner’s rural settlement policy after the Anglo-Boer war. You spoke English and wanted a farm, Uncle Alfred would give you one. Thanks to you and your ilk, Alf, we’re the ones who now have to bear the brunt of Julius Malema’s orchestrated outrage.

Founded in 1969, Settlers was the only English medium high school in the province offering agriculture as a subject. Along, presumably, with your bog-standard Eurocentric studies underpinned by hollow doctrines of imperialism and empire.

The school badge has an owl sitting on a plough, symbolizing the importance of ensuring that birds also do their share of work around the place. Their motto – “non nobis sed posteris” – means “Get off your arse and stop being a nobhead”.

There’s not much information on the town. An advert for Settler’s Service Station says, “Purchasing a tractor is not a matter to be taken lightly.” It’s what I’ve been telling people for years but they just laugh and walk away. Sometimes they run.

There are four residences accommodating just over 400 boys and girls “in a safe rural environment”. This must be one of the few places in South Africa where it’s safer to be in the rural environment than on the school grounds.

“We try to create an atmosphere of a home away from home,” warbles their website. “Learners are encouraged to bring their own colourful duvets and pillows and even bright curtains.” Increasingly, learners are encouraged to bring their own Rizla papers, vodka and KY Jelly. Progress is a marvel to behold.

According to the newspaper, some pupils are unhappy with the anarchy that has been unleashed at their school. We prayed for anarchy at ours. The only thing that stopped us from running amok was the threat of a beating and expulsion. All threats appear to have been lifted at Settlers Agricultural High and Lord of the Flies is playing out in real time.

The reporter found “algae-infested showers, damp walls and broken windows and doors”. Sounds like my house. Besides, this is Limpopo. It’s astounding that anything still has doors or windows. Girls are also having sex in their dorms. Not, as you’d expect, with each other, but with boys. I imagine this constitutes part of their biology practical.

One parent said she noticed scars on her Grade 10 son’s back. He and a few of his mates were taken to the soccer field one night and whipped with belts by a posse of matrics. This is shocking. They have a soccer field? At an agricultural school? What the hell happened to rugby? No wonder the Springboks … let me not.

One girl was reportedly traumatised after seeing a large amount of blood when a pregnant classmate aborted in the hostel. Then she was beaten up by five girls whom she reported to the matron for shagging in the dorm. Then she tried to kill herself. Her mother tried to get hold of Limpopo education MEC Ishmael Kgetjepe, but it seems he wasn’t taking calls.

The matric pass rate has dropped and fingers are being pointed at headmaster Chris Mabunda. “The principal drinks alcohol with pupils and police regularly remove drugs from the hostels where pupils smoke dagga openly,” said an SRC member who requested anonymity for fear of being wrapped in a petrol-soaked blanket, set alight and dropped into a pit of venomous snakes. A harmless prank, as the school might put it.

There was no comment from the principal because, according to the education department, he was on sick leave. Can’t blame him, really. I’d also be sickened with myself.

I hope the government hurries up with land redistribution because the Class of 2016 will take farming to a whole new level and I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.

tractorbling

16 Days of Activism Against Men

I was delighted to hear that dozens of men have been arrested as part of the celebrations for the government’s 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children.

Personally, I don’t think the authorities have gone far enough. Every male over the age of nine should be rounded up and held incommunicado for the duration of the campaign. Hell, why stop there? An Egyptian dude with the pretentious name of Pharaoh once ordered all boys to be drowned at birth. I expect this is already high on the agenda of the Minister for Women. Pull it off and you’ve got my vote, lady.

One half of the bipartite alliance of jackbooted viragos ruling the Western Cape said she was thrilled with the way the campaign was progressing. Mayor Patricia de Lille was speaking after at least two dozen men were snatched off the streets and tossed into jail for not paying maintenance.

I think women and children should take responsibility for their own maintenance. Like cats. Women are almost there, what with the nails and the hissing and the endless grooming. Unlike cats, though, they hate being on their own for too long.

Cape Town’s traffic cops are doubling up as bounty hunters and what the Americans call “deadbeat dads” are quivering with fear and phoning in to see if they are on the wanted list. A provincial spokesman said there had even been calls from fathers who actually wanted to see their children.

What on earth is going on in the Western Cape? Is Helen Zille slipping oestrogen into the water supply? Are there no real men left out there? Next thing you know, the bars will be full of divorced men weeping into their beer and telling each other that their ex-wives are really wonderful people.

Men need to learn that violence against women is wrong. They also need to learn that being a man is wrong. Man, wrong. Man, wrong. This is the message that must be literally pounded into their heads. The best way to do this is with a baseball bat. It’s the only language they understand. Arresting them is not going to help. Married men already languish in a psychological prison and most would welcome a few nights of peace and quiet in a cell with other people who aren’t in the mood for chatting or cuddling.

I therefore propose we celebrate 16 Days of Activism for More Violence Against Men. The beauty of the campaign is in its simplicity. Virtually everything men do or don’t do can be rewarded with violence.

If you are a woman and you know a man, do not hesitate to drag him from his home or office. Beat him soundly, cover him in honey and toss him to the lesbians. He will most likely deny having done anything. This is not a reason to go easy on him. Pre-emptive punishment helps men understand that they need to do something about The Situation. It is your job, as a woman, to let him know what is expected of him through a combination of body language and telepathy.

The creative use of discipline is recommended since men have shown a disturbing tendency to start enjoying physical abuse if the pattern of violence is not regularly diversified. You should, for example, avoid concentrating on spanking.

Here are a few suggestions for those of you who wish to train your men or, if you are a misandrist who prefers flying solo, simply to vent. Which, after all, is one of your many rights as a woman.

Forgetting a birthday or anniversary – Six lashes to the buttocks.

Leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor – Two waterboarding sessions.

Leaving dirty clothes on the bedroom floor – Non-erotic asphyxiation.

Leaving dirty dishes on the lounge table – Three tablespoons of wasabi.

Unable to cook a meal – Indefinite withholding of food.

Unable to work a washing machine – Indefinite withholding of clothes.

Demanding frequent sex (more than once a month) – Electric shocks to the genitals.

Drinking excessively (more than six beers a week) – Dog box for 10 days.

Flirting with other women (real or imagined) – 15ml of hydrochloric acid in each eye.

Refusing to walk the dogs – Extraction of toe nails.

Refusing to walk at all – Pop riveting of kneecaps.

Refusing to watch romantic comedies – Gagged and bound and forced to watch every movie Sarah Jessica Parker ever made.

Unable to open up emotionally – Tongue injected with embalming fluid.

Pretending to listen – Hair set on fire.

Makes you wanna nuke

I went to Teazers once to get my nails done.

The Thai manicurist didn’t do a very good job even though I hired a private booth so she could work without the other manicurists distracting me. I left feeling quite frustrated. I doubt that State Security Minister David Mahlobo had the same experience when he visited the Jin Lu Massage and Beauty Salon in Nelspruit. The Chinese are experts when it comes to giving even the most faulty of nails a damn good seeing to.

A lot of very famous people make use of manicurists. Charlie Sheen, for instance, has the best nails in Hollywood. He stopped going, though, after picking up a nasty infection from a dodgy nail file.

Turns out that the owner of the establishment, Comrade Guan Jiang Guang, dabbles in a bit of the old rhino horn trade when business is slow. Who could’ve guessed? Not Mahlobo, obviously. He’s only responsible for providing the government with intelligence on organised crime. Perhaps he didn’t think Comrade Guan was all that organised, what with the odd stray horn being swept up with the end of the day’s toenail clippings.

In other news from the department of pork pies, the government is forging ahead with efforts to make good on the bribes paid by Russia to build our nuclear power stations. Okay, fine. Alleged bribes. This week the department of energy briefed parliament’s energy portfolio committee on matters nuclear. In keeping with the government’s commitment to transparency, the media and members of the public were barred.

Committee chair Fikile Majola said the meeting to discuss forensic reports into the R14.5bn “impairment” suffered by PetroSA on its investment in the Ikhwezi offshore drilling project would also be held behind closed doors.

“What? You’ve lost all our money gambling at the casino?”

“Relax, darling. I didn’t lose it. I suffered an impairment.”

The nuclear build plan is a one, possibly two, trillion rand project and the deal is none of our business. Rightly so. We’re not qualified to have an opinion. The World Bank says ten million South Africans struggle to meet their monthly debt repayments. We’re complete idiots. No wonder they can’t trust us to behave like adults when it comes to finance.

“Sir, this money has been allocated to the nuclear power programme.”

“Ja but I just need a small las, my bru. Gooi a ten mil there. I’ll pay you back. I swear.”

You can’t expect people to understand about splitting the atom when they need help splitting the bar bill. You also can’t expect people to care about the cost of Project Nuke when their only reaction to the news that government irregularly spent R46-billion in one year is to roll their eyes and order another round. And, quite possibly, vote for the same sorry sack of weasels in the next election.

Like my hero Donald Trump, I’m a big fan of fossil fuels. Fossils burn better than anything. Just one vertebra from the spine of a brontosaurus will keep your braai going for a month. And if you chuck a couple of them trilobites and chillibites and whatnot into the Jetmaster, you’re sorted for winter. What’s not to love?

I’m an even bigger fan of nuclear power. You know where you stand with this stuff. Don’t talk to me about renewable energy. You can’t trust the sun, much less the wind. The sun will give you skin cancer while the wind will blow your cap off and you’ll chase it into the road and get hit by a taxi.

Like politics, uranium mining is a filthy business, especially if it gets down your shoes or under your nails. You’d then have to go to the Jin Lu Beauty Salon and run the risk of being seen as a metrosexual fabulist with an unhealthy interest in the keratin-rich pointy bit on the snouts of certain odd-toed ungulates.

The production of a thousand tons of uranium fuel generates a hundred thousand tons of radioactive tailings and four million litres of liquid waste containing head-banging heavy metals and yummy arsenic. But it’s okay because you only have to store the waste for a quarter of a million years before it’s safe enough to let the children play in it.

The best thing about having a nuclear programme is that we can help out our other buddies in Central Asia. Vladimir can do the power stations while the Stans ( Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan) can handle the armaments side of things.

It would be silly to have nuclear power stations and not nuclear weapons. Our North Korean friends would laugh at us. Besides, when President Trump phones in the codes, we don’t want to be standing around like Swaziland with our hands down our broeks not bombing anyone because we don’t have any nukes.

I’m not suggesting we make anything on the scale of Fat Man and Little Boy, here. I’m thinking more along the lines of pocket nukes compact enough to be fired by unskilled labourers using rudimentary catapults. The Speaker of parliament could use them to shut the DA up. We could even make baby bombs for personalised use. Take Julius Malema, for instance. Slip a tiny one down his trousers and he won’t be so quick to call for the slaughter of us white devils, I can tell you.

We’ve taken a few shaky steps down Fission Road already. Remember the government’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project? Of course you don’t. You barely remember where you were last night. The PBMR frolic, which came to a shuddering halt six years ago, was the equivalent of pouring petrol over R10-billion and putting a match to it. Eight hundred employees were retrenched and the company’s assets mothballed. I hope it worked because moths enjoy nothing more than nibbling on a little uranium hexafluoride before mating. Then again, the project was located in Centurion and if there is one city that could do with an invasion of giant mutant moths capable of sucking up entire buildings through their enormous hairy probosci, Pretoria is it.

That doomed venture could have paid for two billion bottles of Windhoek Lager. That’s a six-pack for every man, woman and child in the country. So listen up. The next time this pitiful excuse for a government loses its mind and tries to set fire to your money, do something about it. Wipe the drool from your chin, get out of your comfy chair and bloody well do something.

Finally, here’s a short guide that might come in handy should the government go ahead with this berserk project that has more to do with meeting the financial needs of the alpha wolf and his ravening pack than it does the country’s energy needs.

At some point, there is likely to be a nuclear disaster. Don’t worry that you might mistake it for a car backfiring in the street. It will be louder than that. Once you have heard the blast, resist the urge to rush outside and see what happened. You need to wait for the radiation to blow away.

Refrain from sexual activity. This is not a good time for a woman to conceive. Unless, of course, you can afford to have another three mouths to feed. And you don’t mind if they’re all on the same baby.

If a reactor near you blows up before you can reach an underground shelter, put on a floppy hat and a pair of decent sunglasses. The flash is very bright and could damage your eyesight. The flash is also very hot and could leave you with a nasty burn if you’re not careful. If this happens, smear a little butter on it right away.

The detonation of a 300-kiloton nuclear device releases 300 trillion calories within a millionth of a second. If you are in the habit of watching calories, you will need to have your wits about you. Get behind a wall or down on the floor and make yourself as small as possible. You really can’t afford to pile on more calories.

The energy of the blast will also create a giant fireball. This won’t be so bad if it happens in Cape Town in winter, but if you live in Durban and it’s mid-summer, the additional heat will be unbearable and you’ll probably want to call in sick.

Waves of thermal energy will ignite fires across the city. If you are having trouble lighting a braai, you will welcome the extra help. Very hot high-speed gales will also spring up, so you might have to postpone the kite surfing.

If you have any old furniture you’ve been meaning to strip down, leave it in the garden. The blast wave will do the job nicely.

Once the blast wave has passed, have a shower to wash off any lingering radiation and put the kettle on for a nice cup of tea. But be quick because the rising fireball will create a suction effect and a lot of stuff will start heading back towards ground zero. If you see cars, trees, animals and so on flying past your window, hold on to something until the winds die down.

There will be a lot of dust and other debris in the air, so if you suffer from hay fever you might want to take an antihistamine. The streets will be quite warm from all that hot air passing over them and it’s best to put on a sturdy pair of shoes before venturing out. Things will look a little different and it’s important that you remain positive. Take the opportunity to relax and enjoy the quiet.

Relief efforts will soon be underway. Unless, of course, everyone is dead.

South Beach Durban. Photograph Graeme Williams
South Beach
Durban. Photograph Graeme Williams

Of ganja and politricks

All eyes were on America last week as voters streamed to the polls.

The results were greeted with widespread rejoicing. That’s right, folks. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted to legalise marijuana for recreational use. They’re certainly going to need the weed to keep calm over the next four years. Possibly eight. Although it’s hard to imagine the giant orange cockwomble serving his full term.

“Good morning, Assassinations R Us. We are experiencing high volumes of calls right now. Please hold the line for the next available assassin.”

I suppose I should make a few pithy comments about the other plebiscite that went so tragically wrong this week. Thing is, I’m a bit pithed off and am finding it difficult to mine the situation for humour. There are a lot of very anxious people out there right now. Poor little Cuba has already announced five days of military exercises. Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, is still partying.

I’ve been trying to understand how almost 60 million Americans voted for Donald Trump to become the most powerful man on the planet. That’s nearly 50% of the electorate. Or, in their case, the expectorate. They went into the voting booths and spat out their venom.

Sure, it was a broken socio-political system that poisoned them in the first place, but the right person to fix things would have been Bernie Sanders. Or me. The Democrats have only themselves to blame for losing the White House to a confederacy of dunces.

The dumbing down of America is complete and Jarvis Cocker’s 2006 anthem Cunts Are Still Running The World has never seemed more appropriate.

It’s all smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand, anyway, and it’s becoming harder to judge what’s really in our best interests. Political shysters and corporate shills are up on their soapboxes vying for our attention, our money and our votes. Turn on the radio or television and you’ll find chiseling dissemblers of every stripe shouting about what’s good for us, why we need this more than that, why one god is better than the other.

Extremism is the new apathy and we can expect to see a blind lashing out at seen and unseen enemies the world over.

Speaking of irrational behaviour, I once had a girlfriend who asked me to shoot her if she ever got a Clicks ClubCard. She even had the gun for it. I found the idea rather exciting and suggested she pay for me to go on some sort of shooting course. She got quite angry at this point, not because I’d asked her to pay, but because I’d have to be a dribbling moron to miss. Apparently I wouldn’t be taking her to the woods and setting her free, then stalking her and firing whenever a clear shot presented itself. Apparently I’d do it at home, while she was asleep. That didn’t sound very sporting at all and I had to inform her that all deals were off. She wouldn’t have sex with me for a week after that. Well, it felt like a week. It was probably only an hour.

I never really understood why she had such a pathological aversion to a Clicks card. Yes, getting a card is an appallingly middle class thing do, but then so is recycling, and we don’t necessarily believe the garbage-separators who live among us should die. They’re a pain in the arse, sure, but they do have a right to live. Besides, if we’re going to elevate prejudice to that level, I’d say we start with the gluten intolerant.

But it’s more than just a bourgeoise thing. Having a “loyalty” card of any kind in your wallet marks you as a sucker. You’re one step away from sending money to that handsome Nigerian you’ve befriended on Facebook and whose sister will almost certainly die if she doesn’t get a new set of kidneys.

When it comes to the mugging that passes for commerce these days, there is no such thing as loyalty. They want your money and there are no depths to which they won’t stoop to get it. Shop owners factor in discounts when they set their mark-ups. Their profits are not only unaffected by giving you a pittance off your purchase, but they stand to make even more money because, with that piece of plastic in your wallet, you’re emotionally conditioned to not shop anywhere else.

It’s the questions that annoy me more than the cards. Tellers at an increasing number of chain stores mumble something as you start unpacking the over-priced rags and artery-thickening filth from your trolley. I get caught every time. “What’s that?” I say, leaning in to the cashier. I suspect they’re asking if I have a card, but because they’re mumbling I’m not absolutely certain that they’re not saying, “Your fly is undone” or “Would you like to go for a drink when my shift ends?”

There should be no questions at this stage of the transaction. Minimal eye contact and no heavy sighing. Just start ringing it up. If I have a card and forgot to produce it, that’s my problem. And if I have seventeen items, don’t ask if I want a bag. It’s unlikely I would prefer to make nine trips to the car carrying everything by hand. If there are questions to be asked, I’ll do the asking. It’s called Pick n Pay, not Pick n Interrogate n Pay.

I bought hundreds of rands worth of groceries the other day. After paying, the teller pointed at the slip. “You get R1.40 off the next time you shop here.” I threw my hands into the air with a cry of “Praise Jesus!” before sinking to my knees and tearfully thanking management for their extraordinary generosity.

Be on your guard. Christmas is a shell game and there’s a lot of baiting and switching going on at this time of year. You might think that “Buy any 3 gifts & get the cheapest 1 FREE” is the deal of the century, but it’s not. Your reptile brain is responding only to the word ‘free’. That’s why it’s capitalised. It’s psychotypographically designed to turn your anterior cingulate cortex into the equivalent of a Labrador coming across a bowl of lightly boiled chicken thighs.

The other thing is that if you give someone a gift set, he or she will forever wonder if that was the free one. You might as well give them anthrax for all it says how much you care. I say he or she, but I really mean she. He wouldn’t care what it was or how much you paid for it. He knows he’s lucky to be getting anything considering the way he’s behaved all year.

You might have noticed your Sunday papers gaining weight. Not because there’s suddenly way more news than before, although there certainly is. I suppose you already know the answer because you’d have spent some time on your hands and knees, either in the cafe or at home, picking up the avalanche of glossy Christmas supplements that have fallen out.

Clicks has one that’s as thick as a short novel. On the cover is the magical word FREE. How frightfully decent of them not to charge us for a publication advertising all their stuff they want us to buy. As if that’s not generous enough, they don’t even have an entrance fee to their shops!

Bless their calcifying capitalist hearts.

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The Nanny State

The exchange of labour for money is the greatest confidence trick since some dude called Abraham duped his slave into paying for his own circumcision. I don’t know the finer details but apparently it’s all there in the Book of Genesis. Read it if you like. Don’t tell me how it ends. Badly, I imagine.

This is how transactions involving the swapping of work for currency almost always end. Badly. Bosses feel they’re not getting value for their money and employees feel they’re not getting money for their value. So the bosses start firing people, some of whom come back a bit later on with their 9mm and do a bit of firing of their own. Fair play to them.

Unskilled labourers have the worst jobs and are the least protected. Despite the way they’ve been and still are treated, domestic workers, for instance, hardly ever wake you up with a cup of tea and a gun to your head. There’s more chance of your wife doing that sort of thing. Except your wife wouldn’t bother with the tea. Unless it was poisoned. In which case she wouldn’t bother with the gun.

Domestic workers have been with us for a long time. I don’t mean in South Africa, specifically. Throughout human history there have been drawers of water, hewers of wood, washers of dishes and shovel-faced bastards exploiting them.

Not much has changed over the last four thousand years. Sure, the pay has gone up a bit but the work is pretty much the same. Do the laundry, kill the king’s half-brother, mop up the blood, fellate the first cousins and report to the supervisor for further instructions.

I have a domestic worker and I live alone. I find that appalling. How much of a pig can one person be that he has to hire another entire person to clean up after him? A pretty big pig, as it turns out. In my defence, though, I didn’t go looking for her. She came to me. She knocked on my door one day and asked if I needed help. I asked if she was a psychiatrist. She said she wasn’t.

My instinctive reaction was to threaten to have her arrested if she ever again showed up on my doorstep falsely offering to make the pain in my brain abstain.

But then my empathy gland squirted a shot of empath into my brain and I relented. It’s why I can’t go to the SPCA on a Saturday morning just to browse. Of course I’m not equating humans with animals. I’m merely trying to make the point that I am sensitive to the needs of sentient beings of whatever species. But while I’ll happily take in a homeless dog, I’m unlikely to extend the same courtesy to a homeless man. Does that make me a bad person? In a perfect universe, yes. But the universe is not perfect. It’s way too big for a start. And just when you think you’re getting somewhere, you trip over a brown dwarf and fall into a black hole.

“How are you placed for Tuesdays?” I said, as if I were arranging a regular squash game with my lawyer. Not that I have a lawyer. I did, once. His street name was Psycho Syd and he refused to defend me on anything so I had to let him go.

She said Tuesdays were fine. I quickly introduced myself because if you don’t do this right away, domestic workers will call you “boss” or “master” and you let it slide until it’s too late to start over and you spend years hating yourself for allowing this strange woman to make you feel as if you were the captain of the Amistad with a brother who personally captured Kunta Kinte.

“Call me Sir Ben,” I said. “We shall reserve my full title for special occasions such as my birthday.” She nodded slowly. “And what, my good lady, is your name?”

She glanced over her shoulder as if she were considering making a run for it. She wouldn’t have got far. I would have brought her down like a leopard on a startled doe and dragged her back to the doorway so that we might complete the formalities.

“Betty,” she said. I snorted and raised the singed remnants of my eyebrows. “Madam,” I said. “I am not referring to the name foisted upon you through neocolonial imperatives. What is the name given to you by your mummy? Your tribal name.” She sighed heavily. “Nkosiphendule.” I nodded. “Great. Betty it is, then.”

Snap survey. Would you rather live in a developed country where everything works but you can’t afford a servant – or in a country with a rapacious government and corrupt president but, thanks to a history steeped in violence and injustice, there’s a massive pool of cheap labour available?

Before you decide to emigrate, bear this in mind. A company called Maids of London charges the equivalent of R250 an hour for someone to come around and do a little light dusting. And if you’re going to New York, be prepared to pay between R1 500 and R3 000 a day to have your home cleaned. For that price you’d expect Angelina Jolie in a frilly French maid’s outfit. Instead, you get a belligerent Bulgarian banging on about how the Syrian refugees are destroying Europe.

In South Africa the recommended minimum wage for domestic workers is R10.95 an hour. This sounds like a rate set by the National Party in 1984 but it’s not. It was set by the comrades of the national democratic revolution.

But, hey, things are looking up! The department of labour has just announced an increase for domestic workers. From 1 December 2016, Betties, Beauties and Nonkululekos from Richards Bay to Langebaan can legitimately expect to be paid the magnificent sum of at least R12.42 an hour. Everyone gets a Ferrari! Hang on. That works out at just under R100 for an eight-hour day. Hold the Ferraris.

Capitalism being considerably more odious than comparisons, it behooves me to point out that the minimum wage for our cabinet ministers is R6 000 a day. Most of them, needless to say, aren’t fit to scrub our floors.

Our time to eat

Twice, in the space of a single day this week, people have mistaken me for Richard Branson. The first time was in the street. “Hey!” shouted the female half of a heterosexual couple. “There’s Richard Branson!” I laughed and waved, casually running my hand through my thick blond hair, then pretended to get into a conveniently parked Porsche. The moment was ruined when an advertising executive with a cocaine moustache darted from a coffee shop and shouted at me to step away from his vehicle.

The second time, I was in a bar that shares a boundary wall with a rehab in the deep south of the Cape peninsula. A grizzled bag of rags and his ravaged buddy shuffled in. I thought they might have been looking for the rehab. The grizzly turned to his sidekick. “Check it out, bru. That Richard Branson oke’s here.” They laughed. Well, they made a hacking, gurgling sound. They were either laughing or dying. I didn’t particularly care. At this point, I was tired of being mistaken for Branson. It seemed cruel and unnecessary. Yes, we share similar hair and, obviously, a penchant for extreme sports and beautiful women. Or, in my case, extreme women and beautiful sports.

By an odd quirk of coincidence, Branson actually was in Cape Town this week. He was here to relaunch something called Virgin Money Insurance. On a moral scale, the insurance industry is one rung above human trafficking. Branson partnered with Telesure six years ago but, like all unequal relationships, it ended in tears when one found the other in bed with a hotter company.

Now, older and wiser, Virgin has entered into a relationship with a boy called American International Group. They sound more streetwise and savvy than the sweet, naïve Telesure, and we’re all hoping this time it lasts. When corporate hearts get broken, we all get broken.

Virgin Money’s Rob Campbell said that when Virgin and Telesure broke up (I bet they still stalk each other on Facebook) they had to “reengineer” the business. They now have the “capacity needed to develop customer-centric insurance products and services”. As opposed to previously, I expect, when the business focused solely on itself. One evening they had the talk.

Telesure: “You know what, Virgin. With you it’s always me me me. This may come as a surprise, but I have feelings, too. And by the way, my eyes are up here. You only ever wanted me for one thing. I’m leaving. And don’t think I don’t know what’s been going on with those Americans. And another thing, you lied about being a virgin.”

There’s no record of Virgin’s response. I imagine it involved a fair amount of sighing and rolling of the eyes.

Branson said he was delighted that the NPA had decided against prosecuting finance minister Pravin Gordhan after learning that Hawks head Mthandazo Ntlemeza had discovered the evidence inside a fortune cookie.

Here’s the really cute bit, though. Branson said, “I wish it had happened in a week’s time, because of the low rand … I’m on holiday here at the moment.” Branson has a net worth of only five billion dollars, so it’s understandable that he’d have wanted to capitalise on a weak rand. It’s horrible how the vagaries of politics can so brutally affect someone’s vacation.

Being something of a nautical type, he also said, “South Africa needs somebody at the wheel of the ship, to steer it into safe waters.” Thank you, Sir Richard, for confirming what many of us have suspected for a long time. The bridge has been abandoned.

I saw an old quote from Branson on Facebook today. “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.” Please don’t encourage this sort of thing. This is how our president got the job in the first place. He is one of those people who spend years revelling in the amazing opportunity bit without bothering to get around to the learning bit.

I saw something else on Facebook. “Michael Burry made $8.4bn using common sense. Most people don’t realise how easy it has become to profit like he did.” I might have clicked on the link if it had said that Michael Burry had made $10 000 using common sense. That’s a number I can understand. I can get a picture in my head of what I could buy for R130 000. Just over a thousand cases of beer and seventy bags of salt and vinegar chips. Because I lack the gland in my brain that understands maths, I have to convert everything into beer.

I don’t want to know how to make $8-billion, and not just because my brain would explode if I had to attempt a conversion. I don’t want that kind of money. If I had it, I’d make a lot of people very happy in a short space of time and then I would die spectacularly.

Do you know who does want that kind of money? The brothers Gupta, that’s who. Just over a year ago, deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas found himself in their opulent home in Saxonwold. There, a certain Mr Ajay Gupta mentioned that his family made R6-billion from the state. Understandably, this wasn’t enough. It’s a big family to support. Jacob Zuma’s, I mean.

So, Mr Jonas, they said. Would you mind terribly if we asked you to help us bung the number up to R8-billion? We’d be awfully grateful. Obviously we’d make you finance minister. Did you perhaps bring a bag? We’re quite happy to give you a little something for your trouble. Should we say R600 000? That’s just for the car guard, ha ha. The real money – the R600-million – would go into an account of your choice. May we recommend the Bank of Baroda? Or perhaps you’d prefer something in Zurich? Your colleague, mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane, says Switzerland is lovely at this time of year.

As if that’s not bad enough, supermarkets have begun playing Christmas carols. The psychology is similar to that used by the CIA in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. They play Christina Aguilera and The Barney Theme to get the prisoners to crack and confess to blowing up shit. Checkers plays Jingle Bells and The Little Drummer Boy to get the pensioners to crack and start buying up shit. Because, you know, we idiot consumers might be under the impression that we’re coming up to Easter. Awaaay in a manger … only 49 days to go folks! Hurry! Specials on toxic Chinese dreck in aisle seven! Ding-dong merrily I’m high.

But there’s sad news, too. Whitey Basson, CEO of Shoprite, has reached his sell-by date and is retiring at the end of the year. His salary last year was a meagre R49.7-million. Luckily, the board took pity on him and gave him a R50-million bonus. How sad it would have been if some of his relatives hadn’t found a Ferrari beneath the tree on Christmas Day. The board said he deserved it because he hadn’t received a basic pay increase since 2013. Poor bastard. Nor have I, come to think of it. Where’s my goddamn Ferrari?

So, yeah. Right now everything appears to be revolving around money. It’s either too little or too much. Has anyone, since the Industrial Revolution, ever put up their hand and said, “No, thanks. Really. I have enough money.” Of course not. But you’ll politely recoil when someone passes around the plate of cream scones or bong for the seventh time. “No more for me. Honestly. I’ll explode/vomit/kill everyone in the room.” Why not money? Is there really no limit to how much a person can have? Apparently not.

Speaking of gluttons, I was surprised to hear that Weekend Special a.k.a 2-Minute Noodle a.k.a minister of cooperative governance David ‘Des’ van Rooyen spent so much time at the Guptas house. Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found he’d made at least 17 calls from the Saxonwold compound. They obviously didn’t have time to get their story straight because Atul Gupta told Thuli that the minister had never even been to their house. I suppose it’s possible he was calling from the street outside.

“Atul, open the gate!”

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, David.”

“Who?”

“David, man. Dave. Open up. I think the cops saw me.”

“Dave?”

“Yeah, Dave.”

“Dave’s not here.”

“What the hell? No, man. I’m Dave. Open up.”

The saddest part is that Van Rooyen spent Valentines Day with the Guptas this year. Maybe it’s not sad at all. When you consider that Eskom CEO Brian Molefe visited the Indians 19 times in four months and in six made over forty telephone calls to Ajay, the oldest, sugariest daddy of the family, you have to wonder if there wasn’t perhaps something else going on here. Atul, Ajay and Rajesh. That’s a ready-made threesome right there. Just add malfeasance. Perhaps all this talk of coal mines and contracts was just a smokescreen to cover up what was really happening at Sexonwold. The platinum-plated Jacuzzis, the late-night nudity, the discreet oral favours in return for information. Leopards on leashes and a blindfolded jazz quartet in the corner. A subtle reminder that goodies will be provided but you should bring your own bag. For the sake of the environment, of course. And also fingerprints.

So here we are. I can’t help feeling Thuli didn’t go far enough. I was hoping that by now Radovan Krecjir and Oscar Pistorius would be picking teams for the afternoon game. I don’t know if Zuma, Molefe, Zwane, Van Rooyen, Eskom’s board of directors, the Guptas etc even know how to play soccer. I don’t suppose it really matters. They’d just make up the rules as they go along.

It somehow seems fitting that, at the lowest point of his political career, President Jacob Zuma chose to visit his appalling counterpart in Zimbabwe. Well done, Jake.

Meanwhile, bring on the judicial commission of inquiry. If that gets hijacked, let’s give Dog the Bounty Hunter a call. I’ll put up the first thousand bucks.

Of course, none of this matters if Donald Trump wins on Tuesday. Start building your nuclear bunkers, people. You just never know.

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