Fake it ’til they ask you to leave

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From the street, the place had looked modest. The paint was stained and blistered by damp. A tree pressed ominously and expensively against the ageing plaster. In retrospect, it was an easy mistake to make.

Even when I knocked on the front door, next to the “On Show” board, there was no hint of what I was about to walk into.

But then the door opened, and I saw the estate agent’s teeth, and I realised I was in terrible, terrible trouble.

They weren’t just teeth. They were…lord, how to describe that moment when her lips pulled back to reveal the vast steppes of her immaculate dentistry? Imagine a keyboard, without the black notes. Of a church organ. In Saint Peter’s. Just row upon row, hundreds, possibly thousands, of perfectly even, blindingly white incisors.

“Welcome!” she said, and the teeth caught the light, flayed it, and nailed its corpse to the wall.

There’s that moment in the spy movie where a desperate man finds himself in a bar in Berlin at midnight, anxiously sucking on a cigarette, waiting for his contact to show. The only other person in the place is the barkeep, drying a glass. And then the desperate man notices that the glass has been dry for the last 10 minutes, and the barkeep is avoiding eye contact…

Right there, he understands that he’d been betrayed; that he needs to get out right now; but which way? Make a lunge for the back door or dive out of the window?

Those were my options, too, but I was wearing my good jersey, so diving through glass was out of the question, and the back door was blocked by a couple of house-hunters, cooing over the potential for installing a ball pond.

How had it all gone so wrong so quickly? I had wanted to spend a few minutes wandering around a small, shabby-genteel house, politely skirting shabby-genteel voyeurs who also had no intention of putting in an offer, before giving a fake name to a bored and demoralised agent and wandering out.

But I had been deceived. The sad exterior had told me I was on safe, familiar territory, but the teeth showed me that I was hopelessly out of my depth.

they wanted nine billion million and seventy hundred thousand

“They’re looking for cash,” the agent said to me. I wanted to reply, “Aren’t we all?” but just then I lost the ability to speak because she was handing me a brochure, the whole front of which was covered with zeroes: they wanted nine billion million and seventy hundred thousand for the house.

At least, that’s what it looked like out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t looking directly at the brochure, because I had realised the only way I was going to survive this was to pretend to be very, very rich. And the rich never look at the price. Sometimes they have it brought to them on a small velvet cushion. Sometimes it is whispered to them in Italian by a beautifully groomed manservant. But they do not look.

“Very good,” I murmured, and clicked my heels together in the manner of a Prussian war criminal knocking the mud off his polo boots.

“It’s obviously beautifully restored,” she said.

“Obviously,” I replied, poking at a floorboard with my foot. “Yes. Good. The floorboards are…on the floor. Yes.”

Her smile became wider and brighter, as if she’d just unsheathed an extra 50 teeth out of her jaw.

She’d seen through me.

I felt the blood drain from my face (although, to be honest, going even whiter probably counted in my favour just then). It was now or never. I had one last chance to trick her into believing I was loaded before the smile turned cold and she ordered me and my Standard Bank PlusPlan to get the hell out.

How would a trust-fund baby respond? What was it like to have – I glanced at the brochure – six million, in cash, to hand over for a rather threadbare little house? Also, was my jersey betraying me? It was lovely, very red and warm, but do the rich even wear wool? Don’t they prefer alpaca, or felt made of the pubic hair of CEOs of the corporations they’ve bought and stripped?

The rich also tend not to have books in their homes. Should I complement her on the way in which the solitary bookshelf was being used to store some Carrol Boyes ladles and an Audi cap? Perhaps I should –

“Okay!” she said brightly, and opened the door for me.

I’d forgotten the most important trait of the rich.

They don’t hesitate.

I’d revealed a nanosecond of introspection, and I was done.

“I’ll let you know if something else comes along,” she said. But she never took my details. Not even the fake ones.

*

First published in The Times

We’ve got a fake news problem

fake news

Screengrab from ‘Eyenews.co.za’

A man gets onto a bus, opens his coat, and reveals wires and blocks of putty-like material.

As passengers stare, unable to reconcile the banal reality of the afternoon with the impossible arrival of a suicide bomber, the man, grinning bizarrely, shouts, “I’m going to blow myself up!”

Some passengers scream. Some begin to cry. The man continues to threaten, still grinning.

Just then a police car arrives and armed officers pile out, yelling orders and pointing assault weapons at him. He stops smiling and hastily takes off the bomb rig.

Frightened, he starts yelling, “It’s satire! The bomb’s not real! I’m doing satire!”

He’s deranged, right? Nobody could believe that telling a lie, without irony, subtext or humour, to cause fear and potentially trigger a violent response, could ever qualify as satire.

And yet that’s what I’m seeing, almost every day, on the internet.

The fake news pandemic has started in South Africa, and instead of calling it what it is — shouting “Bomb!” on a crowded bus, deserving swift and merciless retribution from the legal system — it is being excused as “satire” by people who clearly believe that satire means “making up stuff” rather than using irony, mockery or humour to point out the vices or wickedness of the powerful.

I’m not going to name the sites at the vanguard of this onslaught because I believe they need to be starved of oxygen. Also, you already know them: your friends have been posting them onto your Facebook feed, reacting to the news that Jacob Zuma has collapsed or that the DA has vowed to fire all black employees in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Of course, wildly fictional drivel has been a hallmark of the internet since its inception. The lunatic fringe, managing to be both as pedantic and prescriptive as a teenaged collector of superhero figurines and as vague and contradictory as a drunk uncle presenting his world view, has always lurked just a few clicks away. And it’s had incredible stamina: there are web pages about lizard people with a longer and prouder history than the Huffington Post. Sometimes with better reporting, too.

The problem, though, is that that paranoid, endlessly creative creature has escaped from the zoo. It’s snuck into the suburbs and is breeding with your poodle. And the puppies are bouncing up everywhere.

For what it’s worth, I believe that South Africa’s current outbreak is more sinister than commercial click-baiting. I have a feeling that whoever is responsible is making a small fortune from clicks but a large fortune from powerful paymasters who have mandated them to muddy the waters with a campaign of intense, fairly co-ordinated disinformation.

a cacophony of competing whoops and screams

The timing of this upsurge might be coincidental, but I find it interesting that we’re starting to doubt everything we read online just as the ANC loses support by its largest margin ever. After all, if you can’t control the national conversation any more, surely second prize is to turn it into a cacophony of competing whoops and screams in which nobody can be right and, therefore, nobody can be wrong.

The media, too, must carry plenty of responsibility for the current crisis of authenticity. The whole thing was holed below the waterline the moment news organisations began reporting on celebrity gossip as information worth knowing. (The Kardashian-Industrial Complex is what happens when people who know better give people who don’t know better exactly what they think they want.) The moment you know your preferred news organisation is publishing “stories” cooked up by PR gurus, doled out to lackey publicists, and then “leaked” to completely undiscerning news wires, how can you fully believe its front-page exposé on some political scandal?

I don’t know how the South African media industry is going to put the fake news genie back in the bottle. Draconian laws around news production will inevitably be used against legitimate journalists by a government desperate for an excuse to gag independent voices.

But we do have a problem, and we need to be aware that if we don’t tackle it, we’re going to find ourselves in an appalling national crisis. With news even partially discredited, we’d never believe reports about the next Nkandla, or the next Marikana, or the results of the next election. We’d be lost, adrift in a typhoon of noise and contradiction and hearsay, without a clue where we were or which direction we needed to go to find salvation.

When you print fake banknotes you go to jail because you’ve undermined trust in your country’s currency, and without trust in its inherent value, money becomes worthless. Fake news should be treated exactly the same way. Counterfeit information undermines our faith in our institutions, in our news gatherers, even in each other. Worse, it undermines our faith in our own critical faculties. And once we lose that, we’re done.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

After the fact

Zuma condition

It’s been a hell of a year.

Not only has iconoclastic artist Ayanda Mabulu been shot to death for painting rude pictures and Malia Obama enrolled at a Limpopo university, but Julius Malema has vowed to kill gay people and Jacob Zuma has revealed that he has a powerful sexual appetite for young women caused by a medical condition.

None of it was true, of course, but that didn’t seem to matter to the thousands of South Africans who shared those stories online.

Journalists are warning that we have entered the “post-fact” era, and, tired of being left behind global trends, South Africans seem determined to be in the vanguard of the new wave of completely fabricated news.

I must admit that I’m slightly hesitant to announce the end of the factual era, mainly because I’m not sure it ever started. I like an empirical measurement now and then, and it’s pretty important that we know when to plant crops and how to ward off gangrene. But you’ve got to admit that the history of our species is one long, glorious fiction, punctuated with a few alarming discoveries.

Once you’ve made it past the fact of your birth, and figured out how to co-exist with the fact of being a social animal, you’re likely to encounter only one more fact: death. The rest is an almost miraculous negotiated fantasy.

For example, let’s consider an idealised newspaper, printed early one Sunday morning in the golden era of “factual”, pre-internet, pre-Trump reporting.

Casting your eyes over a mass of tiny black marks on a white page – each of which has been agreed to represent a certain sound, which itself has been agreed to convey a certain agreed-upon meaning, you encounter reports about national news.

This “nation”, is, of course, an invention — a large group of people corralled inside an imaginary line called “the border” — while “news” is carefully curated fiction, selected for its power to keep certain fictions spinning along.

Turning the page, you reach the financial section, discussing an invented store of value, a trading tool called “money”.

Finally, sport: an odd pastime in which arbitrary physical jerks are reinterpreted as hopeful or exciting or consoling fictions.

Once you’ve digested this set of “facts”, you go back to your day: living in denial about how much imaginary value-store you have left in the non-existent vault you call a “bank account”; believing that your invented deity is more powerful than other invented deities; being suspicious of people from outside the imaginary border because their agreed-upon daydreams are different to yours and they might force you to replace yours with theirs…

fertile soil for barbarism

Of course, this approach is fertile soil for barbarism. If human rights are invented fantasies (and they are), then who is to say that they are more important than a despot’s desire to slaughter his enemies? If politics are a fiction (and they are) why should Donald Trump’s version of reality be any less acceptable than that of Bernie Sanders?

Well, I’m not a philosopher so I don’t have a concise or logically sound answer to those questions, but I do suspect that if we’re going to get anywhere in this collective dream of ours, we need to try to pin down a few basic assumptions.

One of these might be that some events are more harmful to us than others. For example, I have a sense that genocide is generally worse for everyone than peace, and that insular, bigoted, reactionary politics are generally more harmful to the forward-movement of a country than a more liberal approach.

In short, some fantasies need to be given more weight than others, and some “facts” need to be held dearer than others.

Proper journalists — trained to get as close to our agreed-upon truth as possible, with a sharp eye for manipulative waffle — are the keepers of that faith. And at the moment they’re in trouble. And yet, wasn’t that inevitable?

Our shared beliefs might be almost universal but they’re also shockingly fragile. An international border is a complex legal, political and military construct, but all it takes to obliterate it is a single step.

Likewise, ideas of fair play, tolerance and human solidarity are entirely helpless against some charismatic git shouting, “It ain’t so!” At the moment we all agree that the sun rises in the east, but east and west are fictions. If enough people repeated it on Facebook, trust me: the sun would start rising in the west.

So what’s the solution? I’m not entirely sure, but for me a useful start is to figure out which fictions are the least harmful to me and to the people I live alongside.

And perhaps it’s also worth remembering that marks on a page are just marks on a page. What they represent, well, you’d be surprised by how much of that is up to you.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

Go! OK, but where?

Pokemon GoHere’s what we know so far about Pokémon Go!

It has an accent on the e. Pokémon without an accent is just Pokemon, which is a West Indian nudging you with a stick.

It also requires an exclamation mark but it’s not the end of a sentence, which means sub-editors need to be extra vigilant when journalists mention Pokémon Go! in the middle of a sentence. (Well played, sub-editors of The Times. Safe hands.)

Pokémon Go! is also a gigantic stride forward for humanity in that augmented reality is augmenting reality in an augmentative way. What’s that you say? How can reality be augmented? Isn’t the nature of reality simply that it adjusts to contain the new bits? I mean, isn’t “improving reality” a bit like claiming you can make water wetter? Well, it JUST DOES, SO SHUT UP, KILLJOY.

Also, Pokémon Go! marks the beginning of the end of our species.

In case you know nothing about the most important issue of our times, Pokémon are those disturbing cartoon creatures that we used to not watch in the 1990s. Remember those? They had names that perfectly captured the Japanese affection for impossibly cute toys and unbelievably upsetting porn – Smorgaslube, Pantypoot, Smegmatron – and the animated show taught us valuable lessons about friendship, determination, and the importance of trapping and enslaving every single living creature you found in nature.

Now, using the magic of mobile phones and monetised nostalgia, Nintendo has turned the relentless hunt for Pokémon into a game in which you wander about like a Victorian naturalist, muttering “Gotta catch ’em all!” as you snag ephemeral beasts in your digital butterfly-net before heading home to pin them to the vast, blank board of your existential loneliness.

The game is proving very popular. According to most media, it has taken over the planet, which means it is being played by at least 5% of Americans and comfortably half a percent of everyone else. Still, once you strip away the hyperbole, the numbers are impressive. Those who criticise Go! on the grounds that “none of it is real” should try and tell that to Nintendo, which has added more than seven billion very real dollars to its market value in the last few days.

leaping willingly off cliffs, dawdling on train tracks

Similarly real are the dangers it apparently poses to humanity. Jacobin, a socialist magazine, warned us that “if they wanted to, the game’s creators could send people leaping willingly off cliffs, dawdling on train tracks, running into forest fires”. (For an ideology that claims to be on the side of the little guy, those socialists sure seem to have a pretty low opinion of the little guy’s intellect. I mean, the whole forest fire scenario was already getting a bit creaky by the time we were eight. Remember? “And if Gary told you to jump off a cliff or run into a forest fire, would you?” No, Mom, obviously I wouldn’t, because, while Gary can be persuasive, I’m not the total cretin Jacobin thinks I am.)

Mind-control isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. According to Nigerian writer Bayo Akomolafe, Pokémon Go! is “the tale of Icarus, soaring away from the ground; the tale of the Holy Spirit, brooding over Genesis waters, maybe not quite touching it; it is the Copernican revolution in pixels, our over-saturation with the familiar and lust for heliocentricity.” I don’t know what any of that means, but if Pokémon Go! is inspiring that kind of prose, then we really do have a problem.

Still, there are clearly some positive spinoffs, mainly for academics in the Humanities, who will now be able to apply for funding to travel to conferences to postulate that Pikachu’s frustrated cries of “Pika! Pika!” represent the post-9/11 neoliberal silencing of left-wing dissent.

The anxieties, however, will be hard to dispel. People fear the game will turn us into a dehumanised, passive herd, as if alienated labour and state propaganda and the advertising industry and television and the internet hadn’t already completed that job years ago.

I don’t share these worries. For me, Pokémon Go! is simply the newest window through which we’ll watch ourselves doing what we always do. And as nice as it is to feel special by pronouncing that reality has never been this great or that our doom has never been more certain, the fact remains that things are ticking along more or less as they always have.

There have always been people who stop on roads to have fistfights over ownership of invisible friends. There have always been people who warn us that the new fad is the end of everything. There have always been people who don’t really care, either way.

And there have always been people who sat back on a pile of money, pat each other on the back, and giggle, “Gotta catch ’em all!”

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

 

Pols, poles and polls

ANC-poster

High up in the sky, at the top of the tallest telephone pole in the street, Jacob Zuma is smiling like a dope.

His expression is that of a Roman emperor being fellated on a tiger skin while listening to an ensemble of harpists and a briefing from a temple priestess who had a dream in which the emperor was riding a burning elephant through a barley field, sure proof that this year’s crop will be the best ever. So pretty apt, really.

The impression of distant, untouchable, delusional power is reinforced by the location of Jacob Zuma’s face. In Cape Town, the ANC’s elections posters tend to be very high up on the lampposts. This is because if they are anywhere within reach, Capetonians tend to attack the placards, clawing and biting at the cardboard until it hangs in ragged shreds. Defacing campaign posters is illegal, but then again so is building a private home with public money, so perhaps we’ll call that one a draw.

Lower on the poles and lower in the polls, the DA candidates have grown wings: a clever designer has placed the hopefuls in front of the national flag so that colourful stripes rise from their shoulders like the feathery pinions of archangels. The trouble is, nobody likes people with wings.

Like that X-man with the giant pair, who looked like the unfortunate result of an upsetting tryst between a human and a swan. We were encouraged to pity him and the prejudice he faced, but I got to tell you, if I saw that dude flapping past me I would properly freak out and throw a wrench at him before the pro-mutant lobby could conscientise me. As for the other superheroes that had wings poking out of their shoulders: do you even remember their names? Was it Kiewiet-Girl? The Silver Hadeda? Night-Chicken?

Speaking of forgetting people’s names, the FF+ posters are next, emblazoned with the smiling face of Constand Viljoen. Ag, not him, the other one. Connie Mulder. No, wait, he was the Information Scandal guy. (To think that a government-funded newspaper used to be called a “scandal”. Bless.) So not Connie. His son. Something Mulder. Japie? Fox? Pieter! Anyway. There’s Pieter.

always leave ’em wanting more

There’s nobody on the EFF posters. That’s one of the fantastic benefits of a personality cult. You know The Face is etched into the hearts of the faithful, and by not showing The Face you remind everyone of The Face. First rule of razzle-dazzle showbiz: always leave ’em wanting more.

So there they are, all asking me to vote for them. Except for the EFF. They’re ordering me to vote for them. “VOTE EFF”, their poster says. I can respect that. It’s a clear, concise announcement of centralised, militarised power: a barked instruction, undiluted by wishy-washy nonsense like promises or explanations or track records.

Not like the ANC and DA posters. Those are full of – actually I’m not sure what they’re full of because, even though I’ve read them a thousand times, I can’t remember the words. To be fair, the ANC ones are too high up the pole to read clearly – something about power and people and Dora the Explorer’s pirate adventure, no, wait, that’s an ad for some school holiday theatre. But the DA slogan is actively repelling my mind. Why? Because for some reason they decided to use the word “progress”. And “progress”, my friends, is what polite teachers write in the report cards of idiot children. I know, because it’s what my music teacher used to write about me. “Tom is making steady progress through Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s Book of Elementary Tunes for Tone-Deaf Children Who Can Only Use Two Fingers at a Time.”

Last week I wrote rather cynically about wanting better lies from politicians, but that supremely vague and euphemistic “progress” got me thinking about how tired I am of the jargon and the coded language, and it made me think about how refreshing it would be to hear the truth, no matter how banal or unsexy it might be.

Imagine how much more you’d respect the ANC if its posters showed Zuma mashing a slice of cake into his face under the slogan, “We were pretty fantastic until about 1998 and then the wheels fell off because let’s be honest, money is lekker, and in theory most of us would like to do the right thing but we’ve got hungry interior decorators to feed so please don’t cut us off.”

The DA? “A few parts of Cape Town are run like a Swiss watch-making factory and we might have just enough capacity to replicate that in one other metro, so pull in and it might be your metro! Maybe. Terms and conditions apply.” The FF+? “It’s flippen scary here, yo.”

The EFF, though, don’t need to change a thing. “VOTE EFF” says it all, doesn’t it?

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

We demand better lies!

Pik

Do you know what’s really gone to hell in the new South Africa? The quality of the lies we get told by our government. Yes sir, the lies were way better in the old days

I grew up listening to the fictions of the Nats and, by God, those hillbillies had the gift of the grift.

South Africa’s military could napalm a foreign country, have photos of said napalm splashed on international front pages, get condemned by the UN, and what would happen? Pik Botha would appear on the SABC to explain that we had misunderstood.

He didn’t tell us we’d taken it out of context. He didn’t claim that news reports had been fabricated by enemies of the state. He’d simply nod knowingly, take his sexy hot-chocolate voice down an octave, and reassure us that the world was a confusing place and that it’s easy to get confused and not understand complex adult issues.

By the end of his earnest sermon, the volk had forgotten all about war crimes and had gone back to sleep with a vague sense that a Sunday school picnic had gone awry but that a kind oomie had arrived just in time to make sure the ants didn’t crawl into the Redro.

When democracy came to South Africa, and the world and its spin-doctors opened up to us, we assumed this tradition would continue and even flourish. As arms dealers and corporate predators swarmed towards Nelson Mandela’s government, we believed that now, at last, we would finally get the lies we deserved: beautiful, gleaming things crafted by the greatest propagandists our taxes could buy.

For a few years the new government delivered on that promise and we were treated to a couple of masterful smoke screens.

Consider Sarafina 2, the new South Africa’s inaugural corruption scandal. Do you remember who was to blame and who got punished? No? Job done. If you have to Google a scandal to recall its details, then excellent liars have delivered some primo perjury and awesome obfuscation.

Sadly, however, the early promise soon faded.

The Arms Deal presented Thabo Mbeki with a wonderful opportunity to cook up some presidency-defining perfidy (for example, faintly sabre-rattling stuff about South Africa needing to step up to its rightful place as the biggest, baddest nation in Africa; of walking quietly and carrying a big stick; of maybe needing to invade Lesotho again) but what did he do?

Instead of being tastefully aggressive, he went defensive and told us we needed Swedish fighter jets to keep us safe, presumably from Botswana’s air force of three crop-dusters and Zimbabwe’s squadron of kamikaze weather balloons. Soon even the explanations dried up, replaced by terse denials and then accusations of racism, counter-revolution and disloyalty.

When Jacob Zuma was put into power by Julius Malema it seemed that we might enjoy something of a lying renaissance: any young demagogue who declares that he is willing to die for his paymaster is clearly getting ready to lead your country towards a new dawn of big, bold, juicy lies.

But once again the ANC flattered to deceive, squandering a good start by appointing Mac Maharaj as Zuma’s spokesmuppet. Suddenly everything and everyone was being “taken out of context”. It wasn’t even a proper lie.

In retrospect, it was inevitable that the whole sorry thing would end in a fire pool.

It was a ridiculously weak lie, and we heaped scorn on Zuma; but really the fire pool was an indictment of all of us: final proof of how low our standards have dropped when it comes to the lies we accept from our leaders.

If we weren’t such rubes or so resigned to our fate we’d be calling for “accountability” (the process whereby politicians tell small, elegant and reassuring lies to the public), we would speak with a clear and united voice to the corrupt and self-serving people in government and business, and we would say:

“Stop insulting us with these kindergarten fibs. Take us seriously as adult human beings who deserve adult lies. Hire consultants. Weave dazzling tapestries of legalese and opaque finance. Bore us into submission!

“For God’s sake, you know we’re all financially illiterate. All you have to do is present us with a vast spreadsheet and tell us it reflects the expenditure on Nkandla as off-set against the value-added deal we struck with China to balance the 2015 fiscal surge which was part of the Treasury’s eight-point plant to ratchet up the overshoot of the underspend of the – see? We’re nodding off already.

“But a swimming pool for putting out fires? Are you f***ing kidding me?”

I know the rich and powerful won’t stop lying to the rest of us, and frankly I’m OK with that: I don’t want to know what they know. But for now can we agree to one, first baby step? Can we demand some better lies?

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

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A country of no consequence

i did it my way

“I did it myyyyyyyyyy way!”

As I watched David Cameron resign, I wondered: what would it take for Jacob Zuma to stand on Plein Street outside parliament and resign?

Most of us have asked a similar question but I’m not sure how many have pushed for an answer. In this increasingly gloomy society it’s not so much a question as a statement of despair, usually followed by someone guiding the conversation somewhere else by announcing that they’re putting on the kettle and asking if anyone wants a biscuit.

But at that moment, as I watched a politician trying to keep his head above a flood of consequences, I really wanted to know: what would Zuma have to do in order for the ANC to tell him to quit?

Think about it. Anything coming to mind? No? Well, that’s to be expected. When astronauts spend months in space, their muscles atrophy. The same thing has happened to us. We’ve spent so long floating around in this zero-consequence country that our imaginative muscles have withered. We are no longer familiar with cause and effect, action and reaction. Around here, things just happen.

Which is why it’s so difficult to think up a hypothetical crime that might force Zuma’s hypothetical resignation. Nothing makes sense. Nothing fits. We’ve decoupled from the laws of political physics.

Looking back at events, each of which would have destroyed a British prime minister or a US president in a blinding flash of public humiliation, you see that bizarre upending of reality. Being on trial for rape made Zuma stronger. Dodging hundreds of charges of corruption entrenched him even deeper. When it emerged that he’d used public money to build a private palace, the faithful revealed that the real villains were his architect, Thuli Madonsela and the media. (The R7.8-million he’s been ordered to cough up is no doubt a plot engineered by our CIA-controlled Treasury.) When white-shirted goons invaded parliament and the broadcast signal was jammed, he just giggled.

By the way: if you’re one of the many ANC stalwarts who told me that you would recall Zuma the moment he stepped out of line, please get in touch. I’m eager to hear whether the fact that you haven’t recalled him yet is because you don’t feel he’s stepped out of line (in which case you’re clearly in a coma and I would like to send some flowers to your hospital ward) or whether it’s because, as I respectfully suggested to you at the time, you’re the turkeys who voted for Christmas. In which case: gobble gobble while you can.

“Listen, Jacob, we need to talk.”

Given all that completely bonkers history, let’s take a sane moment and try to imagine an event that might cause enough anger and disgust within the party to trigger a chain of events that will end with the Buthibond knocking on the bunker door and saying, “Listen, Jacob, we need to talk.”

Drunk driving? Oh please, that’s so 2013. Drowning a barrelful of kittens? An unfortunate accident, with a generous donation to the SPCA. Assault? He’d be happy to defend himself in court – if you can find a witness.

No, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain that the only way the ANC would tell Zuma to fall on his sword would be if he murdered somebody live on national television.

Not just anybody, mind you. If he shot an opposition MP in parliament, it would be a matter of hours before the ANC unearthed evidence of a plot against his life. Luckily for a grateful nation, the ever-alert Zuma saw the villain going for his gun and managed to whip a pistol off a nearby officer before blasting away in self-defence. When the media and the public started working through the footage frame by frame, revealing no assassin, the ANC would accuse them of using fake footage, of being CIA moles, of taking the pixels out of context .

Of course nobody would be listening because the country would be on fire. But Zuma wouldn’t be forced to resign. You know he wouldn’t.

No, the only way he’d go too far would be to mow down a bunch of senior ANC officials in parliament for no reason whatsoever.

People in his faction would cook up reasons – a moment of poor judgment caused by relentless psychological attacks from the EFF and DA; a Pavlovian response to finally being handed his machine gun after years of asking for it – but then, and only then, would he be required to step down.

Is this preposterous? Perhaps. But the fact that it’s not an insane leap – that we have to rack our brains to think of more likely scenarios – is evidence enough of just how far up Shit Creek we’ve drifted.

And, in the end, it’s a pretty simple equation: zero-consequence countries end up being countries of no consequence whatsoever.

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First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail