If my column makes less sense than usual, you can blame MTN. I am currently without a landline, you see. It’s not that I haven’t tried to get one but everybody I talk to wants proof of address. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to prove anything without eyebrows being raised. These tedious muffin-eaters insist that a photo of me at my desk accompanied by a hand-drawn map is not the kind of proof of residence they’re looking for.
So I have spent the last few months accessing the internet via a hotspot on my phone. Don’t worry. This was also gibberish to me the first time I heard it. Data is a bit like beer. One minute you think you have loads and suddenly there’s nothing.
Until fairly recently, I wasn’t aware that you could buy data over the phone. I’d get a message in the early evening telling me that I had run out. During the day, no problem. I’d drive 10kms to the shops and buy more. But after hours? What the hell was I meant to do? I’d pace anxiously or
lie awake for hours twitching and sweating and clawing at my skin. I’d often be the first person at the mall, hanging around the entrance pale and trembling, unable to make eye contact with the car guards.
Then I discovered you could punch in a few numbers on your phone and buy data, just like that. I could lie in bed and within seconds be returned to that magical, diabolical realm where something could happen anywhere in the world and I’d instantly know about it. I don’t have a fear of missing out. I have a fear of not knowing. It’s unlikely to become a thing because Fomo is so much more of a catchy acronym than Fonk.
On Wednesday at 1.45pm I ran out of data. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was due to deliver his budget in parliament at 2pm. This is a man who is fighting a rearguard action on all fronts. Actually, his enemies don’t often come from the front. Being the craven curs they are, they’re far more likely to come slinking up from the back.
I needed to watch this speech. Anything could happen. It was probably Gordhan’s last stand. This was a major public test of loyalties and if I missed it, I’d regret it forever. Also, I’d have nothing to write about.
Then, at 1.47pm, I had a moment of great clarity. “Fuck that!” I shouted, scaring a couple of idiot doves who had wandered into my lounge looking for food. I don’t know why they think they’ll find birdseed scattered all over my floor.
“I’m not giving those MTN robber barons R260 for two miserable gigabytes so that I can watch the budget speech.” The doves blinked at me. Then the bigger one tried to climb onto the smaller one’s back. If ever there was a sign that I should go to the nearest bar and use their free wifi, this was it.
And that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. MTN is forcing me, and who knows how many other decent God-fearing citizens, into daytime drinking in bars with free wifi.
Thanks to MTN, I am a fairly familiar figure in this particular bar. They know what I want. This is more than I can say for myself. On Wednesday there was a newbie behind the bar. A puce-faced callow youth who did a rubbish job of not showing signs of panic at the sight of a red-eyed unshaven possibly homeless man setting up what appeared to be a crude office in the corner. I despised him for not instinctively knowing what to bring me. Do I have to spell it out? Beer, I snarled, lashing a pair of cheap headphones to what little remains of my head.
I was just in time for Pravin to take the podium. He got a standing ovation, even from members of his own party. This was a good start. I quickly worked out a system of drinking, taking notes, eyeballing the talent and flicking back and forth between the speech, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram and Pornhub in case something happened that I needed to know about.
Look, the finance minister’s delivery is positively electrifying compared to Jacob Zuma’s, but put him in Nuremberg in 1938 and I dare say people at the back would start drifting off, even if it meant risking a bullet from one of the marshals.
I made it thirty minutes in before suffering my first neurological collapse. Fortunately it was gradual and the glass never shattered against my forehead. It seemed to affect my already frosty relations with the moron bartender, though, and he stopped asking if I wanted another after that. I wasn’t about to ask him for one, either. I have my pride.
Anyway. The entire speech was not only available online the moment Gordhan started talking, but a menagerie of civic-minded journalists were live-tweeting the entire affair. I’d hear him say something and seconds later 15 reporters would repeat it with varying degrees of accuracy. There was no point in me being there. I downloaded the speech, bought nine cases of beer and went back to my shack for some serious political analysis.
When I regained consciousness the speech was long over. That’s the nice thing about Cape Town in summer. You can take spontaneous naps and when you wake up it’s still light at 7.30pm and you don’t feel you’ve wasted the entire day.
I saw clips of the end of the speech. It seemed to go down well. Another standing ovation. Apart from a handful of ministers who pointedly drew the nation’s attention to their undying commitment to the Gupta family by being the only people who didn’t stand up and applaud. To be fair, our top-heavy social services minister Bathabile Dlamini was possibly unable to get to her feet by that stage, although she did show signs of life when Gordhan announced an increase in alcohol tax.
I don’t know what people are complaining about. If another 12c for a can of beer is going to devastate your family, perhaps you shouldn’t be drinking.
Gordhan told us that 10% of the population owns 90% of the wealth. Why give us this information and then withhold their names and addresses? How are we meant to send them begging letters or even petrol bomb their homes? Don’t taunt us, Gordhan.
The speech is littered with references to millions, billions and even a few trillions being allocated to this, that and the other thing. Lest we forget, R46-billion was stolen or squandered by civil servants in the last fiscal year. That’s enough to fill every swimming pool in the country with single malt whiskey. At the next budget speech, I expect to see thousands of white collar criminals paraded outside parliament in leg irons so that we may hurl abuse and other things at their loathsome heads. If there’s one thing this country needs, it’s catharsis.
Meanwhile, there’s good news for the country’s 17 million spongers – I beg your pardon, social welfare beneficiaries. Child support has rocketed to R380, which is more than enough if your child doesn’t eat and prefers walking around naked. Pensioners will be getting a whopping R1 600 a month so no more clogging up the aisles listlessly checking prices on every item. You’re getting in the way of the really poor – the shoplifters. You’re rich now. Load up your trolleys and get out. Also, drive faster.
My best bit was when Gordhan announced a 45% tax rate for people earning more than R1.5m a year and then, to a deathly quiet house, urged people to clap. The sound of the country’s top wage earners looking for their passports was louder than the applause.
But it wasn’t the only reverse-Machiavellian backflip with half-twist that he deployed, either. Breaking into a poorly rendered indigenous language followed by the English translation, he managed to look at Jacob Zuma without actually looking at him and said, “If lions work as a team they will bring down even a buffalo.”
Deputy president Squirrel Ramaphosa wasn’t sure how to react. On the one hand, he is really fond of buffaloes. On the other, he really wants to be president. Tough call. He settled for his inscrutable comrade capitalist smile.