An open letter to SABC chief Hlaudi Motsoeneng

Dear Comrade Oberstgruppenfuhrer Hlaudi Motsoeneng the First, Commander of the SABC in General and the Airwaves in Particular, Guardian of Local Content, Master of Invention, Supreme Defender of the Truth, I kneel before you in greeting.

Congratulations on taking the public broadcaster to new heights. There are those who say you have dragged it to new depths. Pay no heed to these counter-revolutionary quislings. Depths, as you know, are nothing more than heights in reverse. It all depends on how you look at things. And you, sir, are able to look at things in a way that beggars belief. Speaking of beggars, please issue a decree banning the depiction or mention of beggars on your television and radio stations. People exposed to beggars will want to become beggars themselves and soon there will be nobody left to pay your handsome salary.

Well done on forcing your radio stations to play 90% local music. However, I don’t understand why you never went for the full 100%. I hope you’re not going soft on us. Imagine if Stalin had let some of his critics live? He had to kill all 1.2 million or it wouldn’t be known as the Great Purge. It would’ve been something like the Mediocre Purge and everyone would have laughed at him.

You are Hlaudi the Magnificent and people do not laugh at you. Well, not openly. I saw someone in Woolworths the other day laughing for no apparent reason. Sure, there’s a good chance he was laughing at the prices, but I had to make sure. I pretended to be browsing, then rabbit-punched him in the kidneys and grabbed him in a chokehold. Not an air choke, mind. That’s for amateurs. I went for the blood choke, squeezing his carotid artery until his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

“Are you,” I hissed, “laughing at Comrade Hlaudi Motsoeneng?” I only had a few seconds before he passed out but I wasn’t giving up without an answer. He shook his head and pointed at the beetroot spaghetti, cauliflower mash and pumpkin tagliatelle. I also had to laugh and relaxed my grip. He dropped to the floor and I hoofed him in the nuts just in case he ever thought of laughing at you in future.

The media (The New Age) is full of praise for what you are doing and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if your boss, coach and personal hero, President Jacob “The One Who Laughs While Hurting You” Zuma, awards you the Mao Tse-Tung Medal of Honour the next time he restocks the patronage pantry.

What you have done to radio in this country is nothing short of brilliant. You could have ordered only a couple of channels to stick to local music in the hope of appeasing the likes of jazz fundamentalist Don Laka, but you didn’t. Neville Chamberlain tried a similar thing with Hitler and look how that ended. You, sir, are no Neville Chamberlain.

I should probably be honest, here. I don’t listen to the radio. Never have, never will. As far as I’m concerned, radio is little more than television for the blind. You could ban radio altogether and I wouldn’t even notice. It’s not a bad idea. With the savings on royalties alone you’d be able to buy yourself a modest island in the Caribbean. Give it some thought.

I understand your pro patria policy has also been extended to the SABC’s television channels. It goes without saying that this is good news, since all your news is good. Banning the showing of service delivery protests is a step in the right direction. And when I say right, I mean as far right as the National Party went when they banned the media from reporting on anti-apartheid protests. It was very noble of PW Botha to protect white people from having to watch angry darkies running amok when they could be watching uplifting programmes like Wielie Walie and The A-Team.

When I turn on the telly and see people burning tyres and throwing rocks at the police, my girlfriend has to strap me to my chair to stop me from going out and doing the same. I should say, though, that I frequently get the urge to do this without even watching the news.

Have you thought about what you’re going to fill your bulletins with as the noxious rabble step up their remonstrations ahead of elections? Of course you have. You’re a professional, after all. You might not have your matric, but you do have an honorary degree from the Joseph Goebbels School of Smoke and Mirrors.

Rabbits are good. People love rabbits. I am quite happy to produce a 900-part series on rabbits. White ones, black ones, fat ones, thin ones, smart ones, silly ones. If you’d rather not have white ones, that’s fine with me. They can all be fat and black for all I care. There will be scenes of gratuitous fornication so a late night slot might be best. There will be a lot of eating, too. And sleeping. Rabbits are big sleepists. I see it as a sort of Big Brother, only with rabbits. Viewers will go mad for it. They might even start paying their licence fees.

Scrapping all international shows and films and replacing them with homegrown content (rabbits!) will be widely welcomed by the 1.57 million people who force themselves to sit through The Bold and the Beautiful or the two million who suffer in silence through Days of Our Lives and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Freelance producers must be ecstatic at this new development. It costs around R5 000 to produce one minute of television. This means that men with moonbags and ponytails are set to become the wealthiest in the country. Not in terms of money, of course. The SABC doesn’t have the money to pay for this deluge of local content. This is where my show comes in. I foresee a surplus of rabbits after the first season of Big Bunny Brother. So you pay the producers in rabbits. A hundred of the floppy-eared vermin for a documentary, a thousand for a feature film. Feel free to claim the idea as your own.

I believe you met independent producers the other day. Why did nobody tell me? Is it because I live in Durban? This is the home of the bunny chow, for heaven’s sake. We could have wrapped this up right there and then at Orcland Park.

One thing I like about you is that you don’t bother with public participation. Your attitude is, “You have an idea? Bring it to Hlaudi. I and I alone will decide.” This is the way it should be. Genghis Khan would never have united the Mongol tribes through any namby-pamby process of consultation. On the other hand, he was a big fan of meritocracy. You’re no Genghis Khan.

This is my favourite quote from that meeting: “The team that I work with, they should walk like me and talk like me – that is what I am expecting from them. That is how I run the organisation, because we need to sing one song at the SABC and that song should be sung by everybody within the organisation.”

I couldn’t agree more. Great organisations are underpinned by great songs. Without the Horst Wessel Song, for instance, Germany might never have been the great nation it was from1933 to 1945.

I have been practising talking like you but it’s not going well. I still come across as coherent and educated. Perhaps it will be easier if I just learn to walk like you.

You also said, “We have given instructions. The ‘how’ is not my business.” Your use of illeism in this instance is commendable and not in any way an indication that you might be a narcissistic zealot. Instructions have been given. How they are carried out is irrelevant. And rightly so. Comrade Mugabe gave the order for white farms to be confiscated. It was not his business to make sure they were taken over by people who knew their plough from their poephol. And few would deny the success story that Zimbabwe is today.

Compadre, you are a man who knows powerful people. They, in turn, know other people. Who also know people, but once you get this far from the centre of power you need not bother with those ones. Have faith. Do you see what I’m getting at? No? Let me spell it out. Does the name Faith Muthambi ring a bell? Of course it does. She is the minister of communications. She has a degree from the University of Venda, whatever that is, and she calls you several times a day. Not with instructions, obviously. That would be inappropriate. You are, after all, a Man. I imagine you simply chat about this, that and the other thing. The other thing obviously being the profound and lasting subversion of the public broadcaster’s mandate.

A final question. Did you grow up in the same village as our foreign minister? She said in an interview with al-Jazeera the other day that she had a hole in her head from carrying buckets of water as a child. This was in response to a question about the recent brawling in our parliament. I think it’s a perfectly acceptable excuse for carrying on like a raving lunatic.

Do you also have a hole in your head, comrade?


Shock! Horror! Outrage!

It’s not always easy coming up with ideas for a column, week after week, month after month, year after goddamn year, especially not since the internet was invented and everyone became a comedian overnight.

By the time my deadline rolls around, everything that has happened anywhere in the world has been commented on, ripped apart, memed, lampooned and satirised. It’s hard to get a fresh perspective on anything unless it happens six hours before the paper goes to print. And that doesn’t work for me.

It takes me six hours to get to the bottle store. And I can only go at a hundred words to the beer. The time it takes to write a thousand words, factoring in the travel between my desk and the fridge, with toilet breaks and moving the cat off my keyboard, is way more than six hours.

It’s not my fault. I work in the communications industry, although I use the term “work” loosely. I’m not sure about the word “industry”, either, because it suggests productivity. As for “communications”, I never answer the phone and if the doorbell rings I lie on the floor until I think it’s safe to stand up.

These days I scan stories for key words like “shock” and “horror” and “open bar” and hope nobody else picks it up before Sunday. It hardly ever happens. But on Wednesday I hit two out of three.

It was a statement by communications minister Faith Muthambi in response to something Gavin Davis said. I had to google Gavin Davis to find out who he was. The statement was issued by someone with the unlikely name of Ayanda Hollow. One never really knows, in cases like these, whether the statement was written by the minister and simply emailed by this Hollow person, or whether it was more like a Hollow-gram pieced together from the demented rantings of an angry politician.

Either way, they knew what words to use to pique the interest of us jaded old whorehacks.

“The Minister has noted with shock and horror …” I went to the fridge and got a fresh beer. This was looking promising. Gavin Davis had clearly been exposed as one of the ringleaders of Boko Haram. Adjectives of that stature are generally reserved for massacres and war criminals, unless, of course, it’s a statement issued by the United Nations, in which case they let rip with words like “unacceptable” and “regrettable”.

Davis seemed an unlikely Islamic fundamentalist, although he does have a beard, which, in some cultures, is enough to have him stoned. I don’t know which cultures these are. Perhaps they don’t exist. But they should.

Davis’ heinous crime was to make “a litany of spurious accusations involving the SABC which have never been tested in any objective and fair process”.

The statement, by the way, was headlined, “SABC: Gavin Davis’ utterances horrific – Faith Muthambi.” Good word, that. Horrific. I’m pleased to see it getting some airtime outside of the killing of cartoonists and the wanton slaughter of women and children in Nigeria.

Davis had clearly accused the SABC of crimes against humanity and was calling on the nation to march on Auckland Park and burn it to the ground. Any escaping employees would be put to the sword or, as LNN7 might report it, put to the sawed.

I was happy to leave it there and go out looking for trouble on the streets, but my training forced me to read on.

“The Minister will not grace those allegations with any dignity by repeating them …” What? How are we …? What? You issue a statement violently condemning something someone said but you won’t tell us what he said because it would be undignified? I went to the fridge and fetched another Tafel. This was quickly turning into a fifty-word-a-beer piece.

I began reading the statement for clues.

“Honourable Davis is strongly advised not to act like an irresponsible shop steward with a clandestine mandate.” The Honourable Davis? This man has committed the most atrocious … well, I don’t know what. But whatever it was, he deserves to be flogged. Unless he enjoys being flogged. In which case he deserves something else entirely. The opposite of flogging, I suppose. A lie-in, perhaps. With breakfast brought to him on a tray. That’ll teach him.

Anyway, what is Faith/Hollow talking about? All shop stewards have a clandestine mandate. They’d be irresponsible not to have one.

She/he/they continue by accusing this monstrous fiend of “illegally colluding with some of the individuals whose interests he purports to be protecting”. Who are these people? Pangolin smugglers? We can only speculate.

But wait! What’s this? Is that the race card I see being flashed?

“It is indeed questionable that Honourable Davis’ level of activism coincides with the appointment, albeit on an acting capacity, of a black person at the helm of a public institution.”

Thank god this black person is doing what he/she does in an acting capacity, otherwise Grand Wizard Davis would almost certainly have stormed the SABC with his army consisting of Grand Dragon Hofmeyr on his high horse accompanied by Grand Cyclops Bridges on accordion.

“In addition, the Minister will not allow a perception to be created that if you are a black woman Minister you need a white male babysitter.”

Whoever you are who wrote this, let me just say that the perception is already out there. The horse has bolted. I am not ashamed to admit that I often babysit the foxy Lindiwe Sisulu. And by babysit, I think you know what I mean.

The statement ends by urging the cruel and selfish Davis not to drag “a public institution into disrepute”. Yes, Davis. The SABC was a reputable institution until you came along and did whatever it is that we’re not being told you did. Hang your head in shame.

And then, just as I was about to go to bed, this Davis character replied. Don’t look at it, I said to myself. Just go to bed and drink tequila until the sun comes up. But, as a professional, I needed to know both sides of the story.

Davis is the shadow minister of communications. Does this mean Faith Muthambi is scared of her shadow? Probably not. Does it mean Davis will one day be communications minister? Definitely not.

Davis clears up a few things. Apparently it’s mostly about Comrade Faith threatening to recommend the removal of certain SABC board members. Recommend? Please. In some African countries, the board members of state broadcasters are removed by firing squad.

Uncivil war conducted by statement. So much more civilised than razing villages and yet so awfully tedious. So crushingly dull. If this is the way we are going to fight, we may as well call ourselves Norway.

Come on, people. This is Africa. If you have to issue a statement, stuff it into a Coke bottle full of petrol, light it and throw it into the office of the person with whom you wish to communicate.

Martial law would be more fun than this.