Month: June 2017

The naming of cities is a difficult matter; it isn’t just one of your holiday games

There are evenings in which I toy with the idea of going into politics. Of forming my own party. Running for president. Declaring a three-day working week, introducing free-roaming lions to the suburbs, providing rum for the homeless. That sort of thing. How hard can it be? An idiot with a bucket on his head won 249 votes in the last British general election. Lord Buckethead represents the Gremloids, a party that might or might not exist. One of his manifesto promises was to legalise the hunting of fox hunters. For that alone, he has my vote. Well, he would have if I lived in England, which I don’t ever want to do under any circumstances.

I like titles. I think they’re important in a time when most men don’t even deserve to be called Mister, which is barely one place above Hey You on the list of honorifics. My first wife’s maiden name was Lister. She never took my surname when we married, although she was quite happy to take my dignity and masculinity. People meeting me for the first time would call me Mister Lister. She seemed to enjoy this. Me, less so.

Now look. I’ve had to open a bottle of vodka. It’s the only adult beverage recommended by psychologists for use in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

So what title would I choose should I get a call from President Gupta tomorrow morning? First prize would be minister of defence. I would institute weekly raves at every army base because dancing is the only way to get properly fit. Also, Zimbabwe would be ours by the weekend.

Second prize would be minister of arts and culture. It’s a portfolio that lends itself to flights of fancy. One imagines the position to only ever be occupied by warrior poets capable of flooring their dull-witted opponents with jagged rhyming couplets and then, as the gormless enemy reach for their thesauri, executing a bloodless coup de grace with a flawless quatrain coated in ironic iambic pentameter.

We are truly blessed to have such a man in Nathi Mthethwa. Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness – and the arts and culture portfolio – thrust upon them. After extinguishing himself as minister of police, he was handed what Macbeth described as a poisoned chalice. And while Macbeth went on to murder his cousin King Duncan and take the throne, there is little chance of Mthethwa doing the same. Not without the approval of the ANC branches, anyway.

While Macbeth is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, South Africa is a tragedy by Jacob Zuma. Shakespeare’s play dramatises the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. Ah, yes, those were the days. Zuma’s power play has money as its sole incentive. Fair play to him. Or unfair, if not unethical, immoral and utterly illegal.

Anyway. Let us dispense with the hors d’oeuvres and crack on to the main course. A week ago, Mthethwa said he wanted a discussion within the ANC on finding an appropriate name for South Africa. Quite frankly, I think the discussion on finding an appropriate president for South Africa is more important. But he does have a point. Swapo never recognised the name South West Africa as anything more than a geographical location. Let us not even speak of Deutsch-Südwestafrika. At independence, the comrades changed the country’s name to Namibia. This was met with a fair amount of hissing and spitting among the obdurate right, both German and Afrikaner. Even Margaret Thatcher sniffily delivered an elegant expectoration into the Downing Street spittoon.

At first I was confused. It seemed to me that the minister was straying way beyond his remit. You wouldn’t expect the health minister to weigh in on the snoek quota, so why would the arts and culture minister start jabbering about changing the name of the country? Because, shockingly, he can. Apart from underfunding arts and misinterpreting culture, his department is also entitled to change the names of towns, streets and, apparently, the country.

Giving an example of the wrong naming of places, Mthethwa said, “Benjamin D’Urban named our place, eThekwini, after himself and called it Durban.” I don’t get paid enough to do research but I had to check this out. Sir Benjamin was born in Suffolk and died in Canada. He was awarded the Order of the Bath, which is ironic considering that most British people avoid bathing like the plague. That’s probably what started the plague.

By all accounts, he was an ass-creeping suck-up. This is how Wikipedia tells it. “He served in all the principle sieges and battles and never asked to go on leave.” Imagine being stuck in a pub with him. He spent some time in Cape Town where he upset the Dutch so much that they went on the Great Trek, which, if you read about it, wasn’t all that great. If it was, someone would’ve made a movie about it by now.

Then he upset the Xhosa, as we all do when we drive through the Transkei, and arrived in Durban which, in 1834, obviously wasn’t called Durban and almost certainly wasn’t called eThekwini. King Shaka, who went on to achieve immortality as an airport, put up with this nonsense for a while. He cut the whiteys some slack because they were of use to him. Not much has changed in that respect. Then the Voortrekkers pulled in and ruined everything by building ugly holiday homes on the coast and getting vrot on brandy and coke. Dingane showed Piet Retief what he thought of their idea of a Boer Republic this close to the beach and, with the help of the British, sent the Boers off to the Free State and Transvaal where many of them are still found today. A few come back to Durban every December but they don’t stay for long. A lot of them now live in Perth.

Comrade Nathi also wants a name change for Empangeni. “The area used to be called Embangweni Wombuso wakwa Mthethwa (infighting over the chiefdom of Mthethwa clans).” He’s absolutely right. We should also resurrect the infighting to make it even more authentic. Maybe charge an entrance fee. The British and Boers will have to pay a bit more, obviously. Reparations, like.

At the same “cadres meeting” in Molweni township outside Durban, the honourable minister accused Absa and FNB of racist donatery in the Knysna disaster. The banks’ donations of R10-million each, he said, would only benefit “rich white victims of the fire”. Saying the banks’ “selective response” justified President Zuma’s opposition to white monopoly capital, forgetting to explain to the cadres that white monopoly capital is a Machiavellian invention of a London-based public relations firm contracted by Zuma’s Indian blessers to draw attention away from allegations of state capture. And that the firm, Bell Pottinger, is owned exclusively by rich white people. Details, mere details.

Perhaps unwittingly giving credence to the theory that shape-shifting reptilians control Earth, our deeply sensitive minister of arts and culture asked, “Why chase a lizard when there are crocodiles?”

In our Rename South Africa competition, send suggestions on a postcard to President Jacob “Iguana” Zuma, Union Buildings, Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, 0001. The winner gets a free weekend in Dubai and the cabinet position of their choice.

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Long haul to Bali

If you have to go to Bali at short notice but lack access to a high-powered boat fitted with supplementary vodka tanks, supersonic stabilisers and three depraved Scandinavian contortionists, you should probably fly Singapore Airlines. My contortionists were in for repairs so I decided to fly.

OR Tambo International Airport is nothing like the man. For a start, it lacks his outward sense of calm and order. Ironic, though, to name an airport after a man whose lexicon included regular use of a word that may not, under pain of imprisonment, be uttered in an airport. For the slow-witted, I’m talking about the word bomb.

I suppose I could’ve flown South African Airways. It would have been the patriotic thing to do. Then again, not allowing an immigrant family from Uttar Pradesh to ransack our state owned enterprises and loot the treasury would also have been the patriotic thing to do. Flying SAA is about as patriotic as giving Jacob Zuma a third term.

Singapore Airlines is everything that SAA isn’t. It runs on time, gives people free drinks and, unlike the rand, hardly ever crashes. The ten hour flight to Singapore was a pleasure. The pilot wasn’t even a little bit drunk. I have experienced more turbulence in hotel rooms. And their meals make SAA look like a soup kitchen for homeless war criminals.

Singapore is one of the many airlines that don’t fly from King Shaka International Airport. Hadedas barely fly from King Shaka. Most of them depart from the tree outside my bedroom window at 5.30am. Hadedas have the worst air traffic control in the world, shouting at each other whenever they take off or land. Or even just sit there.

To get to Singapore Airlines I had to fly from Durban to Joburg. I managed to get myself an emergency exit seat by weeping openly at the check-in counter while standing on my tip-toes, which brought my height to around three metres. I need extra leg room like sharks need to keep moving.

The cabin attendant pretended to give me instructions on what to do in the event of what she coyly described as a forced landing and I pretended to listen. We both knew that in the history of aviation, nobody in my position had ever swung that lever up, kicked the door open and helped his fellow passengers onto the wing.

The attendant then told me, with a straight face, that in the event of a water landing I should swim to the front of the plane where I’d find the life vests. So there was a chance we’d come down in the Umgeni River, then. Or maybe Zoo Lake? It was like a triathlon. Fly, swim, crawl to hospital.

Waiters in an airport bar took me hostage and only released me when they heard my name being called. Weaving off to the gate severely handicapped by a belly distended with beer, I made it just in time.

“Where were you, sir. We’ve been calling you,” said a gatekeeper with the face of a rejected kidney.

“I thought that was the voice of God,” I said.

This conversation might have taken place in my head. Living alone as I do, a fierce amount of conversations take place in my head.

It wasn’t long before I was on nodding terms with the onboard medication. But there comes a time on any long-haul flight when the airline treats its passengers as one would a bunch of parrots. They’ve barely fed and watered you when the blinds come down and the lights go off. It’s the equivalent of putting a blanket over a cage.

“More gin and tonic, air slave!”

“Sir, now is sleepy time, not drinky time.”

“What? This is an outrage! Drinky time has barely begun and you expect …”

“Sir, it is 2am in Singapore. Not drinky time at all.”

“Rubbish. It’s 6pm and it’s still light outside. Look.” I went to raise the plastic shutter thing.

“Mr Parrot, do not touch the fittings or we will have you shot.”

Singapore, you will remember, is the country that destroyed Helen Zille’s career. I shudder to think what their airline is capable of doing. Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that Singapore is a country at all. I think it’s just a giant airport with travelators instead of roads, planes instead of trains and sliding glass doors instead of borders. I’ve visited smaller countries than Changi Airport, which appears to have a GDP considerably higher than most African states. Another reason I don’t think Singapore is a real country is their idea of what constitutes crime.

A teaser emblazoned on the front page of last week’s Singapore Sunday Times screamed, “The ugly side of bike sharing!” I assumed “bike sharing” was a polite euphemism for one or other less than salubrious activity. Human trafficking, perhaps. My brain salivating at the idea of receiving a dose of fresh filth, I flipped the paper open. The page two lead story was headlined, “LTA moves against badly parked bikes.” Ramming home the full horror, four photographs showed bicycles parked willy-nilly, some obstructing doorways, others partially blocking a staircase. A few have already been impounded. It was too terrible. I had to bite down hard on my knuckles so as not to cry out at the inhumanity of it all. But, despite the brutally indiscriminate parking of bicycles, Singapore will rebuild. Je suis Singapore.

To reach my connecting flight to Bali, I had to cross several topographical zones within the Singaporean People’s Republic of Changi. Across the temperate highlands of Duty Free through the megalopolis of pharmacies to the glittering cornucopia of Gucci, I soldiered bravely on. Rebel controlled roadblocks slowed my progress but, after handing over bottles of water, I was allowed to continue on my way.

I spent the flight with my knees around my ears, eating with T-Rex arms and shooting death stares at parents who think it’s somehow acceptable for their children to carry on like malfunctioning air raid sirens.

Black-gloved gunmen were waiting for me at Denpasar Airport. Were they to release me into the wilds of Bali with my bottle of rum and my bottle of gin, I would quite clearly be unable to resist the urge to violently overthrow the Indonesian government. They gave me a choice.

“Rum or gin,” said a beautiful combatant with sloe eyes and a quick draw. It was a vicious and cruel choice to have to make.

“Eat prey, love,” I muttered, handing over the gin before walking out into a thick soup of tropical humidity, Australian accents and seven billion motorbikes.

Bell Pottinger – experts in reputation damagement

Dear Victoria Geoghegan, Doyenne of Public Relations, Lion of Bell Pottinger, Doctor of Spin and Master of Mass Distraction,

On behalf of all South Africans apart from those who hate you, allow me to thank you for the sterling work you have done to drive a wedge between our people. I appreciate that it was not an easy assignment. In 1994 Nelson Mandela set about trying to bring black and white, rich and poor, closer together. Sadly, his example was followed by a few others in the years to come, ultimately making your job so much more difficult.

It was only in January last year that you met with Comrade Duduzane, the number one son of our illustrious president Jacob Zuma. You weren’t to know that the liberal snowflakes in our ridiculously free press would get wind of your noble venture and conspire to paint you as a rapacious, unprincipled carpetbagger from the north. It is these malcontents in the media who, when one of their kind drags herself from the swamp and announces that she’s taking a job in public relations, move to stand upwind and denounce her as having crossed to the dark side.

I am sure you are familiar with this term and doubt that it gives you sleepless nights. Good for you. I’m also a huge fan of the dark side. Too much light hurts my eyes and integrity gives me a headache. Let us not even speak of truth, that slippery scoundrel who delights in nothing more than playing one side off another. Loyalty, as you and I know, Victoria, comes at a price. In your case, your price was in the vicinity of R24-million.

Your invoice was mailed to someone in the vicinity of Dubai. When I say someone, I obviously mean Salim Essa, trusted lieutenant in the Gupta crime family who selflessly work day and night to economically liberate South Africa for the good of all who live in her. By all, I obviously mean all the Guptas and all the Zumas. In my book, that’s not a crime. Unlike state capture, which, as we now know thanks to you, is nothing but a cunning construct of the evil Johann Rupert and his band of billionaire brigands.

So what did you think of Duduzane? No flies on that lad. They wouldn’t dare. I like him. He has a perfect set of teeth through which he lies flawlessly. He also recently acquired a bride and fathered a child almost simultaneously. Different women, obviously. He learnt from the best.

Did you know he recently bought an R18-million apartment in Dubai? Of course you do. You’ve probably attended one of his glittering soirees. Lucky girl. Did they serve your favourite dish, red herrings?

Geoghegan. Is that Lithuanian? I don’t mean this as an insult. It’s just that there’s something very Baltic about your strategy when it comes to South Africa.

In one of your early emails to Duduzane, you correctly pointed out that a lot of criticism was being aimed at President Zuma and, by extension, the ANC itself. This was obviously an untenable situation, especially when an account potentially worth many millions was at stake.

“There is a need,” you said, “to explain in clear, unambiguous language that it is vital ‘economic emancipation’ is addressed.” Have you been to my country? I expect you have. How else would you have known that South Africans were likely to miss the point entirely unless clear and unambiguous language was used? We’re not very bright.

Your next couple of sentences were sublime. “The people of South Africa need to be told that their dissatisfaction is being heard and that concrete actions are being, or will be taken, to address them. In addressing this issue, the language and psychology used will be crucial.”

With that, your campaign to divide the races and distract the masses was up and running. It was you who came up with immortal phrases like ‘white monopoly capital’ and ‘radical economic transformation’. Money well spent, in my view. You were taking a bit of a chance using words of four syllables, though. As it turned out, even unreconstructed idiots like the ANC Youth League’s Collen Maine could get his swollen tongue around these awesome slogans.

You wouldn’t be where you are today, Victoria, if you weren’t a master at playing the long game. I particularly liked this bit. “For this campaign to be believed and to achieve credibility there will need to be discipline, continuity and consistency over a period, ideally running up to the 2017 elections and beyond.” Your stirring words remind me of another superhero, Buzz Lightyear, who once cried, “To infinity and beyond!” Unlike you, Buzz wasn’t solely motivated by commercial imperatives. I expect he died intestate with nobody but Sheriff Woody and Slinky Dog at his graveside. What a loser.

One of the mistakes you might have made was to think that discipline, continuity and consistency were even possible in a rogue state like South Africa. By this I mean a state full of rogues, most of whom are investigative journalists who drink too much and care little for the dark art of ‘reputation management’.

In that email to Duduzane, you said, “The key to any political messaging is repetition and we will need to use every media channel that we can, to let our message take seed and to grow.” Duduzane should have told you that with the mad emperor Hlaudi Motsoeneng out of the picture, you could rely on just one newspaper and a single TV station. And, obviously, a handful of cabinet ministers, a few hundred mid-level bureaucrats, some parliamentarians, a bunch of businessmen and, of course, a president.

It wasn’t enough, Victoria. But you know that now. We all know. Tragically, your dream of taking your campaign to the ANC elections in December and your clients to the cleaners was doomed to crash and burn. Bell Pottinger promised to “package the narrative into speeches, press releases, website content, videos/broadcast content, slogans and any other material required”, but it was all too fast and way too much. Your campaign was like an overloaded taxi guaranteed to break down on the side of the road.

You told Duduzane it was “critical that the narrative grabs the attention of the grassroots population who must identify with it, connect with it, and feel united by it”. Sounds good on paper, but did Duduzane not tell you that the best way to grab the attention of the grassroots population is to offer them a Streetwise Two and a quart of Zamalek?

So. The old bait-and-switch, hey? Smoke and mirrors. Look at my eyes, don’t watch my hands. All tried and tested by those who have lived and died in the trenches of propaganda and puffery. And why not? If it worked for Joseph Goebbels, a pioneer of the public relations industry, why wouldn’t it work for Bell Pottinger?

Apart from offering the use of a team made up of the likes of Tony Blair’s political advisor (you might want to rethink that in future), you tossed Lord Bell himself into the mix as a sweetener. He will, you promised, be available for strategic counsel as and when required. I might be wrong, but I struggle to imagine the Lord voluntarily relinquishing his gin and tonic at the East India Club to come and help you and the lads resurrect the decomposing reputations of the Guptas and the Zumas.

You even offered “other divisions should we need a wider skillset”. Good heavens. Like what? The Royal Shakespeare Company? The Light Dragoons? Skinheads from Whitechapel? It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that you had reserves. Perhaps you should have deployed them before the cat was presented with an opportunity to leave the bag.

You were so concerned about the future of South Africa and its people that you almost forgot to mention anything about payment. But then you did. “Bell Pottinger is keen to build a long-term partnership with you. Given our deeper understanding of the assets you have at your disposal, we envisage an initial five-month project at a fee of £100 000 per month, excluding costs.” Seems fair. Especially considering that the assets Duduzane has at his disposal are basically the entire contents of our treasury.

Anyway. I must go and lie down. Knysna has been gutted, Cape Town has been washed into the sea and Helen Zille has gone mad. Send my regards to your friend Max Clifford. Good man, that. Well, apart from being a paedophile. You probably won’t see Max though. I imagine you’ll be going to a different facility. New Hall women’s prison, probably. Not to worry.

Just think of all those potential new clients.

Trump scores own coal

global warming-1.jpg

Global warming could wipe out three quarters of all species. Is this really such a terrible thing? I wouldn’t complain if climate change saw an end to, say, mosquitoes, hadedas and sharks. Or anything, really, that thinks it can bite me or shout at me before the sun even rises. I’m including an ex-girlfriend here.

There is only one species of human – two if you include women – but at least nine million species of crawling, flying, jumping, swimming things in the bush and oceans. And every one of them wants us dead, make no mistake. We’re the ones who are endangered here.

There are loads of species we’ve never even set eyes on and I don’t see the point of keeping them around. If we can’t throw them bits of bread, take pictures of them, make them do tricks or eat them, they’re useless to us. There are microorganisms so small that you can’t see them even when they wear their bright yellow jumpsuits and play the harpsichord on Saturday nights. Bacteria pretend to be on our side, but they’re not. We must kill them before they kill us.

So when I heard that America’s pre-pubescent president had pulled his country out of the Paris Climate Accord, I broke out the tequila, turned up the music and danced with the cat until the noise woke the hadedas. See how they like it.

America joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only countries out of 195 who want nothing to do with this filthy accord. If you’re a true patriot, you will support these three countries at every turn. Invest in Nicaragua. Take your holidays in Syria. Sing the Star Spangled Banner before going to work. It’s the right thing to do.

Donald the Magnificent once said that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. In other words, climate change is not real. Like goats. Or the moon. His supporters understand this kind of language. Evolution is a hoax. Vaccines are the devil’s work. Barack Obama is a lizard. The pope is a Muslim. Guns don’t kill people. America is finally in safe hands. The tiny hands of a man who falls asleep in mid-Tweet, god bless his swollen Christian heart.

One of the goals of this fake climate pact is to keep global temperatures from rising by 2ºC. With the exception of my second wife, I have never come across such selfishness. Four million people live in the Arctic region. It drops to -40 in January. But even though the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, it’s just not fast enough. Those who live there have to stick lighted matches into their eyes to unfreeze their eyeballs in the morning. Do you think they’re against planet-warming emissions? Of course not. So let’s help our Eskimo brothers, or whatever the hell they call themselves, by spraying aerosols into the air and putting those yummy chlorofluorocarbons to work.

Donald is making Europe nervous. This is a good thing. For too long Europe has annoyed us with their strong currency, efficient public transport and bloody-minded insistence on speaking languages that aren’t English or even Zulu. Addressing last week’s G7 meeting, Germany’s vivacious president Angela Merkel said, “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over.” This, with typical Teutonic subtlety, was aimed squarely at America. I imagine Comrade Trump was delighted to hear that fewer people were relying on him.

Six of the G7 countries claim to understand the importance of combating the depraved myth known as climate change. If they wanted Donald to also understand, they should’ve given him an animated cartoon of ice caps melting and Manhattan being flooded. Maybe with a cute squirrel narrating. They only have themselves to blame, with their big words and fancy pants logic.

Big Don has always vowed to jumpstart America’s economy. He has already tried to do this by connecting the positive red to the positive Russians and the negative black to … I don’t know. I don’t have all the details. It’s late. Feel free to come up with your own metaphors and analogies.

Somehow the health of the planet became more important than money. I know, Donald. I know. It’s inexplicable to me, too. This foolishness started a long time ago. It goes back to the first Bush. Even the name has ecological connotations. That dynasty of bunny-hugging bohemians set a nasty precedent of bombing our enemies with minimal collateral damage to the environment.

Lyndon B Johnson was on the right track when he ordered napalm to be used on the jungles of Vietnam. Vegetation gets out of hand. It needs to be taught a lesson.

I saw a snake in a tree on Wednesday night while having a beer on my veranda with a friend. He said there was no need to call the police because it was probably a harmless grass snake that had learnt to climb trees. I said it was more likely to be a deadly tree snake and dialled the flying squad. It went to voicemail and I gave up. He said there was no such thing as a tree snake so I told him about the Afrikaans-speaking snakes who go by the gang name of Boomslang and he left shortly afterwards which was good because it meant more beer for me but also bad because if the viper launched an aerial attack I’d have no-one to talk to while I died.

Nobody needs serpents harassing them while they’re drinking and I, for one, urge Agent Orange to issue an executive order stopping this nonsense once and for all. He is the only man with the power to teach nature a lesson from which it will never recover.

Next to himself, Donald loves fossil fuels more than he loves his wife who can’t stand him. The older the fossil, the better it burns. The spine of a brontosaurus can light up the Bronx for a month. Eskom, on the other hand, loves coal almost as much as it loves Brian Molefe. Unlike Molefe, though, there is little chance of coal disappearing.

The hairy-legged, jumper-wearing counter-revolutionaries who dwell among us claim that coal is a finite resource. This is nonsense. Everyone I know has a bag or two of charcoal in their garage. And they know people who know people who have bags of their own. Every petrol station and cafe has lashings of charcoal.  The earth and even most people are made of coal. Je suis carbon.

Our dear friends, the Guptas, own entire mines full of charcoal. These are not people who run out of things, whether it be fuel, money or excuses. And I can’t imagine they’d ever want to put themselves in a position where they might have to tell their adopted family, the Zumas, to either give up meat or start using solar-powered braais.