It is in the nature of my job to be a cynic and a sceptic. I take nothing at face value and always believe the worst. Give someone the benefit of the doubt? Please. That’s about as likely as seeing me in church on a Sunday.
However, I am deeply embarrassed to admit that I failed this week in my capacity as a professional doubter and detractor. When I woke to the news that three of the ANC’s top six, the party’s integrity commission, ANC veterans, Cosatu, the Communist Party, churches and civil society groups were united in their call for President Jacob Zuma to stand down, I felt a twinge of hope. I was not so far gone as to be countenancing faith, but that tiny twinge grew stronger overnight as it fed off my dreams of a better future for all. By the time the ANC National Working Committee had ended its crisis meeting, I was telling anyone who would listen that this might well be it. That Zuma had finally played his last card and the entire disgraceful edifice he’d constructed around himself would come crashing down and Wednesday would see the country’s streets and bars filled with people half mad with joy.
Then came the historic press conference that I thought would put South Africa on the road to recovery. Secretary general Gwede Mantashe, looking increasingly like a well-used stress ball, was slumped in his chair, his wounds freshly licked and still raw. As he started speaking, the swelling balloon of hope in my heart began deflating like a plastic soccer ball headed by Jesus wearing his crown of thorns.
Confirming that he and his two fellow invertebrates, deputy president Squirrel Ramaphosa and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, are in an abusive relationship with the president, Mantashe said, “We must find it adult enough to close the door, beat each other up, if you find me with a blue eye, I must develop a narrative that I bumped a pole rather than going public with disagreements.” In other words, it is always better to lie than tell the truth. I happen to agree with him on this.
He also said that the ANC “has reflected on the calls by the SACP and COSATU amongst others for President Jacob Zuma to resign from his position as the President of the Republic of South Africa.” I tried that once with one of my ex-wives when she cornered me over her alleged repeated requests that I unblock some or other inconsequential drain. Looking her square in the eye, I said, “I have reflected on your requests.” She seemed to expect more but eventually lost interest and wandered off.
So on Wednesday I coughed up my nugget of hope, now all shrivelled and manky, and went to the pub to rinse the bile from my throat. There, I met a man who claimed not to care about politics. Or even understand how our government works. He said he was just there to drink and asked me not to bother him. I put him in a half-nelson and polished off his beer while he begged for mercy.
“Get a grip,” I said. “You’re behaving worse than Ramaphosa.” He didn’t know what a Ramaphosa was, so I got him to buy me a drink and began explaining the entire sordid business from Marikana to McDonalds.
I also had to explain to this sad bag of rags that in the old days there were three branches of government – the executive, the legislative and the judicial – but today there are dozens of branches. These are known as ANC branches. I told him to imagine the executive as a shark and the ANC branches as suckerfish that cling to and feed off the parasites on the shark. Imagine, I said, that the parasites are Cosatu and the Communist Party. And maybe the ANC Youth League.
“Remoras,” he shouted, and fell off his stool. I kicked him gently in the head to bring him to his senses. “Order Perciformes, family Echeneidae. They eat the host’s shit,” he said, giggling uncontrollably before appearing to die.
Even though with his final sentence he seemed to be grasping the metaphor admirably, I cannot abide ichthyologists who can’t hold their drink. I kicked him twice for good measure and left swiftly.
So. Comrade Greedy, I beg your pardon, Gwede, admitted that the dumbest “intelligence report” ever created by someone over the age of five was not, as initially stated by Zuma, the sole reason Pravin Gordhan was fired. Saving what little remains of the president’s face, the Working Committee came up with a reason more suited for adult consumption.
“The NWC has accepted the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship between the President and a member of his Cabinet (Gordhan) as sufficient explanation for the decision taken by the President.”
Look, relationships take work. Not mine, obviously. At the first sign of trouble, I’m out of there. But these are grown-ups we’re talking about. If they’d just taken the time to consider each other’s needs, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Would it have hurt either of them to occasionally send flowers or call just to say I’m thinking about you? And why the quickie divorce? What happened to relationship counselling? It’s all too sad.
So to get back to what I was saying. My flirtation with hope flared and died before it could ripen into a full-blooded emotion. It was crushed like a handful of marijuana on the last day of Afrika Burn. I have now returned to my natural state of cynicism, scepticism and ostracism.
I have, in fact, gone one step beyond. Madness, you may say, but these are the times in which we live. The only way we can beat these swine is with a baseball bat but there are too many of them and not enough bats. So we join them. I have already drafted my letter to the head of the government’s human resources department.
Dear Mr Gupta,
Forgive me for not knowing if it’s Atul, Rajesh or Ajay in charge of human resources this week. You guys have your fingers in so many pies it’s hard to know what’s happening. Maybe that’s why you all look so healthy. Too much of pies. Just kidding. I am a big pie man, myself. Mutton curry, mainly. I’m talking proper Verulam mutton, here. Not that Umlazi goat mutton.
Thing is, I am having a problem because I can’t afford to keep myself in the manner to which I ought to be accustomed. As a white man I should be well off, but something terrible must have happened and now I am only well off my face. This is why I am hoping you can give my life a skommel. Put me somewhere with a nice salary and maybe one, two perks.
Don’t put me in the cabinet. I’ve just come out of the closet. That’s a gay joke. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Also, I’m not gay so it’s not really a joke. A cabinet position is like the kiss of death. It’s like being given a poisoned chalice except you don’t have to drink the poison and you get to sell the chalice over and over again. Or something.
I want to be low key but high flying, if you know what I mean. Of course you do. You invented that thing. Smart move. I call it the Dubai Shuffle. But you’re all still South Africans, right? Good for you. It’s the 97th best citizenship in the world to have. And yet we can’t help being morons.
Take that Mcebisi Jonas fellow. You give him free dops in your en-suite shebeen, offer him the position of finance minister and still throw in a R600-million bonsella but he shakes his head and walks away, later making all kinds of affidavits and whatnot about this generous offer that was obviously never made.
This won’t happen with me, uncle. I’m not bluffing you. When you do your next reshuffle, give me maybe director general in tourism and let’s say R50-million and you won’t hear from me unless I hear from you.
Your man in the struggle,
Benjamin “Buttons” Trovato