Month: May 2013

An Open Letter To Senzeni Zokwana – President of the National Union of Mineworkers

Dear Comrade,

I hear you are demanding pay rises of around 60% from gold and coal producers. This is ridiculous. What on earth are you thinking? You need to demand increases of at least 150%. This is no time to show weakness.

If negotiations aren’t going your way, change your strategy. When management baulks at your demands, don’t threaten to strike and walk out. Rather identify the alpha male in the management pack, climb quickly across the table and bite him firmly on the ear. Don’t let go, even when people try to hose you down. Emitting a low growl will send a message that you are not to be trifled with. After a few minutes, the CEO will stop resisting and go limp. You may now release your grip and continue negotiations. I think you will find management far more amenable to your demands.

I see you’re having a spot of bother with these Amcu interlopers. What a damned nerve they have, recruiting mineworkers by promising them the world and then failing to deliver. That’s been your job for years.

I’m a bit confused about something. Calling for unions to co-exist peacefully, Mineral Resource Minister Susan Shabangu said, “The NUM is not the enemy of Amcu and Amcu should not be the enemy of NUM.”

It must be rather nice for the union to have its own spokesperson in the cabinet, but doesn’t this confuse the workers? After all, governments are traditionally the enemy of labour movements. Then again, your mother, Cosatu, is sleeping with the enemy, so maybe it does make sense.

Shabangu also said unions had a common class enemy in “monopoly capital”. I’m a gibbering idiot when it comes to finance, but without monopoly capital, wouldn’t the mining industry collapse faster than a shop steward in a shebeen on payday?

Anyway. I don’t know what your members have got to complain about. Winter is almost here and while most of us have to go to work and freeze our giblets off, your people spend their days in cosy underground tunnels. They are even allowed to take their shirts off at work. If I had to try that, I’d be torn apart by the ladies in the accounts department.

You need to cut your losses, my friend. Lonmin has fallen to Amcu. You need to march on Mordor (Impala Platinum) and Isengard (Billiton) and dig in. Take the Orcs of Solidarity with you, if you can. They are smarter than they look.

I hear AngloGold Ashanti will no longer be paying your R1.4-million a year salary. What a shame. I’m sure you will agree that the only real conflict of interest in this novel arrangement arose when you had to decide whether a savings or money market account gave the best returns.

Anyway. You don’t need money. You’re a communist. Act appropriately.

An Open Letter To The African Union

Dear AU,

Congratulation on turning 50! You’ve come a long way without actually going anywhere.

You’ve gone through quite a few changes, too. I remember when you were the Organisation of African Unity. Like so many youngsters, you fell in with the wrong crowd as soon as you were old enough to let go of your colonial coattails.

I remember you hanging out with lovable rogues like Mobutu Sese Seko, Muammar Gaddafi, Idi Amin and Haile Selassie, who was a step up from the rest because he at least invented reggae music and smoked weed. You certainly earned the right to be known as the Dictators’ Club.

You changed your name to the African Union in 2002, presumably after realising that African unity was, like, the biggest pie you ever saw in the sky. There isn’t even a family on this continent, let alone a government, that has managed to achieve unity. When Gaddafi started blabbing on about being the president of the United States of Africa, you had to hire the Americans to put him down. Unity is heavily overrated. Look at Europe. I got a call last night from Brussels begging me to lend money to Spain.

Like me, as you get older, you’re moving a bit slower with each passing year. When that scuffle broke out in Mali last year, it took forever before you tried to do anything about it. I expect you’ll be addressing the Mau Mau rebellion at any moment.

Now that you’re officially middle-aged, you will probably find that you start forgetting things. Like who co-founded you. “Thabo who?” I hear you say. You must be relieved that there is no more talk of the African Renaissance. Like a freshly peeled mango, it was a concept that many of your members found hard to grasp.

I see your foreign ministers have backed a request by Kenya for the International Criminal Court to stop badgering their president. Crimes against humanity aren’t what they used to be. In the good old days, you would have to murder half your population to get that kind of attention. Now you turn a blind eye to a spot of post-electoral pushing and slapping and it’s off to The Hague for you.

Nearly half of the 20 most corrupt countries in the world are African. This is excellent news. All of them might have been African. This is real progress.

The quality of leadership is also improving. Our own president, for instance, makes Barack Obama look like a swivel-eyed illiterate. As for Robert Mugabe, well, there is no finer example of the perfect democrat.

Best of luck in spending the next 50 years searching for African solutions to African problems. Self-sharpening machetes would be a good place to start.

An Open Letter To Atul Gupta

Dear Atul,

May I call you Atul? You have been in the news so frequently that you feel like an old friend. A friend who once banged my wife, but a friend, nevertheless.

I have so many questions for you that I barely know where to begin. Let me jump in with the most pressing one. When my computer starts, it sounds like a chartered jet coming in to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base. It whines and chatters worse than a roomful of Gujarati housewives. Sometimes I have to kick it to shut it up. No wonder they call it booting Windows. Do you think my hard drive is about to fail? Perhaps I should get a Mac. You already have one – Mac Maharaj. I apologise. This is no time for jokes.

I will be popping in to Sahara Computers next week. I expect you will want to give me a hefty discount when you find who I know. I can’t give specific details because, thanks to you, name-dropping now carries a life sentence. Think of a number. That’s it. You got it in One. Shall we say 75% off?

So how is He Who Shall Not Be Mentioned these days? Have you had him around for tea and a debriefing since the wedding? Our man is known to stick by his friends through thick and thin. Schabir Shaik might disagree, but then he has been downgraded to Untouchable so it doesn’t really matter what he thinks.

I hope the hostility of the bloody agents working for our counter-revolutionary media hasn’t put you off doing business in our otherwise friendly country.

Indians contribute a hell of a lot to our economy. I’m not talking about Bobby selling gold Rolexes there by Addington Beach– buy one get one free – but principled men like you who have one leg in the motherland and the other in the mother lode.

I read somewhere that when the family empire began expanding, your older boet, Ajay, was sent to China to check things out. Apparently he was only offered shares instead of full control. Was he talking about a factory or the whole country?

Good thing it didn’t work out. Chinese premiers don’t come cheap. You also wouldn’t want to try the Waterkloof stunt at Liangxiangzhen Air Base. Your entire wedding party would still be in one of their delightful laogai camps. Probably making computer parts.

You said in an interview in 2011 that setting up shop (a charming euphemism for a unique brand of imperialism) in South Africa was easy “because we didn’t find any red tape”. Don’t bluff me, Atul. You must have stumbled across the secret to one of our government’s magic tricks. Sprinkle a few drops of money on a piece of red tape, look the other way and woohoo! No more red tape.

One last thing. Next time you invite a whitey for curry, call me and not Helen Zille. I’ll do you plenty of favours, but don’t give money. One lekka mutton breyani will do me.

 

An Open Letter to President Jacob Zuma

Dear #1,

Do you mind if I call you Number One? It has the ring of victory to it. Oh sure, it also has ablutionary connotations, but you won’t find anyone in my circle of friends saying things like, “I need to make a Zuma.” That’s DA talk, that is. I will have no truck with open toilet humour.

I wanted to congratulate you on your efforts to avoid any of the Gupta muck sticking to you. They don’t call you the Teflon President for nothing! Personally, I don’t buy the Teflon thing. Unless, of course, you really are made of Teflon, in which case I am with you all the way.

I have learnt many of my survival skills from watching animals. Well, watching Animal Planet, anyway. You wouldn’t catch me anywhere near those filthy beasts. When there is danger, for instance, the hyena will run away. When I see the police, I also run away. But if a burglar, perhaps a smallish woman, breaks into my home and is unarmed, I will confront her, much like the elephant confronts the honey badger when he tries to steal the elephant’s honey.

You seem to have mainly been watching programmes on ostriches. Good for you. They are magnificent birds, especially when marinated in monkey gland sauce. But they are also very good at ignoring a problem until it disappears.

When an ostrich senses danger and cannot run away, perhaps because its legs are being cooked at a nearby shisa nyama, it flops to the ground and remains still. This clearly worked for you. I hope there were no nasty spills as civil servants stampeded for the exits at 3.30pm every day. I expect staff were warned to step over you.

An ostrich is born to run. You were also born to run – for president. Did you know that ostriches eat whatever is available? Plants, lizards, rocks. It’s all food to them. It wouldn’t surprise me if your nephew Khulubuse had a bit of ostrich in him.

Getting back to the problem that doesn’t exist. What are you doing about that Lieutenant-Colonel Christine Anderson? She distinctly said Number One was aware of the Gupterian takeover of Waterkloof Air Force Base. I hope you have offered her a suitable gift to keep her mouth shut. You know what women are like. You frequently have to buy their silence. I cannot begin to imagine how much you have to fork out to get some peace and quiet at Nkandla.

Don’t get her the same gift that was given to chief of state protocol, Bruce Koloane. She won’t feel special and will tell everyone that you were with Lee Harvey Oswald the day JFK was shot.

 

A Bitter Pill To Swallow

I may be wrong, but on the list of requirements for a better world, I would imagine that longer-lasting erections would be placed fairly low down. Somewhere between self-replacing toilet rolls and bark-free dogs, perhaps.

I, on the other hand, have always been an ardent supporter of a pill that could boost a woman’s sex drive.

There is something particularly unlovely about the sexually aroused male. If some studies are to be believed, this would mean the male is unlovely only during the time he is not asleep. But when the female is on heat – I mean really on heat and not just pretending for the sake of a free meal and a trip to the Seychelles – she is a sight to behold.

Her skin glows and her movements become slow and panther-like. Her growling turns to purring and her tail feathers go up. Her breathing becomes shallow and her eyes change colour. I can only imagine this is what it must be like.

It was within our grasp, this fabulous elixir, but the dream has been shattered. By the Americans, no less. A nation of God-fearing pilgrims has denied women everywhere the chance to see life through our eyes; the chance to feel urges other than to shop, chat or cry.

The US Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously against approving a pill that was already being hailed as the “female Viagra”. Any nation that lumps food and drugs into the same category doesn’t deserve to be called a superpower. It should have no power at all. It should be called Haiti.

The advisory panel said the evidence presented had not demonstrated the effectiveness or safety of flibanserin. Only a company called Boehringer Ingelheim could come up with a drug capable of bringing about world peace and then call it flibanserin. If they had called it “Ja! Ja!” or just plain old “Mein Gott!” it would have been approved.

What woman suffering from low libido, low self-esteem and quite possibly low iron levels would walk into a pharmacy and ask for flibanserin? It sounds like something you’d rub on your gums to cure trench mouth.

This is what panel chair Julia Johnson had to say: “The efficacy was not sufficiently robust to justify the risks.”

I beg your pardon? Robust? Is she saying the entire project was shut down because the guinea pigs failed to tear each other apart in an unbridled orgy of lust?

We aren’t asking for a feeding frenzy, Julia. All we want is for the initiative to occasionally come from someone who isn’t us.

What possible risks could there be, anyway? She takes the pill, still doesn’t feel like sex and her friends notice nothing different about her. How come nobody worries about the risks faced by men who react to Viagra in an insufficiently robust manner? Getting laughed at by your mates can lead to suicide or, worse, having to find a new pub.

One of the side effects of flibanserin is dizziness. Oh, well. In that case, cancel all trials at once. For men, the side effects of not getting laid include dizziness and an overpowering urge to attack North Korea.

Medical trials say that at least 40% of women suffer from varying degrees of sexual hypoactivity. “You call that suffering?” she scoffed. “Try being married to a lump of snoring lard for 15 years.”

Is that what’s happening here? Is it possible that sexually dysfunctional women might not, in fact, be completely mad? Could it be that they are simply going off men in general? Does this make them lesbians? I like to think so. By the same token, then, erectile dysfunction is not caused by stress. It is caused by women who lie through their teeth and kiss like Gila monsters.

The two-year studies found that women who took flibanserin reported 4.5 more satisfying sexual experiences per month. I suppose only a woman knows what half a satisfying sexual experience feels like. A thoroughly satisfying experience, I expect, is when the man doesn’t pitch up at all.

These women are already having sex more than four times a month, and that’s with no libido, for heaven’s sake. Are they being paid?

Hello. What’s this? Flibanserin belongs to a family of anti-depressants that reduces the level of serotonin, which has an effect on mood and can put a damper on sexual desire. Trust the Germans to cock it up. Achtung, Klaus! It’s in the wrong bloody family.

We don’t expect our women to be happy and horny. Horny will do just fine. So get to it. Schnell! Schnell!

 

Good Health Can Kill You

As a child I was told that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. Now, low salaries and poor working conditions keep the doctor away. Far away. As in Perth. Or toyi-toying in the parking lot outside casualty.

And it turns out that apples are rotten to the core with dangerous sugars and killer acids. If you had to eat one a day your teeth would fall clean out of your head, you’d lose your job, be ostracised by society and end up getting shanked in Pollsmoor after being forced into racketeering to stay alive. All because of apples.

I was also told that sunshine was good for you. If I started choking on a lump of gruel or cut myself and began bleeding on the carpet, my mother would smack me across the head and say, “Go outside and stand in the sun – that’ll fix you.” But the sun isn’t good for you at all. After giving you a fabulous tan, it leaves you with squamous cell carcinomas that gnaw away at your skin until you wake up one morning and find there’s nothing left to stop your meat from falling out. Even worse, it makes your face go all splotchy and people will start mistaking you for Zakumi, the diseased mascot of the 2010 World Cup.

For almost my entire life I have had to put up with my parents, ex-girlfriends, lawyers, paramedics and magistrates telling me that beer is evil. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is good. What absolute rubbish.

Wine is only good for cleansing your palate between beers. Recent studies have shown that beer improves cardiovascular function. Don’t ask me how it accomplishes this. God works in mysterious ways. All I know is that thanks to beer, I have a heart that beats louder and faster than a Malian jina djembe and I can run the 800m in under four minutes. Beat that if you can.

I remember growing up and my mother telling me that I couldn’t have chocolates because they were bad for me. Well, it turns out that chocolate was only bad for her because she had to pay for it.

Chocolate doesn’t make your willy fall off, as I was led to believe. It is packed with antioxidants that expand your arteries and quite possibly your mind. But make sure you stick to chocolate with a high cocoa content. If you can only get your hands on the cheap stuff, dip it into a bowl of cocaine first. The effect will be similar, except with cocaine you may develop microscopic holes in your brain.

Everyone knows marijuana is harmful. Or is it? Perhaps we are just saying that because we have come to associate it with police brutality. Well, here’s a shocker. Recent studies on mice suggest that anti-inflammatories found in the drug prevent the clumping of brain proteins, a major cause of Alzheimer’s. After the study the mice kept misplacing their car keys and eating way too much cheese, but that seems a small price to pay.

As an adolescent I had to contend with a mother who would don protective gear to clean my room. “But mummy,” I would cry as my emergency food reserves were shoveled into a lead-lined bag, “maggots are good!” It was too terrible for words. The maggots – the only real friends I had as a child – would be taken around the back of the house where unspeakable things were done to them.

It has since been proven that maggots, unlike many mothers, can cure all sorts of things. Placed on an open wound, maggots will happily munch away on bacteria and dead tissue, stimulating healing and preventing infection. Some work colleagues may find this less of a conversation piece than you might think, but this is nothing more than jealousy on their part. If they complain too much, give them an open wound of their own and offer to share your maggots.

I was also taught from a young age that anger is a negative emotion. Every time I threw a tantrum, my mother took me gently by the hand and led me to the bathroom where she would whip my quivering buttocks with a bamboo rod, coat hanger, hair brush and, once those had snapped, she would start in with her teeth, nails and feet.

I quickly learnt to bottle up my anger. When I turned 21, I went out and killed the local rugby team. Looking back, it might have been better for my blood pressure had I let my anger out in smaller bursts.

One of the most enduring myths, usually propagated by slack-jawed mouthbreathers who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, is that pre-marital sex is wrong. Even though post-marital sex is an even bigger myth, the fact remains that nothing else you do has the ability to reduce stress, lower cholesterol and improve circulation while simultaneously exposing you to ridicule, legal proceedings and life-threatening diseases.

My point, if there even is one, is that nobody knows anything. What seems like a good idea today – like taking Viagra or owning an iPhone or a Vietnamese potbellied pig – could end up decimating half the world’s population I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m simply saying … actually, I don’t know what I am saying. Forget I ever mentioned it.

A-Z of Travel in Africa

A is for Anopheles, a murderous little bastard who drinks your blood and thanks you for it by infecting you with malaria. Also for Adoption, which gives African orphans the chance to be exposed to a life of isolation and domestic discord. Also for Amputees. Thanks to the gentleman who invented the land mine, Africa will always be strongly represented at the Paralympics.

B is for Beer, a liquid asset that is used everywhere for Bartering, Bribing and all matters Bibulous. Also for Borders, the crossing of which involves grovelling for the privilege of bringing foreign currency into an impoverished country.

C is for Coconuts, a hardy thug of a fruit that launches aerial attacks with lethal consequences. Also for Crayfish, Chickens, Cashews and Cassava. In Africa, it is safe to eat anything that starts with a C, except Children, who are full of bones. Also for Colonialism, a superb system that gave Africans the chance to learn French, Portuguese and English for free.

D is for Darkies. Africa is full of them and members of white supremacist groups are advised to take their holidays elsewhere. Scandinavia, perhaps. Also for Deportation, a useful way of getting home when the money runs out.

E is for Elephants, a large mammal that is kept alive to protect the salaries of endangered white people employed by the World Wildlife Fund. Also for Ebola, a delightful virus that puts a damper on your trip by leaving you bleeding from every orifice.

F is for Fish, Faeces and Fornication, of which there is a healthy abundance in Africa, although Fish comes with fewer consequences.

G is for Goat, an unofficial currency with a good exchange rate. Notoriously difficult to fold up and slip into the back pocket.

H is for Hut, a popular form of housing that comes out well in photographs but less so in hurricanes. Also for Hitchhiking, a method of travel that entails standing on the side of the road until your visa expires. Also for Haggling, a way of supporting local craftsmen while simultaneously destroying race relations.

I is for Instinct, to be used when a red-eyed man wearing little more than a blunt machete invites you to walk with him through the bush to a disused mine where, for the price of a beer, there are emeralds the size of a baby’s head.

J is for Jack, a mechanical device that makes it easier for someone to remove your CD player while you are busy changing the wheel. Also for Jungle Fever, a syndrome that causes unattractive European women to engage the services of lithe Rastafarian lads for the duration of their stay.

K is for Kalashnikov, a Russian whose creation, the AK-47, has gone a long way towards bringing peace and stability to the African continent.

L is for Lesbians, usually spotted at luxury lodges eating their way through the buffet and each other.

M is for Morphine, a medicinal herb from the Morph bush that dulls the pain of a severed limb while enhancing full moons and sunsets. Also for Markets, places of trade that serve as China’s entry point to Africa and your handbag’s departure point.

N is for No, usually accompanied by “thank you” or a sharp blow to the kidneys, depending on the curio sellers’ persistence.

O is for Off-road, a means of getting from point A to point B using endangered species for traction. Also for Organ donation, which, if done voluntarily, can pay for boat trips to Offshore islands.

P is for Police (see Beer).

Q is for Queue, a Western concept rejected by indigenous proponents of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

R is for Rebels, Riots and Revolution. A lot of fun if you have the right T-shirt.

S is for Sunburn, nature’s way of reminding white people that they are not African.

T is for Tipping. After ordering a meal – if paramedics have not arrived to treat you for malnutrition by the time it arrives – it is courteous to give your waiter something. In most cases, suggesting a career working with animals would be considered a good tip. Also for Time and Toilets, neither of which should ever be taken for granted.

U is for Umbrella, a British invention that is used to protect yourself from rain, sun and small boys trying to sell you cowrie shell bracelets. Also for Ululating, a sound made by rapidly vibrating your tongue against the roof of a Swedish girl’s mouth.

V is for Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese chef who introduced flame-grilled chicken to many parts of Africa.

W is for Weapons. No need to bring one from home. Africa is full of them. Impress your lover by taking her down to the beach in a Soviet tank, available at most village markets (see Haggling).

X is for Xylophone, a harmonious traditional instrument that makes a flat, lifeless sound the moment you get it back home.

Y is for Y the hell am I suffocating in the middle of this godforsaken shit-hole when I could be at home eating Chinese takeaways and watching The Simpsons.

Z is for Zirconia, deal-of-a-lifetime “diamonds” that were meant to take care of your retirement but instead left you divorced and homeless.

Of Holidays Past

I can’t remember who came up with the idea, but it was in the middle of one of those warm family moments when everybody is fighting over the last of the crumpets and tequila and someone shouted: “Let’s go camping!”

About 72 hours later, when the monsoon swept in and the mood was sullen and ugly, everyone except me agreed it had been my idea.

Camping as a bonding activity is heavily overrated. It almost always leads to excessive drinking, embarrassing confessions, outraged denials and, ultimately, fist fights, hair pulling and an unsportsmanlike gouging of eyes.

My parents started taking me on camping trips when I was little more than a foetus. As soon as I was old enough to get a word in, I asked them: “Why are you doing this to me?” They would look at each other and say: “Ah, cute. He’s talking.” This hardly boosted the confidence of a nine-year-old.

Oops. A snippet of a Philip Larkin poem just fell into my head.

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

and add some extra, just for you.”

Anyway. Heaven forfend that dead English poets distract me.

Leaving Durban on any kind of trip is never easy. It is impossible to get away early because the first hour after waking is spent yawning, the second hour is spent sponging sweat from your face, the third hour is spent handing bananas to monkeys dangling from the burglar bars and the fourth is spent scratching mosquito bites and crotches which aren’t necessarily always your own.

Move too quickly in Durban and you run the risk of cardiac arrest. Or worse, being mistaken for someone from Joburg.

Going camping as a kid, my parents would shout at me to hurry up because we were leaving in five minutes. I would then spend anything up to three days waiting for them in the car.

This time it was different. I lay in bed until I heard my father hooting and my mother shouting, then I gave it another two hours and got up. Brenda was already dressed and waiting. She prefers to get out of bed before I wake up. I once pointed out to her that this wasn’t doing our sex life any favours and she said: “Yes it is.”

Four hours behind schedule, my parents were anxious to get on the road. They were sitting in their enormous white trash motorhome, my father revving the engine, my mother looking for fleas on a Maltese poodle on her lap. The dog is called something like Shpleedle, but I can’t swear to it because its name is only ever spoken in an incomprehensible, high-pitched baby-talk voice.

Brenda and my irrevocably gormless offspring, Clive, were waiting in the Land Rover that my father has offered to sell to me for a suspiciously low price. I am beginning to fear this National Front thug of a car constitutes the bulk of my inheritance.

The plan, if you could even call it that, was to drift down the South Coast and meander along the Wild Coast. Brenda was far from convinced that the Transkei was the right place for meandering, but I assured her it was perfectly safe now that it was called the Eastern Cape.

“Don’t we all feel a lot more secure driving down Broadway now that it’s called Swapo Avenue?” I said, patting Brenda on the knee. “Well, this is the same thing.”

Drifting down the South Coast is one thing; contending with Margate is another altogether. This malignant tumour of a town makes holiday sound like a dirty word, and the place is best negotiated with eyes tightly shut. Don’t worry if you hit something. It can only improve the aesthetics.

Port Edward finally hove into view, dirty, dusty and full of Mexicans trying to sneak across the border.

“Those aren’t Mexicans,” said Brenda, winding up her window. “Those are Xhosas.”

Clive started sobbing in the back, begging me to turn back before we were all murdered in our beds. I took the whelp by the jugular and reminded him that we hadn’t even found a bed yet. Besides, I said, now is the time of the Zulu. The Xhosa is done.

The brat began babbling about no-one knowing who was in charge because the legislature kept batting the course of history back and forth as if it were a cheap plastic volleyball, forcing me to slap him sharply upside the head. Rum and guava juice aside, there is nothing worse than a badly mixed metaphor.

“Now is the time to deploy the warriors in a pincer movement and strike while the nomads are weak like chickens!” I shouted, swerving for a goat.

Brenda said we should rather go to the Spar and get something for the braai. Coming from a long line of European vegetable sellers, I nodded meekly and took a sharp left.

Later, we joined up with the elders at a campsite on the banks of the Umtamvuna River which, not too long ago, was under 20m of flood water. Swatting at mosquitoes the size of footballs, I told a passing kid that if he hoped to live long enough to see his 10th birthday, he would surrender the paddle of the resort’s sole canoe and say not a word about it.

I hid out in the reeds drinking beer until Brenda grew tired of waiting and put up the tent on her own.

“Nice timing,” she said as I paddled back, feigning exhaustion. “I was fishing for our supper,” I said.

“Without a rod?”

“I don’t need a rod.”

“Well then, where are the fish?”

I told her that after reaching in and grabbing a giant barbel by the throat, it overpowered me and capsized the canoe, almost drowning both of us in the ensuing struggle. Brenda, Clive, my mother and my father laughed as one, so I put on my hurt face, fetched my bottle of Jose Cuervo and stalked off.

Having punished everyone by depriving them of my company, I headed back at around 3am. It transpired that while I was gone, somebody had changed the layout of the campsite and I was forced to spend the night in a caravan that smelled as if it had been abandoned by a family from the unwashed end of Ventersdorp.

Morning broke to the sound of godless heathens racing up and down on their turbo-charged jet skis. My father suggested stringing a length of fishing line across the river, but nobody was prepared to take it across to the other side. Anyway, we wanted to swim and the severed heads would have attracted every flesh-eating parasite in the area.

More and more big-boned Anglophobic meatheads began arriving in their Toyota Hilux double-deluxe-overhead-cam twin-shaft V12s trailing purple glitter power boats, the sole surviving reminder of a once-glorious era of white domination.

Meanwhile, their big-breasted, bony-arsed wives and genetically challenged spawn scuttled about setting up cheap plastic umbrellas and ferreting in cooler boxes the size of Benoni as if nothing had changed since 1982.

It was time to water the camels and hit the road. Time to forge the great divide and gaze upon the glittering jewel in South Africa’s proud provincial crown.

Indeed. It was time for the Eastern Cape, that magnificent example of what can be accomplished when politicians put aside their petty rivalries and say with pride: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for me and I’ll see what I can do for you.”

Let’s All Drink To The Death Of A Clown

This is the first time in ten years that I haven’t had a weekly deadline for a newspaper column.

The first five were with the Cape Times, the second five with the Sunday Times. It’s very unsettling to suddenly have an extra six hours a week to fill. I suppose I could go drinking, but then it would just feel like deadline night without the writing. It would be too sad. They go together, writing and drinking. They are old friends from way back and it would be wrong to do one without the other. It would be like cheating on a lover.

The Cape Times was good to me. They gave me an extraordinary amount of leeway to write whatever I wanted. Week after week they allowed me to denigrate, defame, belittle, taunt and tease anyone I pleased, irrespective of race, colour, religion, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, political affiliation or social standing.

On September 3rd, 2002, I wrote my debut column. In case you were a semi-literate wastrel languishing in grade ten when it appeared, here it is again:

 

Gorilla Tactics in Mating Season

 

“I am looking forward to spring more than most men. It is the time of year when somebody cleans the house. But more importantly, there is a very good chance that my wife will thaw.

Brenda’s libido has been trapped in pack ice ever since the first rains fell. My efforts to send out a metaphysical icebreaker have repeatedly failed and I still bear the scars from an incident involving a multi-pronged kitchen utensil.

A warning to other men. Do not, under any circumstances, approach your woman silently from behind while she is bent over a sink overflowing with dishes and try to pull her skirt down in one fluid movement expecting her to whip around and sink gratefully to her knees. Granted, not all women will instinctively lash out with a blunt instrument, but my Brenda is well trained in the untidy art of suburban warfare.

My latest attempt to imbue a little spring fever in her was met with howls of outrage and a running battle that swept through the house until the neighbours threatened to call in the army. Ted and Mary usually call the cops but they switched to the military after the local police station had its telephone stolen.

These days I wear padded clothing and a fencing mask when I try to instill some of the passion that once raged in Brenda’s ample bosom. She is a bit of a tease and likes to play hard to get by locking me out of the house.

Ted suggested I approach the Constitutional Court since Brenda is clearly violating my conjugal rights. A brilliant idea, I thought, until I remembered that judges these days are a bunch of limp-wristed nancy boys who are more concerned about appeasing disgruntled lesbian couples than they are about protecting the interests of red-blooded males who have wives that refuse to meet their connubial responsibilities.

Once Cape Town catches up with the rest of the country and realises that winter is over, I stand a far better chance of getting Brenda to see what she is missing. I won’t even have to use force. With warmer weather, she will stop wrapping herself up like a beef roti before going to bed. And once she realises that direct eye contact no longer signals an impending outbreak of hostilities, she will become more generous with her favours.

She might even start cooking dinner again. The laundry may take some time, but I have no doubt that once the birds are singing and the flowers are blossoming, she will make a start on the enormous pile of dirty clothes that threatens to topple over and suffocate me while I sleep.

It’s not that I refuse to do any domestic chores. It is simply that I do not know how. Women are genetically programmed to clean, cook, sew, crush a man’s confidence with a single word and so on.

A man, on the other hand, will see a vacuum cleaner and immediately start thinking that with bigger wheels on it and a small petrol-driven engine mounted on the back, it would be possible to ride it along the beach and discover new fishing spots while circumventing the ban on 4x4s. The dirty floor is quickly forgotten while he sets about designing this revolutionary vehicle. She gets home to find the vacuum cleaner has been disemboweled and her man has gone off to the pub because he knows there is safety in numbers.

As for me, I’m on my best behaviour. I simply cannot allow another rutting season to slip through my fingers.”

 

My inaugural column was not received as well as I hoped.

L Koekemoer was among those who wrote to the newspaper: “Ben Trovato is obviously an obnoxious, uninformed womaniser. I can understand why his wife has lost her libido. Living with such a man could be a complete turn-off. I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole.”

H Nichols joined in: “Ben Trovato’s column is beyond offensive. I cannot believe the Cape Times would publish something which reinforces and perpetuates the degradation of women. Please don’t insult us with this kind of pathetic drivel again.”

P Eloff wrote: “Your editorial staff have sunk to new lows. I will not be renewing my subscription to the bigoted trash that you call a newspaper.”

Jaco MacGillicuddy wrote: “What kind of human being are you?”

G Marschner wrote: “You must have been beaten up terribly as a kid.”

As the hate mail vomited in, I waited for the call from then editor Chris Whitfield. It came soon enough. Not to fire me, as I expected, but to laugh like an anarchist who has just won a year’s supply of Molotov cocktails.

Encouraged, I wrote my second column.

 

Happy Men, Happy Planet

 

“I am appalled. In fact, I am more outraged than Outraged of Oranjezicht. I was absolutely boggled to read the scathing responses to my very first column.

To be honest, I was expecting a flood of letters from sympathetic females offering me a little rumpy pumpy on the side. I did not anticipate a tongue-lashing from women who are clearly in desperate need of what I am not getting enough of.

I stand accused of encouraging men everywhere to insist that their wives and girlfriends do the cooking and cleaning and whatever else it takes to keep the smile on a man’s face. So what?

Unhappy, frustrated men go into politics and declare war on one another and hold boring international conferences. It is vitally important that men are kept happy. And let me say the fact that I am one is purely incidental. I have only the interests of the planet at heart. To the credit of delegates, and here I must single out Sam Nujoma, the only worthwhile resolution to come out of the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development was the one calling on women to be more aware of the need to keep their men happy.

If I were a woman I would want to make men happy. It is a fulfilling and potentially lucrative calling. Look at Suze Orman and the girls from Teazers.

But I was not born a woman. And when you are a real man like me, you don’t go out of your way to make other men happy. Unless you want them to buy the next round, of course. I want other people, who aren’t men, to make me happy. Men are happiest when they aren’t doing the dishes and getting French kissed at the same time.

When men are unhappy they want to go off and invade Angola. They start devising ways of killing people just by looking at them. Women take out their frustrations by cleaning things. It is a cathartic process for them. They enjoy picking up wet towels off the floor. Men don’t.

Forcing a man to clean the house is tantamount to taking a blunt panga and hacking off one of his testicles on the bread board right there in the kitchen in front of his friends. On the positive side, you can get him stitched up and by suppertime he is making moon-eyes and trying to slip his hand up your skirt.

Forcing him to dust and vacuum is guaranteed to fill him with hostility and self-loathing. Sure, the house will be clean, but forget about any action in the bedroom for a while.

Men have always believed that hand-to-hand combat is the best way of sorting out a domestic argument, but they have learned, through bitter experience, that the withholding of sex is a far more powerful weapon. Foolishly, some have even tried it themselves. Needless to say, they failed spectacularly because this is a form of resistance that violates every masculine instinct.

Even though the man is still seething at the indignity of having to hang up the washing, he is genetically predisposed to slipping into something more comfortable as soon as the last load is on the line. But since the target of his affection is also the target of his resentment, he gets confused and becomes gay. This is what has happened to most of Cape Town’s men.

I have overheard women complaining about the lack of straight men in this city. But it is they who have created this situation by forcing their men to cook casseroles, do the ironing and wear pastel cardigans and clean underwear on the assumption that if they comply they might be rewarded with a little non-violent physical contact.

In some parts of Cape Town it is even worse. In suburbs like Camps Bay, men are expected to know the difference between their Cabernet Sauvignons and their Augustus Pinochets. In the good old days we could just order a beer and a tumbler of whatever it was that made our woman drunk enough to stay the night. Sadly, this glorious age is coming to an end.

Men are constantly being told to become more sensitive, more in tune with their feminine side, but nobody has bothered telling them when to stop. And when your husband is eventually caught flouncing around the house in nothing but a lilac apron and bobby socks, it is people like me who are blamed.

I am outraged.”

 

I wasn’t the only one.

This time, the brothers were up in arms.

Modise wrote, “I’m a strong African man and DO NOT share your opinion, Sir. Women are not there to serve Men. The days of Men being out hunting and Women staying at home cooking are gone. We don’t hunt anymore. Women have also entered the labour market and it is both our responsibilities, as Men and Women, to make each other happy and share our responsibilities.”

Anton Jansen, clearly a sensitive man in his own right, said: “I can only say that I have not come across a bigger load of tripe in my life. The rubbish you spout about unhappy men wanting to go off and “invade Angola” is, in my opinion, indicative of the fact that you have never experienced the horrors of war. Please stop referring to yourself as a man. In my opinion you do not know the meaning of the word.”

You’d think they would run out of outrage. Or at least cotton on to what I was doing. But no. Three months later, they were still at it. Jeanine McGill developed rabies over something I wrote a week before Christmas:

“Ben Trovato’s column is the most disgusting I have ever read. I recommend that you do not re-employ him when he returns from Durban. In my opinion, he is welcome to stay there. How can a columnist get away with so positively describing Ted’s abuse of his wife, Mary; his cruel and unusual plans for his faithful dog Gonzo and the senseless slaughter of birds? In there no-one in Cape Town who can write a positive and uplifting column, that this trashcan columnist receives 64cms in your paper to spew his hash-rotted drivel?”

Jeanine was wrong on one score. In 2002, it was almost impossible to get your hands on decent hash in Cape Town. My drivel was rotted by beer alone.

Fortunately, the Cape Times readership was, by and large, an intelligent one, and the bright, bold and beautiful began leaping to my defence.

Velile Phato called me a “really crazy whitey”. I took it as a compliment.

Michael Rolfe, who I suspect might have been on drugs, said: “Ben Trovato is not merely South Africa’s foremost journalist; he is also a seer, a visionary, and the still, small voice of reason in a world run mad.” I am not related to Michael Rolfe, nor have I ever met him.

D Chaplin helped enlighten the sourpoeses of Cape Town: “Warning! This column contains irony, satire and other forms of humour. Readers who are unable to distinguish these literary devices from bona fide opinion or fact are advised to avoid reading further, and are referred to the TV guide or the classifieds where there is a lower risk of misunderstanding.”

In those years, much like now, my identity was a closely guarded secret. Perhaps too closely, if JA Browne’s letter was anything to go by.

“Since so many people are asking who Ben Trovato is, may I be allowed to spill the beans on this imposter? Ben Trovato is a woman. It becomes clear after much reading of these columns that Brenda is a symbol of oppressed womanhood, especially those married to gin-sodden men. Only a woman writer could so cleverly get under the skin of this bully, and by doing so make this Trovato creature a thing of scorn and contempt to all women. It is all very cleverly contrived by the feminist lobby. How can we be so sure that Ben Trovato is a woman? There is a certain sensitivity about the pieces – notwithstanding the pretence of macho image – that betrays the truth: the deep-seated need to denigrate men.”

As I weren’t confused enough, I received this email from a Dr Enetia Robson in London: “One has a sense of people like yourself being challenged by chaotic and violent events and trying to find a new modus vivendi while still retaining a sense of rationality and a wicked sense of humour.”

Jou ma se modus vivendi.

So, anyway. Chris Whitfield, and the editor who came after him, Tyrone August, never flinched in the face of calls to fire me or have me publicly executed. Brave men of honour, they were. And not once did they change my copy or censor me.

I repaid their loyalty by abandoning ship when the Sunday Times offered me more money to write exclusively for them. That’s right. I behaved like a common whore, dumping one client who was giving me a perfectly acceptable blowjob for one who was offering a full house. In my defence, they also offered me a full page.

By way of introducing myself to a national audience, I wrote on June 8th, 2008: “When I told my wife, Brenda, that I was going to be writing a regular column for the Sunday Times, she unleashed a scream the likes of which hadn’t been heard since she saw me naked for the very first time. I thought some kind of wild animal or housebreaker had walked into the kitchen and I almost wet my broeks.

“The Sunday Times?” she shrieked. “Don’t you know what they do to columnists over there?”

I poured her a stiff drink, quickly drank it myself and reassured her that I am an Untouchable. Like Essop Pahad. Unlike Pahad, however, I expect to retain my position after the next election. Unless, of course, the editor is instructed by his handlers in the Illuminati to terminate my services.

I ask readers to bear with me during these difficult times.

This dreadful xenophobia rumpus has caused a tremendous upheaval in domestic arrangements at the ramshackle pigpen I laughingly call home, and it may take a week or two before I can get to grips with matters of concern.

Right now, the gentleman in charge of ensuring that my garden does not degenerate into a hideous eyesore infested with alien species and itinerant drunks has moved into the spare room at the bottom of the house. This wholly unsuitable turn of events occurred two weeks ago when he asked permission to work nights as well as days rather than return to the warm welcome that awaited him at the hands of his South African comrades.

Brenda made him a cup of cocoa and said he could stay as long as he wanted. This is a situation fraught with complexities, but there is little I can do about it. Certainly, I could emigrate and cut my own lawn. Or I could stay here and have my lawn, and possibly my throat, cut for me. It is a risk I am prepared to take.

The reluctant lodger is called Sudan Red. He says his name is John but, quite frankly, I find that ridiculous. He is a refugee from Darfur, for heaven’s sake, not an accountant from Sandton. He keeps trying to tell me about the horrors of the ganja weed but I have advised him not to believe the propaganda and that if he smokes less than half a kilogram a day, he will be fine.

When I pointed out to Brenda that he was eating us out of house and home, she said that he at least earned his keep, unlike some people who apparently sit around all day waiting for something to come along and amuse them. With the application of minimum force, I explained to Brenda that writing was a noble pursuit. She silenced me with an elbow to the epiglottis and threatened to zero the counter. Like most white women, Brenda sees sex as something to be earned. Apparently it all works on a rather complicated points system. Getting into Australia would be easier than getting into Brenda.

In the meantime, I appeal to my fellow South Africans to allow our foreign domestic workers safe passage. We need to learn how to live with each other. I don’t mean me, of course. My house is full. You will have to learn how to live with other people – people who have spare rooms that aren’t filled with broken furniture and empty beer bottles.”

 

That’s where it all started. Now, half a million words later, it is I who have been unceremoniously dumped on the boulevard of broken dreams.

We deserve it, though, us freelancers. We go about accepting jobs willy-nilly, unprotected by unions and indecently exposed to corporate fuckery, then we fritter our wages away on luxuries such as medical aids, retirement annuities, second-hand cars and exotic dishes like mutton bunny chows. And then BANG! In an instant, we can no longer pay for any of it. It’s our own damn fault.

I am not left without a choice. I can ferret about for work in the hope of staving off the repo men, or I can run a hosepipe from my exhaust through the back window of the Land Rover. No, that won’t work. It would take six months to gas myself – my car has more holes in it than Jacob Zuma’s alibi. Besides, as a result of latest developments, a hosepipe falls under non-essential goods in my revised budget and it would be silly to waste the last of the beer money on it.

So there it is. The end of this particular road.

Siyabonga.

An Open Letter to President Jacob Zuma

Dear Msholozi,

I hear wife #3 is demanding that SA Airlink cough up half a million rand in compensation for jewellery that was allegedly stolen out of her bag while flying from Nelspruit to Johannesburg.

Please don’t get me wrong. When I say “allegedly”, I’m not casting aspersions on the veracity of Thobeka’s story. I’m simply saying that women often forget where they put things.

I bet there are times when you find a bottle of skokiaan in the tumble dryer or a puluma in the microwave. She said the 36 pieces of jewellery were in a cosmetics bag. Does she keep her make-up in the safe?

Were those jewels really worth half a million rand or did you do what most married men do and just tell her they were genuine to shut her up for a while? A lot of women can’t tell emeralds from bits of broken beer bottles. Brenda couldn’t, anyway.

I hope Thobeka’s impressive collection includes plenty of blood diamonds. The last thing we want to be doing is giving our hard-earned cash to the Oppenheimers.

I inadvertently pulled an insurance scam once. I came home very late one night to find that I had locked myself out of the house. Luckily I had a matchbox full of Semtex that I had been saving for a rainy day, so I blew the door off its hinges and went to bed. The next morning I discovered that all my stuff was missing. I filed a claim for R32-million but later that day realised I was in the wrong house altogether. An assessor whittled my claim down to R150 after I was unable to prove that I owned a Lear jet. Do you keep receipts for impulse purchases of this kind? I certainly don’t.

Anyway. Condolences on your falling out with the Guptas and half the ANC leadership. I am sure you are angry with both. But you know how to handle this sort of thing. Do whatever you do when you are angry with all your wives at the same time. Send Gwede Mantashe to his room, Blade Nzimande to Chechnya and Atul Gupta to finishing school to learn the art of discretion.

By the way, I loved those latest pictures of you and Madiba. He seemed a bit tired, though. Not surprising, really. As you said, he was up and about, laughing and shouting and playing practical jokes on everyone. By all accounts, even doing a bit of breakdancing to entertain his increasingly expanding family while the photo op was being set up. Who wouldn’t be exhausted?

My friend Ted said Madiba looked as if he had just got back from the taxidermist. I called him an unmitigated racist and chased him out of the house but then had to phone him and ask him to come back because he had taken his bottle of brandy with him and I couldn’t face another night of sobriety. Well, a night, anyway.

Listen. These Gupta fellows. Are you certain they are worth all this trouble? Sure, they own Sahara Computers and I know how hard it is to get someone to come out and disinfect the hard drive, but still and all. I think it’s time to make new friends.

How about the Chinese? Zong Qinghou is your man. Like you, he doesn’t have much of an education, but he does have R140-billion under his mattress. He also has a very creative accountant, something we all need when it comes to filing our tax returns.

Speaking of which, I hear you’ve been hanging out with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan. Well done. This is a man who knows his way around a hat. When you see him, please give him this letter.

Dear Mr Jonathan Sir,

My name is Benita Trovato and I am a beautiful woman of 27 living in the paradise of Durban. I have worked hard to save orphans and cripples for my whole life and now I have cancer in my prostrate glands.

Because I do not have long to live, I want to give all my money to charities but not in this country because there is too much corrupt men who will steal my money and spend it on drugs and whores and BMW cars.

I was blessed to inherit some money ($50 million dollars) from my kind father who before he became late was working in the garden of generous Mr Escobar who paid very well in American dollars.

You may be asking why I have chosen you but God told me in a dream that the starving people of Nigeria can make a better use of my savings. The Lord has touched you, Sir. I beg you to help this desperate man from Pretoria.

Next month I am going to have an operation for my diabetes and the doctor said there is a good chance I will not survive. I do not want this to happen while the $100 million dollars from my murdered mother is still in my bank account because our banks are run by bad men who will steal the money as soon as they hear I have gone to Jesus.

It is my Will and Last Testicle that you, President Goodenough, take the earnings and through you spend it on the motherless and other people doing our Lord’s work in Lagos.

Right now I can not ask you to telephone me because my doctor has ordered me to rest and also I can not even give you my number because my relatives are spying on me to make sure I do not give away my billions to charity. They want to execute me and already they have infected me with the cholera while I was sleeping.

Even though I have never met you, I saw your picture in the newspaper and I can see God has made his special mark on you. I want to give you 30% of the $300 million dollars to say thank you for helping an old blind woman from Bloemfontein.

I am too fragile and weak from the malaria to do anything for myself, so I have asked my Lawyer to help with this holy project. He says that because your name is Goodfaith, you will not object to showing you are professional and serious about helping us to help yourself to help the unprivileged.

He is therefore asking for a small amount of $50 000 dollars for proving trust before making arrangements to transfer the $500 million dollars into your personal bank account. He says he can accept payment in the form of cocaine if it is easier for you.

I appreciate if you keep this information top secret because the government will torture me to get my money and that would make the soul of my poor expired father very unhappy. Please hurry because I am also nearly dead.

My email is skabenga@nicetry.con.

Yours in Christ,

Sinenhlanhla Smith (Mr/Mrs)