Author: Tom Eaton

Tom Eaton is a columnist, satirist, screenwriter and sometime-novelist.

Waiting for Godnows: A Tragi-Comedy in One Act

this is fine

The smoking ruins of a collapsed building. Two loyal comrades, STEADFAST and VICTORIOUS, sit in the rubble. They are on fire.

VICTORIOUS: Comrade, I am beginning to suspect that the building may not be structurally sound.

STEADFAST: I understand that you are in shock, but we do not air such views in public. Take your concerns to the appropriate forum, such as the suggestion box on the fourth floor.

VICTORIOUS: But comrade, the fourth floor is no longer there.

STEADFAST: That is defeatist talk. See, all the floors are here, all around us. It is much more efficient this way, with all floors rationalised into one single layer of gravel and dust. It also means you don’t have to walk up stairs. And that is good: I have always thought that stairs are elitist because they imply that some people are lower than others.

VICTORIOUS: Very true. Down with stairs!

STEADFAST: Down with stairs! Although it now occurs to me that walking up stairs, thereby raising yourself up, might be a revolutionary act.

VICTORIOUS: Perhaps you are right. Up with stairs!

STEADFAST: Up with stairs!

A pause. The soft crackling of flames.

VICTORIOUS: Comrade, I do not wish to be counter-revolutionary but, since we are on fire, do you think we should ask someone for help?

STEADFAST: You are indulging in reckless intellectual adventurism, comrade. How do you even know that we are on fire?

VICTORIOUS: Well, because I can see the flames dancing on my knees and I’m in terrible pain, and also your face is melting off.

STEADFAST: I see these things too, comrade, but my point is: how do we know that these are not natural events that occur from time to time during the life of any organisation? Why opt for fear-mongering explanations and play straight into the hands of counter-revolutionaries who want us to indulge in bourgeois conceits like fire extinguishers?

VICTORIOUS: So what should we do?

STEADFAST: We must take a consultative and collectivist approach to our questions, and ask the pyrotechnicians at branch level if we are, in fact, on fire. If they conclude that we are, then we must make sure with party structures that we were set on fire in the correct fashion, so that there can be no hint of favouritism or factionalism.

VICTORIOUS: Agreed.

STEADFAST: Comrade, if I may be frank, it alarms me how eager you were just now to ask for help.

VICTORIOUS: Well, it’s just that we’re on fire …

STEADFAST: Potentially on fire, pending the decision of branch pyrotechnicians. Remember, asking for help implies that there is a problem, and our Leader explicitly told us that there was no problem, shortly before he demolished the building.

VICTORIOUS: I’m sorry, comrade. We are led.

STEADFAST: We are led! And if he has decided to lead us into this crater, where we find ourselves allegedly and potentially on fire, pending a review, then we must respect that decision! But back to my concerns about a potentially irregular process of conflagration. Comrade, which structures did you go through in order to be set on fire?

VICTORIOUS: Well, there was a burning doorway that I sort of fell through as the building collapsed so I suppose …

STEADFAST: The building did not collapse. It redeployed itself in a downward direction, to be closer to the grassroots that sustain our glorious movement.

A passer-by, CHARITY, approaches the crater. She is carrying a fire extinguisher.

CHARITY: Excuse me, I couldn’t help noticing that you’re on fire in a crater.

VICTORIOUS: Stay in your lane! Do not be so arrogant as to think you know what is happening inside our movement!

STEADFAST: Well said, comrade! I see you have come around.

VICTORIOUS: I have been galvanised by her racist liberalism. She is clearly trying to impose her not-on-fire-in-a-crater ideology on us.

STEADFAST: Exactly. Letting her put out the fire would be a betrayal of everything this movement stands for! An injury to one must be an injury to all, even if they weren’t injured at the start!

VICTORIOUS: Forward to 2019, when we will give our Leader a mandate to set fire to everyone all over again!

STEADFAST: Forward to glorious, revolutionary, historic total incineration!

They turn to ash.  CHARITY shrugs and wanders away.

*

Published in The Times

Temba Bavuma: A Rock In A Hard Place

TembaEarlier this year I noticed a strange cricketing trend: over the last decade, the Test teams most likely to be shot out for under 100 were not underachievers like the West Indies or relative minnows Bangladesh. Instead, the most implosion-prone batting lineups on the planet were South African and Australian.

I examined this peculiar statistical blip in an article for The Cricket Monthly, and, unsurprisingly, found a few culprits: when a team crumbles for less than 100, a lot of things have gone badly wrong. But one of the most common factors I found was a weak link at No.6 in the batting order.

In this era of fluid batting orders and big-hitting all-rounders floating around between No.5 and the tail, it’s easy to forget that, for most of Test history, No.6 has been a specialist position. That’s because the player who walks out at four down needs an unusual combination of gifts: the shots and aggression to accelerate and drive home a winning position, but also the technique and restraint of an opening batsman as he sees off the second new ball. Or, in the case of a nightmare collapse, the first new ball…

During sub-100 implosions, I found, South African and Australian No.6’s weren’t even trying to play conservatively, instead throwing the bat at everything in their half. The results were dismal.

Of course, we’re not talking about huge numbers of Tests: the Proteas have collapsed for under 100 on only four occasions since readmission. But the accelerating frequency of those collapses – one in 2006, then 2011, then 2015 and 2016 – seemed to hint at a trend.

Since I wrote that piece, the Proteas haven’t crumbled to a sub-100 total again. And yet the last eighteen months have been fraught with top- and middle-order collapses. Stiaan van Zyl, Stephen Cook and JP Duminy have all been axed precisely because the Proteas have found themselves at 50 for 4 far too many times in recent series.

So why haven’t the Proteas slumped to the humiliation of a double-digit total since then?

The answer, I believe, stands 5-foot-and-change, has the heart of a heavyweight boxer, and, when needed, a bat as wide as a barn door.

a proper Test batsman

I’ve been a fan of Bavuma’s since his debut. As cricket is slowly eroded by a preference for can’t-be-arsed T20 tonkers with iffish technique and the attention spans of goldfish, Bavuma is a proper Test batsman: calm, organized, patient, and possessing some beautiful shots he keeps under strict control. In the field, he sparkles with the same magic that illuminated Jonty Rhodes, reminding us that this is all supposed to be fun while still giving the impression that a miracle catch or cobra-strike run-out are never far away.

The trouble with comparing him to Rhodes, however, is that you also have to acknowledge one unflattering similarity: like Rhodes, Bavuma doesn’t score enough runs.

This week, when he scored his 1,000th Test run, many of his admirers were quick to point out that he had reached the milestone in 35 innings, one fewer than it had taken the mighty Jacques Kallis to reach the same tally.

They meant well, and I know what they were trying to say, but Bavuma can do without those sorts of compliments. Kallis had perhaps the worst start to his international career of any South African batsman in Test history, and they’re really not doing Bavuma any favours by pointing out that he has almost exactly replicated the Kallis trainwreck. They’re also not easing the pressure on him by cooking up statistical comparisons: Kallis reached his 2,000th run in his 55th innings, so if Bavuma is going to keep pace with the illustrious run machine, he will need to score 52 runs in every one of his next 19 innings.

look at the recent past, not the future

I understand why Bavuma’s fans are reaching for Kallis’s legacy. Even his most loyal supporters have to admit that his record looks weak. An average of 31.75 after 36 innings is low, no matter how much future greatness you invoke.

But here’s the thing. If you want to find evidence for why Bavuma should be penciled into every Proteas Test XI, you don’t need to speculate on some vague, imaginary future. You can simply point to the recent past and one undeniable fact: when South Africa is under the hammer in a Test match, Bavuma is already a star.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone who’s watched any cricket over the last 18 months.

The Proteas are 32 for 4 in their first innings at Perth when Bavuma walks in. His 51 nurses them to 242. The Proteas stay in the game, then win it.

Ten days later, in Hobart, South Africa have shot out Australia for 85 but they’re also folding fast, losing 4 for 33 to find themselves on 76 for 4. Bavuma puts his back to the castle door, grips his axe with both hands, and survives for 204 balls. The Proteas win.

Wellington: the Black Caps have put up 268 in their first dig, not a great total but still, it seems, a winning one as the Proteas fold to 79 for 5. Bavuma does a Gandalf (“You! Shall Not! Pass!”) and makes a patient 89. The Proteas post 359, and go on to win the Test.

Even Monday’s grim loss at The Oval might have been grimmer without Bavuma.

At 47 for 4 in their first innings and with England making the ball do obscene things under grey skies, South Africa were in real danger of being shot out for under 100 and forced to follow on with three days still to play. But Bavuma’s unflustered rearguard stands with Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel took the Proteas to the relative calm of the next morning with its blue skies and easier conditions. Dean Elgar has been rightly praised for his heroic, bloody-minded hundred, but it was Bavuma who took the Oval Test into a fourth and fifth day.

why is he averaging just 31?

Clearly, Temba Bavuma is a man with the temperament and the technique for hard-fought, bare-knuckle Test cricket. So why is he averaging just 31?

I had a look at his stats and I was surprised by what I found.

In the last decade, in all Test matches, the fourth wicket has fallen, on average, with the score on 166. This fairly middling number would probably feel right to most fans: if your No.6 is taking guard at 160 for 4 in the first innings, you’d be hesitant to put a lot of money on the result either way. It’s fairly solid, but 160 for 4 could become 160 for 5…

Not surprisingly, the fourth wicket falls earlier for losing teams and much later for winning ones. In the last ten years, losing teams have found themselves, on average, at 112/4, while teams that have gone on to win have averaged 207/4.

So, using the figures above, let’s extrapolate a variety of match situations that your average No.6 might walk out into at the fall of the fourth wicket:

0/4 to 60/4: a complete disaster; heroic defence, hard work and plenty of luck required to avoid a major defeat.

70/4 to 130/4: deep trouble. Requires intense discipline; defeat still the most likely option.

140/4 to 180/4: solid; probably safe for now; can’t afford mistakes but potential to kick on and start dictating terms.

190/4 to 230/4: safe, en route to a winning total. Batsmen who apply themselves can make plenty.

240/4 and up: dominance, very little pressure on batsmen. Help yourself.

You’d expect Bavuma to have experienced all of these situations in more or less equal measure. But that was the first surprise.

rampant or wretched

Of his 34 innings in the middle order (he’s opened twice), just six have started with the Proteas in that “average” range. Which means that, in general, Bavuma walks to the crease with his team in one of two positions: rampant or wretched.

The second surprise was how Bavuma responds to those two match situations.

The history of Test cricket is pretty clear about what we can expect in both scenarios. It’s Batting 101. If you come in at 50/4, you’re facing fresh, fired-up bowlers, a hard ball and enormous pressure. Scoring runs is going to be difficult. Conversely, if you come in at 300/4, the bowlers are exhausted and demoralized, the ball is a hacky-sack, and there’s no pressure. It’s a buffet. Tuck in.

According to the fundamental physics of batting, Bavuma should be struggling when things are tough, and piling in when the going is good. Except he isn’t. Present him with a buffet, and he gets instant indigestion.

Bavuma has taken guard in a number of favourable match situations, ranging from 136/3 right up to a fantastically luxurious 439/4. His average in those innings? A paltry 23.66.

But even that figure is flattering, bolstered by just one innings: the unbeaten 102 he carved off an exhausted England at Newlands in 2016. Remove that outlier, and his average in cushy match situations plunges to an appalling 15.

So why do I remain a Bavuma fan? Simple. It’s because of what he does when things are falling apart and otherwise steady men are losing their heads.

Bavuma has taken guard 15 times with the Proteas either turning their canoe towards Shit Creek (70/4 to 130/4), or with them far up it, sans the proverbial paddle (69/4 and worse). In a couple of those he was batting at 7, moved down the order by night watchmen, but the situation was no prettier: his innings at No.7 have started at 136/5 and the ludicrously terribly 79/5.

His average in these trainwrecks?

44.61.

That’s a healthy Test average anywhere, in any game situation. But when the team is facing certain disaster? Pure gold.

Test cricket’s name is not idly chosen. The most elevated, difficult and complex form of the game is a test of technique, of psychological strength and of character. And when the questions being asked are at their toughest, Temba Bavuma stands tall and answers them with a straight bat.

I don’t know why Bavuma isn’t scoring when the table is laid and he is invited to gorge on runs. It’s possible that he believes that his role in the team is a fundamentally defensive one, and that when the top order has done its job he is somewhat surplus to requirements. Perhaps, when the stakes feels fractionally lower, he lets his focus slip, or isn’t sure how to pace an innings when he doesn’t have to fight for every run.

Whatever the reason, Bavuma is too good and focused a player not to find a solution. Every Test he plays, he understands his game a little better and comes closer to figuring out how to accept bowlers’ charity. And when he learns how to turn his cool, methodical mind and method towards domination as well as defence, he could yet be something very special indeed.

Play us again, Sam. Play us as time goes by.

happier times

It was understandable that we’d start fantasizing about Thabo Mbeki and Julius Malema. Inevitable, even.

In the 1990s we thought we were God’s Rainbow People. Ten years later we believed we were the first flowering of the African Renaissance. Since the eruption of the Gupta e-mails, however, we have discovered what we truly are: slack-jawed, wide-eyed rubes being taken for a monumental ride; the butt of a gigantic, multinational, criminal joke.

It’s a tough thing to accept. Nobody likes being laughed at, especially not by hypocrite arseholes in pointy shoes and bulletproof SUVs.

But it’s not just insulting. It’s frightening, too. If you accept that our so-called leaders are mere bagmen and that almost every single aspect of national government is rotten to the core, then you have to accept that, for as long as the Zuptas remain in power, we are entirely rudderless, practically lawless and essentially stateless. In short: while anyone with Zuma in his or her surname controls this piece of land, South Africa does not exist in any meaningful way.

Which is why it was inevitable that we’d invite Mbeki and Malema into the spotlight and, at least for a few minutes, relegate the Zupta hyenas into the darkness.

It was Mbeki who appeared first, summoned like a ghost to a séance by Power FM almost two weeks ago. His familiar tones – the warmth of hot chocolate, the crackle of a fire in a room full of aromatic pipe smoke, the faint rustling of pseudo-intellectuals kowtowing at his slippers – revitalised a tired and gloomy nation. Social media heaped love on the former president and took a moment to remember a more dignified time when statesmen argued not over kickbacks and e-mails but beetroot and garlic and when a president didn’t fight to keep himself out of prison but rather fought tirelessly to save Zimbabwe from a vicious outbreak of democracy. Good, good times.

Having fondled the pre-Zupta past, we were ready to gaze into a post-Zupta future, and this weekend the Sunday Times obliged by interviewing Julius Malema.

Speaking with his familiar frankness, the Commander-In-Chief identified the greatest problem looming over South Africa right now, namely, that the media narrative has shifted away from Julius Malema.

It’s been a tough few months for the Commander. Venezuela and Zimbabwe, often cited by the EFF as poster children for its policies, can no longer even claim to be basket cases: the baskets have unravelled and the straw is being eaten by starving goats.

Worse, however, is that after some solid wins in parliament on Nkandla, the EFF and Malema have been relegated to mere spectators by the power struggle in the ANC: they, like the rest of us, are simply waiting to see if the party will commit ritual suicide by persisting with the Zuptas or whether it will opt for Cyril the Human Gag-Ball and stay in the low 50-percents until it dies in 2024.

Being an excellent politician, however, Malema understands how to wrest attention back to himself and to give the impression of a Napoleon on the march even if he’s just marking time. He knows seizing the initiative requires bold and militant action, even if that means speaking boldly and militantly straight out of one’s revolutionary butt.

Which is precisely what he did in the interview. The EFF, he claimed, was going to grow by 600% in the next 18 months and snatch 50% in 2019.

I assume space constraints meant the Sunday Times couldn’t print his other predictions, like the EFF’s Science Brigade perfecting cold fusion in 2021 and its History Commissars erasing all mention of Venezuela and Zimbabwe from its policy documents in 2022, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Still, Malema did say one thing that I believe is gospel truth. Asked about working with the DA, he said: “Sometimes you use your enemies to achieve what you want to achieve.It’s a game and we are playing it to achieve what we want to achieve.”

And so on we tumble; the past getting brighter; the future just a game in which you and I are pieces to be played. And, if necessary, sacrificed.

*

Published in The Times

Onward, brave Communists!

unnamedWhen the Comrades arrived for this year’s general conference of the South African Communist Party, none of them could imagine the drama that was about to explode in their faces like the still-talked-about expired chocolate eclairs of the 2013 edition.

Not that they were naive, of course. As they erected the venue, draping three blankets off the top bunk and holding them up with a broomstick, they agreed that the next few months would be challenging. They would have to be alert to undue influence from outside: the Comrade with the neatest handwriting was tasked to make a sign reading: “MOM LEEV US ALON WE ARE HAVING OUR MEETING altho pleez leev a plate of Romany Kreems outside, also some Coke thnx XX.”

Soon, however, they relaxed into the familiar processes of the conference, such as the traditional Reading Of The Most Recent Telegram From The Soviet Union, a yellowing and somewhat greasy strip of paper that had arrived in 1991.

The agenda, too, was comfortingly unchanged.

A Comrade started off by reporting back on what progress had been made overthrowing global capitalism, a very short speech made somewhat longer by the sudden malfunction of his PowerPoint presentation and a snap resolution to crush monopolistic Microsoft once the workers were in charge.

Next came the traditional re-election of Cde Blade as general secretary, a happy celebration of continuity and personality cults. As he was wrapped in the Hessian Sack of Solidarity, handed the ceremonial Bronze Potato of the Proletariat, and given two extra Romany Creams, party veterans pointed out that Cde Blade has been general secretary since 1998 and is therefore almost old enough to remember when Russia and China were Communist.

This received a round of applause. They also refuted the notion that he has been general secretary for 19 years because nobody else wants the job because being the face of a national joke is a bit kak. This, too, received applause, although it was somewhat muted.

It was when they reached Item Three on the agenda that the bombshell dropped.

Item Three first appeared in 2005 and was, at least in principle, a resolution to discuss the possibility of a discussion of the potentiality of perhaps considering contesting a national election as an independent party.

The idea had cropped up from time to time since then – usually over a third bottle of Johnny Blue – for example, “Okay, I’ll lower university tuition fees the day we contest an election! Hahaha – oh Jesus I’m going to vom.” But it was, of course, ludicrous.

Why contest a national election, with all that upsetting democracy, when you could remain in government forever without ever having won a single vote? What sane person would offer to get a job when they had free board and lodging as long as they rubber-stamped the whims of President Gupta?

But when the delegates reached Item Three last week, something bizarre happened.

The SACP decided to move out of home and get a job.

At least, I think it did. Speaking to Eyewitness News, Blade said: “We’ve taken these resolutions and then congress is said go and work on the modality consult and engage and one milestone would be a report to the augmented central committee.”

I’m not exactly sure what any of that means. It’s possible it was Communist dirty talk, the kind of tumescent rhetoric you might have heard if you’d phoned a Moscow phone sex service in 1985. Not that I judge: when you’ve had a long day trying to seize the means of production (“Jeremy, what’s the password on my computer? No, I’ve tried RedTerror17.”) and you’ve got into your German-built means of propulsion and gone home, you sometimes need to embrace unique means of compulsion.

It’s also possible, however, the SACP is actually getting ready to go it alone. Which makes things very explicit indeed. After all, why does a parasite leave its host?

If it contests the 2019 elections, the SACP will win a single-figure percentage of the vote. But if the remora has left the shark because it knows the shark is about to die — or about to drop below 50% in the polls – then all of us might be winners after all.

Onward, brave Communists!

*

Published in The Times

Bell Pottinger and the dom drolle

drolle

Steve Hofmeyr once called me a dom drol.

I was delighted and not just because it was a glowing character reference. No, what really tickled me was Hofmeyr’s revelation that turds have an intellectual tradition.

After all, the existence of a dom drol implies the existence of a slim drol; a brilliant, original drol; a drol that can expand your mind and not just your colon. To this day I picture Steve, crouched over his loo, arguing race and history with a floater, accusing it of being a dom drol until it unleashes some glittering sophistry, stalking back and forth across the bowl like Aristotle pacing an amphitheatre, until Steve is forced to concede that it is, in fact, a slim drol.

I mention this only to make two points, namely, that I get called names quite often and that slim drolle are real.

Recently, people have taken to calling me “cynical”, as if they’re using an exaggerated and slightly cruel slur that will get an emotional response.

I don’t react because they’re right. About our country and its politics, I am utterly cynical. But even that’s not good enough, because my cynicism (I believe that South Africa is a used-up and abandoned mine, owned by rent-seekers who would burn it to the ground if they could collect the insurance) is simply not expansive enough to cover the volume of the shit that is swirling around our little canoe right now; the one we’re sitting in without a paddle.

Which brings me back to slim drolle and their bastard offspring, cunning turds, or as you and I know them, Bell Pottinger.

Wait, where are you going? What? You’ve already read three columns about Bell Pottinger today and you’ve still got four bookmarked from yesterday, plus the five from last week?

I can commiserate.

We’ve got BellPotty over the British propaganda firm, and recently it seems that every pundit in the country has turned their focus onto what is, to be honest, a fairly minor footnote in the history of South African corruption and state collapse.

So why has the response, at least in the media and online, been so explosive?

One possible answer is that white people got scared. A government campaign explicitly linking the idea of whiteness to the idea of vast, ill-gotten riches is extremely alarming to white people who don’t have the capital – monopolistic or otherwise – to protect themselves should public sentiment turn against them.

Many South Africans still admire Joseph Stalin

Another answer is patriotism, or at least a sort of sophisticated xenophobia.

As the philosopher Eddie Izzard pointed out, we only really get riled up about abuse when it crosses borders. Many South Africans, some of whom are in parliament, still admire Joseph Stalin, but which public figures, other than Mcebo Dlamini, are fans of Adolf Hitler?

The difference, of course, is that Stalin killed his own people whereas Hitler made the rookie mistake of killing the neighbours.

I suspect something similar is at work in our reaction to Bell Pottinger.

Every day South African corporations hire advertising agencies to tell women that their bodies are repulsive and that their minds are empty. Every day South African financial institutions extort feudal interest from the desperately poor.

We disapprove, of course. It’s distasteful and should be stopped by someone at some point. But we’re not shocked because, you know, that’s just advertising. That’s just commerce.

But try to disparage us from London instead of from Johannesburg, or stash our money in tax havens in Dubai rather than tax havens in Mauritius, well, may God have mercy on your soul.

Yes, we know you’re a PR firm so you’re really just an ad agency that lies to the wealthier classes; and yes, this is ultimately just commerce. But YOU ARE ALSO SATAN AND SHOULD APPEAR BEFORE THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT.

Perhaps, however, the most basic cause of our visceral response to Bell Pottinger is frustration.

Despite gigabytes worth of sleaze, the Guptas and their manservant, Jacob, are still not in court. We know why.

In South Africa, the foxes have always guarded the henhouse, but under the Zuptas they’ve taken over the farmhouse and local abattoir, too. And so we watch a vast crime taking place as the authorities tell us to move along because there’s nothing to see.

Opposition parties fight the Zuptas in the courts but for the rest of us the frustration of not being able to land a meaningful blow is immense; and so we round on the one group of lackeys we feel we might be able to hurt: the pinstriped parasites at Bell Pottinger.

It’s an understandable response, and, certainly, the British firm needs to feel this blunder in its bottom line. Ultimately, though, it is the people who hired Bell Pottinger who must be held to account, at the polls and in the courts.

And if these saboteurs are still in power in 2020, then it is we, not they, who are the true dom drolle.

*

Published in The Times

Relax, South Africa. It’s all under control.

coasts

See? Totally different.

I would like to take a moment to dispel some misconceptions about our government and the path upon which our country finds itself.

Firstly, I strongly object to gloomy suggestions that South Africa has become a banana republic. This is absolutely not true. Banana republics export bananas and are propped up by the United States, whereas South Africa has been importing bananas for the last few years and is not propped up by anything. Moving on.

Secondly, while I understand that the intimidation of leading journalists by thugs is a sinister turn of events, let us remember that the ANC has come out strongly in defence of the press.

At the weekend Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said that his ministry would “suffocate” people who go after journalists, which means that he is going to block them on Twitter and not invite them to be part of his entourage next time he goes to an awards show.
Some of you will be expecting him to arrest the traitor Andile Mngxitama and his henchpuppets, but this is wildly unfair. Employees of our Gupta-owned government can’t just round up other Gupta employees. Can you imagine what hell it would raise in the HR department in Dubai if Puppet Enabler 15 just up and arrested Diversion Puppet 124?

No, at the very least Mbalula would have to fill in a Permission to Simulate Good Governance request form, have it rubber-stamped by Puppet Number 1, and then submit it to Head Office for approval. The whole thing could take months. So please, if Mbalula doesn’t act against the traitors being paid to destroy our democracy, think of the clerks in Dubai and try to cut everyone a bit of slack.

Thirdly, I must address the distressing rumour that South Africa may be forced to seek a bailout.

I know why you’re spreading these hurtful lies. You probably read RW Johnson’s 2015 book, How Long Will South Africa Survive? in which he suggests that an IMF intervention is inevitable. Then, on Friday, you heard Malusi Gigaba say that if the economy continued on its current course, “we may have to seek assistance from quarters we have thus far avoided”. You did the maths: Johnson plus Gigaba equals International Monetary Fund.

You are, happily, completely wrong. This government is not going to sell the country to the IMF. Because it’s already owned by the IMF: Influential Moradabad Family.

“becoming like Zimbabwe”

Next, I want to refute the allegations that we are “becoming like Zimbabwe”.

I understand why some of you might think along these lines. Last week we learned that the Guptas allegedly paid for our Minister of Wagging His Finger At Mine-Owners, Mosebenzi Zwane, to be flown to a hospital in New Delhi in 2015, presumably to have the last of his principles surgically removed in a groundbreaking six-hour operation.

This, like a Matabeleland death warrant in the early 1980s, had Mugabe written all over it.

Then there’s the news, emanating from the weekend’s National Patronage Conference, that members of the Zuma faction support a referendum on land grabs à la Zimbabwe.
To be fair, this was always going to happen. The ANC government has been keeping that silver bullet in the chamber for years, stalling land reform and sitting on vast swathes of fallow ground, waiting for the right time to pull the trigger.

The looters at the top know, deep down, that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, no matter what those pustules at Bell Pottinger might whisper in your ear. They understand that, at some point, all the greed and incompetence are going to catch up with them; that eventually the people will demand a return on their investment. And when that day comes, only land will keep them at the trough.

However, despite these Zimbabwe-esque tendencies, I must insist that South Africa is not becoming Zimbabwe. For starters, we have a coast. And, unlike our blighted neighbours, we are still a magnet for those seeking a better life. Like Zimbabweans. And certain Indians. Is Zimbabwe attracting both the desperate poor and the despicable rich? No. I rest my case.

Finally, many of you have started worrying about a doomsday scenario in which the ANC steals the 2019 elections.

Again, I understand your anxiety. Our state captors have laid their plans incredibly thoroughly, burrowing into every aspect of our national life for at least a decade. Given how hard they’ve worked, it seems very unlikely that they would allow their investment to be left in the hands of unreliable voters. The Guptas have colonised South Africa and the last thing an empire wants is a free and fair election in one of its colonies.

But you can rest easy. The Zupta ANC is not going to try to steal the 2019 elections. It’s going to try to buy them. With our money.

See? It’s all going to work out. For some people.

*

Published in The Times

Pretending that puppets are presidents

Atul sockpuppet

“Say something to the people, Jacob.”

I don’t know how our political journalists do it.

Day after day they report to this committee room or that media centre and listen to the well-dressed guy behind the table, calling him “Minister” as if he’s an actual minister and not just a Gupta sock puppet; writing down his words as if they’re important and not just a script written in Dubai and spell-checked in the London offices of BellPottinger; writing careful and intelligent analyses of how this sock puppet’s imaginary policy will affect the imaginary policies of his fellow sock puppets, and, ultimately, the career prospects of our imaginary president, a low-level employee of Middle Eastern monopoly capital.

I understand why they have to do it. Journalists report on what is presented to them. We don’t have any actual ministers (public officials working in the best interests of the citizens of the country) so it’s the sock puppets who come to the press conferences, which means those are the ones you report on. Also, you can’t have the nation’s newspapers all leading with stories called things like “Moral Bankrupt Who’s Never Had A Real Job Dutifully Enacts New Get-Rich Scheme Of His Foreign Paymasters”.

Still, I’ve reached a curious moment. I just can’t pretend any more. The official titles have been sounding increasingly ropey but now they’ve tipped over into sheer ludicrousness, as if a group of catalogue models is wandering around our public buildings, all doing Blue Steel pouts for the camera as they introduce themselves as “Deputy President” or “Minister” or “Honourable Member of Parliament”.

The absurdity is funny, but it also exposes the danger of our current moment.

The people who control all the money and the guns are coming unhinged in a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen in this country. The Nationalists, clinging to their white supremacist ideology, their terror of Communism and their Calvinist religion, were predictable right to the end. The sock puppets, by contrast, abandoned their ideology years ago and are rushing towards something much more frightening: the final split away from their most basic identities as people. Which means they could do almost anything.

You can see it in every belligerent, aimless press conference: they don’t know what they’re doing but, more important, they no longer know why they’re doing it. They’ve gone too far for too long on too little, and now, stripped of the higher moral ground and all the props of history handed to them in 1994, they stand naked before us, exposed as small, venal creatures caught in a dreadful struggle between trying to save themselves and lingering long enough to gorge on just a little more public money.

We must read the news not as fact but as a psychological profile of a group of desperate hustlers.

This is the lunatic dance we’re watching: they cringe away from responsibility and principle and the vastly damning verdict of posterity; and yet they still strain forward, hands grasping, groping towards the heap of treasure they hope will fill the weeping hole where their conscience and purpose once lived.

If this were simply the decline of a political party hollowed out by corruption and slowly collapsing under the weight of its own bad decisions, I might be less alarmed. But this is not the collapse of a party. It is the unravelling of a cult. And when cult leaders feel the End Times rushing towards them, things can get incredibly ugly.

It is more important than ever to focus on the absurdity of our situation. We must resist our powerful, primitive instincts that try to convince us that all of this nonsense is a reflection of some sort of reality; that State Capture is just a part of politics rather than the moment we all step back and stop participating in this parody of a state.

I respect our political journalists for the work they do as our early-warning system, but printed words and broadcast images give our imaginary politicians a veneer of legitimacy. We must chip away at that veneer every day, seeing these so-called politicians for what they are: hopelessly cornered nobodies, minor lackeys clutching their household gods as they rush between crumbling temples in a falling Rome. We must read the news not as fact but as a psychological profile of a group of desperate hustlers.

If we can keep the absurdity in clear view, then perhaps, come 2019, we can see them off and send them back to where they belong: failing, corrupt businesses; badly lit seminar rooms at increasingly irrelevant colleges; and, in some cases, prison.

For now, though, try to remember: there is no president. There are no ministers. There is no national government. There is no plan. There are only small, limited people, twitched this way and that by their compulsions, cracking under the demands of their appetites. There is only this interregnum of pure absurdity. And then there is 2019 and a chance to escape this lunacy once and for all.

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Published in The Times