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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.

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The Huffington Ghost: A New Low For SA Media

On Thursday, the South African version of HuffingtonPost, a website owned by Media24 and curated by former Mail&Guardian editor, Verashni Pillay, published an article called “Could It Be Time To Deny White Men The Franchise?”

01 original post

The author of the piece was one Shelley Garland, an “MA Philosophy Student”. Her Twitter bio said that she was a “Perpetual Feminist causing the retreat of patriarchy”, and that she was in Auckland, New Zealand.

Soon after it was published, the column was picked up by a number of right-wing websites, including Breitbart.com. The response was a predictable wave of outrage, ranging from condemnations of a clearly unconstitutional suggestion to outright, frothing-at-the-mouth misogyny.

If you’d visited HuffingtonPost SA on the 26th of January, you’d have encountered this:

clickbait

If you’d recovered from choking on your coffee and clicked the most-read story, you would have discovered that it was, in fact, an opinion piece about the dangers of fake news. Geddit? See what they did there? See how they showed how easy it is to fall for clickbait by, er, well, engaging in some primo clickbaiting?

In other words, Pillay and HuffPo SA are already experienced clickbaiters, and when Garland’s piece found international traction they were ready to cash in. Within a day, Pillay had written a piece called “This Blog On White Men Is Going Viral. Here’s Our Response”. In it, she listed some of the vilest responses the original post had received. Inevitably, it also elicited a flood of clicks.

Trending1

At HuffPo SA it wasn’t just Easter: it was Christmas, too. Sipho Hlongwane, head of the blogging division (or as professional writers call it, “the Helping Destroy Actual Journalism By Getting Amateurs To Write For Free And Thereby Keeping Rates So Low That Nobody Can Afford To Be A Journalist” division) was beside himself at all the clicks.

SiphoOh how we laughed. (He has subsequently deleted that tweet.)

However, angry white men, raving woman-haters and sweaty-palmed bean-counters weren’t the only people who’d noticed the posts.

Cape Town editor and writer, Laura Twiggs, had smelled a rat and soon started doing some of the best journalistic sleuthing I’ve seen in many moons.

The first alarm bell was the fact that Shelley Garland had only just joined Twitter and had no online presence whatsoever.

no trace

Things got odder, however, when she spoke to Garland on Twitter.

Laura2

A proud student of the University of “Johannesberg” would, of course, be known by her institution, even if she didn’t know how to spell the city in which it was. But again, Twiggs discovered a peculiar void where Shelley Garland should have been.

Laura3

And then, two even stranger things happened.

Firstly, in a direct message to Twiggs, Garland denied writing the piece and suggested that it had in fact been written in-house by HuffingtonPost SA.

Garland DMs

And then, hey presto –

Laura4

Shelley Garland, or whichever person, people or organization was claiming to be “Shelley Garland”, deleted her/their Twitter account.

On Friday evening, Twiggs began Tweeting questions to HuffPo SA, asking how they found Garland, if they were aware that she apparently didn’t exist, and what they planned to do about it.

HuffPo responded at once. Not by addressing Twiggs’s questions, of course, but by continuing to pump out Tweets advertising Pillay’s follow-up column.

Undeterred, Twiggs persisted, bombarding HuffPo staff with questions, even Tweeting Arianna Huffington and her successor, Lydia Polgreen, to inform them that their South African pup had just left a large turd on the carpet.

Of Pillay there was no sign, except for a couple of Tweets about geopolitics and her favourite flavour of hot cross buns.

But then, just as Saturday evening arrived, a full 24 hours after Twiggs had first raised the alarm, she re-appeared…

took it down.jpg

The “Garland” piece was gone. So, too, was Pillay’s “Hey look at all the hits the assholes are giving us!” follow-up. In their place was an explanation of why they’d taken them down.

“We have done this” wrote Pillay, “because the blog submission from an individual who called herself Shelley Garland, who claimed to be an MA student at UCT, cannot be traced and appears not to exist.”

Assuming that “Garland” told Pillay that she was at UCT (given her spelling of “Johannesberg” I can imagine her claiming to be at the University of Cap Toun), I would have thought a quick email to UCT might have been a good idea before they hit “Publish”. But maybe that’s unfair. I mean, clickbait waits for no man, whether real or imaginary, and checking Garland’s credentials would have taken precious time away from HuffPo’s busy schedule of cashing cheques from Sun International for explaining that golf is totally groovy in a drought-stricken, water-scarce country.

golf

But don’t worry. They’re not going to do it again. According to Pillay, they “will hold discussions on putting in place even better quality controls”.

Given the fact that they have just published a highly controversial, probably divisive piece, without having a clue who wrote it (or in the interests of which paymasters it was written), I have to ask about their “even better quality controls”: even better than what? Is Pillay planning to enlist a team of squirrels to do fact-checking, as opposed to the team of air molecules she’s been using until now?

It’s tempting to roll one’s eyes and laugh, or to dismiss this because it was “just a blog”, but Pillay and her team have done enormous damage to causes I’m sure they care about deeply.

For starters, they have handed megatons of ammunition to misogynist trolls, who will now cry, “See?! They’re so desperate they’re resorting to making stuff up!” Some of South Africa’s most prominent right-wing trolls are already making hay with this online.

Secondly, they have confirmed the current creeping paranoia that we cannot believe anything we read in the media.

Pillay has already contributed to this state of affairs. In February last year she had to apologise for a largely fabricated story in the Mail&Guardian claiming the Mmusi Maimane was being “tutored” by FW de Klerk.

Of course, HuffingtonPost SA is not the Mail & Guardian. I don’t know anyone who takes HuffPo SA seriously as a credible news source. But it is part of the Media24 stable and its stories regularly appear on News24, the country’s most widely read news site. Given this debacle, News24 readers would be forgiven for becoming more suspicious than ever.

Just one day before she signed off on this fakery, Pillay was quoted in an article on Al Jazeera titled “Fake news ‘symptomatic of crisis in journalism”.

Al Jazeera
I’ll ignore, for now, her use of the word “audience” to describe readers, with all its implications of passive, wide-eyed consumers wanting to be entertained rather than informed. Likewise, I’m going to give her the benefit of enormous amounts of doubt and assume that this was simply rank incompetence on her part rather than an example of “open disdain” towards her audience. After all, she knows about how important vetting is: at the end of March she published this…

Fact Checking HuffPo
But if HuffingtonPost South Africa had a shred of credibility left, it has evaporated along with Shelley Garland.

South African journalism – underpaid, understaffed, under pressure – cannot afford this kind of ineptitude. When people no longer believe what they read, journalism loses its ability to shine a light in dark places. And when that happens, we’re all in deep trouble.

But perhaps there is a silver lining to this mess. Perhaps we can use it as a reminder of the importance of proper editors running proper newspapers staffed by proper journalists.

So, in the coming week, how about we all go out and pay actual money for a copy of our favourite newspaper or news magazine? How about we support actual journalism?

Niemöller Redux

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was staying in my lane.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I did not want to derail the positionality of the discussionality.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because Mcebo Dlamini says they’re devils and, I mean, he speaks for Wits students
And also did you see that thing on Facebook about how the Rothschilds rule the world
And are basically funding genocide pretty much everywhere?

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me
But that’s OK because I’m really awful so I probably deserve to be
Put up against a wall.

The Freedom Charter – Rebooted!

pen_write_text_manuscript_old_letter_retro_script_diary_parchment_historic

We, the Connected People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: screw you.

We know we once said that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, but that’s obviously a ridiculously naive position, so from here on South Africa belongs to anyone with enough non-sequential, unmarked dollars in a brown paper bag.

To help you understand your place, here are some important principles to remember:

The people shall govern. From Dubai.

All national groups shall have equal rights – unless their rights get in the way of our rights, in which case you’ll find that some rights are more important than others. This discovery is calling “marikana-ing”, derived from the verb “marikana”, “to remind the public about whose rights matter and whose don’t”.

The people shall share the country’s wealth. Mostly people who live in Dubai, or whose last name is Zuma. Mines and SABC soaps don’t come cheap, you know.

The land shall be shared among those who work it. And since our National Executive Committee has been giving this land a proper working-over for the last few years, we think it’s only fair that it be shared between us. (If you disagree, please see “marikana-ing”.)

All shall be equal before the law. Except for those who don’t ever have to come before the law because they know where the bodies are buried. Also this obviously excludes rich people. But if you’re poor or don’t know the dialing code for Saharanpur, India, the law will take its course, all over your face.

All shall enjoy equal human rights. Except, obviously, poor people. Because, honestly, screw them. Also, please see “marikana-ing”.

There shall be work and security. But mostly work in security. Signal jammers and email-readers are a major growth industry in our South Africa. Also, those iron gates at Nkandla and Saxonwold aren’t going to patrol themselves, you know.

The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened. By a government messenger, arriving at 3.15pm for his 11am meeting, to tell the Vice-Chancellors that they’re getting fokkol from  Treasury because we blew it all on Dudu over at SAA.

There shall be houses, security and comfort. Hell yes. So many houses. So much security. And so, so much comfort.

There shall be peace and friendship. Actually, on second thoughts, no, there probably won’t. Because those 25-year-old “military veterans” are itching to earn some combat medals, and elections are so goddamn unpredictable.

Adopted by an untouchable cabal, printed on buffalo-skin (thanks, Cyril) and signed in Veuve Clicquot.

If you have a problem, if no-one else can help…

airwolf

In The Unauthorised History of South Africa, I reveal how the apartheid government resisted letting television into the country because it believed TV was ‘a colonoscopy straight up Satan’s poephol’. But once the demonic machine arrived, there was no stopping it…

*

Slowly, the nation’s television-watching public became more sophisticated and more demanding. No longer were people content to watch the SABC test pattern from noon until 4 p.m.

They wanted action, drama, romance, intrigue and danger, and so the SABC debuted Police File, a show which combined true-life crime with grade two Remedial Art. Every night the white population tuned in to see badly drawn identikits of black people accused of crimes including murder,robbery, failing to scoop the leaves off the pool, forgetting to take the Chihuahua for its walk and thereby causing it to wee on the kitchen floor, and so on. And every night they enjoyed a secret sexual frisson as Colin touched his eyebrow and said, ‘And remember: keep ‘em peeled!’ Had Colin been referring to peeling eyes or had he been thinking about peeling off pantyhose? It was all too exciting for words.

DIGITAL CAMERA

The state had resisted importing foreign programming, as it worried that blacks would see more democratic societies in other parts of the world and whites would see just how ugly safari suits were, even when compared to the paisley bell-bottoms and pink tuxedos on Dallas. But soon it became clear that Colin Fluxman, the talking duck on SABC2 and the test pattern could not sustain the SABC forever. At some stage, the government realised, it would have to allow American shows onto South African television.

However, there was a shock in store for the Minister of Telegraph Poles and Mini-Bioscopes, Spartacus ‘Sparky’ Schmidt: in a dramatic speech to parliament on 9 September 1984, he revealed that Americans did not speak Afrikaans. Once the cries of outrage and fear had subsided, he explained that Americans spoke English and that all American shows would have to be dubbed into Afrikaans, with their original soundtracks simulcast on Radio 2000. And so it was that all American doctors, private investigators, vigilantes, cowboys, time-travelling astronauts and test pilots reconstructed out of metal at the cost of $6-million came to sound like Lochner de Kok.

man van staal
For a while it seemed that television was achieving its political goal of pacifying the population. The whites were content to listen to Lochner de Kok’s voice coming out of the mouths of fourteen different American actors, and black people had developed a grudging respect for the talking duck, although more and more were opting for the Saturday night variety show, Ngomgqibelo, which revolved around Brenda Fassie’s thighs.

But in 1986, P.W. Botha woke up in the middle of the night, screaming and sweating. First Tannie Elize panicked, thinking that the revolution had started, and pressed the launch button on the nuclear switchboard next to her bed, remotely detonating a twenty-kiloton mushroom pie that had been placed at the Beitbridge border crossing into Zimbabwe. But P.W.’s fears were not about an internal rebellion. Calling his cabinet together for an emergency meeting in the Leopard Lounge, he told them of his fears: that a giant international plot was being hatched to liberated South Africa, and that it would be led by the do-gooders on TV.

‘Black South Africa claims to have a problem,’ he shouted. ‘Nobody else can help them. So how long will it be before they hire the A-Team? We’ve all seen Airwolf fly to Russia and back on one tank of petrol! How long until it flies down here and shoots seven kinds of kak out of Lugmagbasis Racheltjie de Beer?’

Soon panicked ministers began their own feverish speculation. Would the trio from Riptide hover their pink helicopter over Robben Island and rescue Nelson Mandela? What if MacGyver used some chewing gum and a tampon to dismantle apartheid? And what if Thomas Magnum was already fornicating with a secretary from the Defence Ministry, coaxing state secrets out of her with his moustache and his rubber chicken?

magnum
Pik Botha tried to calm them. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, he had been ‘to the overseas’ on a few occasions and had seen more television than his colleagues. He tried to explain to them that most shows were fiction. When they did not understand this word, he said that they were ‘made up, not real, like the Bantustans’. But P.W. would not hear it. After all, many of these Americans had spoken with Lochner de Kok’s voice. Lochner was real. Therefore it followed that the characters were real too. He declared a State of Emergency and ordered the security police to arrest anyone who looked like MacGyver – that is, had a mullet or a Swiss army knife. The ensuing raids netted 1.2 million white men and 1.8 million white women (1.2 million of whom lived on the East Rand). However, they were soon released with an official apology and a year’s subscription to Huisgenoot.

If you want to find out what happened next, buy the bladdy book by clicking here. Please. Every copy I sell makes me, like, fifteen bucks. C’maaahn!

April fools

The-New-Age

On April 1st, the Western Cape government squeezed out this bone-dry little bonbon on its website:

Media statement: WC Cabinet to use remote controls for traffic lights

Premier Helen Zille announced today that as an alternative to using blue lights, members of the Western Cape Cabinet will each receive a remote-control device to change the traffic light (or robots) from red to green as they approach.

Premier Zille’s directive comes after several cabinet ministers complained that because they are not permitted to use blue lights in the province, they were late for most of their meetings.

After consulting various IT professionals and Minister of Transport and Public Works Donald Grant, who has signed off on the project, Premier Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remote control.

The remotes will be issued by next week Monday.

Members of the public are urged to approach every traffic light with caution as they may change at any stage if a Minister is approaching.

“It basically works like your TV remote control. As you approach the traffic light, you can just change it from red to green, all at the click of a button,” said Premier Zille. “None of our Cabinet Ministers will ever be late. It’s part of our good governance strategy,” Premier Zille added.

Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde added that the remote controls were “part of our commitment to be an innovative government”.

“When we visit Gauteng and those other provinces, blue light convoys are a bit much. They are loud and disruptive. But in the Western Cape, we’ll be quiet about it. Just a click of a button and we can go through to our meetings with no delay,” said Minister Winde.

“We would like to thank the Premier for this great idea,” he added.

Media Enquiries: 

Michael Mpofu
Spokesperson for Premier Helen Zille
Cell: 071 564 5427
Tel: 021 483 4584
Email: Michael.Mpofu@westerncape.gov.za

It was a brave attempt at comedy from Helen Zille’s Department of Drollery, but it went largely unnoticed, mainly because April Fools jokes are by definition, horrible:  the last refuge of people holding onto a childlike infatuation with contrived, low-stakes trickery.

Of course, a lot of people thought it was real, partly because most people are illiterate, but mainly because the content was plausible (remote-controlled traffic lights are no more outlandish than remote-controlled presidents, a cool new toy designed by the Brothers Guptas) and the format looked ultra-legit.

Having written a lot of fake news, I know how eager people are to fling themselves off the Cliffs of Credulity. I’ve also learned that unless you want your inbox swamped by the garrulously gullible blaming you for their inability to read, you need to throw your reader a small bone. Just a hint that all is not as it seems. Perhaps some quotes attributed to a spokesperson with a BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS NAME, say, Plenty O’Quotes or Nom de Plume or Chatty McTalkyson. Not Helen Zille or Alan Winde, both of whom are, I gather, real people.

This didn’t help either…

bad idea

Was this post brought you by Spindoctor Mpofu, Remote-Clicker for Premier Robotrunner Zille? Is he reachable on 082-APRIL-FOOL, or at April@fools.gov.za?

No. For Media Enquiries, please contact Michael Mpofu, Spokesperson for the Premier. Plus the flag. Plus the Chicken Of State (or whatever our national crest signifies). Plus, it’s an initiative of the Western Cape Government.

It’s possible that there has been a more earnest, legitimate-looking sign-off to a joke, perhaps to a state-sanctioned 1923 German jape about a slight delay to the start of the asparagus-planting season. But I suspect that that little block above might be the greatest comedy-killer in human history.

Which is why I don’t blame anyone who thought this story was real. But I wasn’t ready for what happened next. (Yes, I know. That’s pure clickbait. But I’m about to talk about crap journalism, so I think it’s appropriate.

On April 4, this appeared on page 3 of The New Age.

New Age page 3

The news report, written by a certain Vincent Cruywagen, reads as follows:

As an alternative to using blue lights, members of the Western Cape cabinet can at the click of a button on a remote-control device, change the traffic light (or robots) from red to green as they approach the signal.

The measure announced by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on Friday comes after several cabinet ministers complained that because they were not permitted to use blue lights in the province, they were late for most of their meetings.

“Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remove control after consultations  with various IT professionals and the MEC for transport and public works,” Donald Grant, who has signed off the project, said.

Members of the public are urged to approach every traffic light with caution as they may change at any stage if a cabinet minister is approaching.

“It basically works like your TV remote control. As you approach the traffic light, you can just change it from red to green, at the click of a button. None of our cabinet ministers will ever be late for appointments again. It is part of our good governance strategy,” Zille said.

Western Cape MEC for economic opportunities, Alan Winde, said the remote controls were part of their commitment to an innovative government.

Winde said whenever he visited other provinces especially Gauteng blue light convoys were “a bit too many”.

“They are loud and disruptive but in the Western Cape, we will be quiet about it.

“Just a click of a button and we can go through to our meeting with no delay. We also want to thank the premier for this great idea,” Winde said.

news@thenewage.co.za

 

OK.

So that just happened.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “My god! Didn’t an editor see this and think it looked fishy and check the source?” You’re thinking that because you think The New Age is a newspaper. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are at least 19 other South Africans who believe that The New Age is staffed with journalists who do things like fact-checking and so on.

So no, I’m not amazed or outraged that a non-newspaper printed a fabricated story as news, especially one that would paint the official opposition in a bad light.

I’m also not surprised that a “newspaper” published this “story” three full days after it had first appeared.

But I am very, very amused by how it ran said story.

For starters, there’s the glorious, charge-the-cannons chutzpah of Vincent Cruywagen putting his byline on a story he cut and paste off a website.

Actually no, that’s unfair. He didn’t just cut and paste it. He cut it, then butchered it, then stitched the bleeding bits back together. And sometimes he added entirely new bits. Like when he read not-Alan not-Winde not saying that blue light convoys were “a bit much” and decided that “a bit much” should become “a bit too many”, a completely new phrase in the English language.

Then there’s the Python-esque moment where Vinnie C takes an invented reported statement and re-invents and invented quote.

The original: After consulting various IT professionals and Minister of Transport and Public Works Donald Grant, who has signed off on the project, Premier Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remote control.

Vinnie’s Version: “Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remove control after consultations  with various IT professionals and the MEC for transport and public works,” Donald Grant, who has signed off the project, said.

But I think what tickles me most is that little email address stuck on the end: news@thenewage.co.za. Insisting that this is news; that they haven’t made it all up; that they’re a proper newspaper and not just clumsy propaganda. Begging someone – anyone – to email them, to reassure them that their drivel is read by at least one human who isn’t a Gupta or a Zuma.
Bless you, Vinnie. Long may your mouse right-click.

The memo you weren’t supposed to see

arms dealRemember Thabo Mbeki? Remember what a train-wreck his presidency was? The AIDS denialism? Rubber-stamping Mugabe’s rigged elections? Anything ringing a bell?

I don’t blame you if you don’t remember. Jacob Zuma comes in for a lot of stick but nobody can deny he’s got magical powers: after almost seven years in power, he’s largely erased our memories of what life was like before he giggled his way into our dreams.

But I’m sure there’s one Mbeki-era cock-up you do remember: the Arms Deal. That little moment when Nelson Mandela’s government decided we needed billions of rands worth of weapons to fight nobody instead of billions of rands worth of jobs, houses and flushing toilets; and Mbeki made sure it happened.

A few years ago I wrote a book, The Unauthorised History of South Africa (certified 10% entirely true) and I revealed for the first time the memo circulated around Cabinet, outlining the Arms Deal. I can now reveal those details to you…

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By 1999, as Mbeki took office, the time had come for the Arms Deal to be finalised, and the following top secret memo was circulated inside government. [Note: This is the only surviving copy of the memo. It was supposed to be shredded along with the rest, but the job of carrying this copy down the corridor to the shredder was subcontracted to Ubuntu Shredding & Construction (owned by a deputy minister’s wife), which went bankrupt halfway down the corridor.]

* TOP SECRET * ARMS DEAL STUFF

PURCHASE OF AWESOME NEW WAEPONS WEPPONS WEEPONS GUNS

Saab fighter jets – henceforth to be known as ‘Ubuntuceptors’

REASON FOR PURCHASE: So we can look totally hot, like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. But obviously not in a gay way.

COST: R2 billion. (Tell public they cost R200 million each. Most voters can’t count past 500 anyway. Shot, Education Dept!)

CAPACITY: We currently have no pilots trained to fly our Ubuntuceptors, but this isn’t a problem as the nearest regional threats do not have air forces as kick-ass as ours. In fact, according to Military Intelligence and our Ubuntu-Eye satellite, Zimbabwe’s air force currently consists of three crop-dusters and two weather balloons. Namibia’s air force (one zeppelin, circa 1938) is currently on deployment carpet-bombing baby seals. Mozambique’s air force is currently grounded, having chosen Betamax instead of VHS as its basic targeting system.

INTERNATIONAL THREATS: America.

Note: some defeatist counterrevolutionaries have pointed out that the United States has more firepower in one of the toilets on one of its aircraft carriers than the whole of our air force, and could swat us like a bug if it wanted to. Please ignore this, even if it is true. Also, please ignore the recent study by a defence expert who suggested that our Ubuntuceptors might be more effective as a deterrent if we put them in giant catapults and fired them at the enemy. This is very hurtful, even if it is true.

CONCLUSION: Our new Ubuntuceptors are an awesome purchase, and we will totally rule the skies, as long as the skies don’t also contain any American, Russian, British, French, Israeli, Chinese or German planes, or large birds, or flocks of small birds, or clouds.

German submarines – henceforth to be known as ‘U-boats’, which is short for ‘Ubuntuboats’

REASON FOR PURCHASE: Patrolling the fisheries.

NOTE: We are not totally sure what ‘patrolling the fisheries’ means, given that the whole point of submarines is to sink ships, and as far as we know, it is a war crime to torpedo small rowing boats full of poachers. However, we might squeeze off a torpedo at a particularly aggressive shark or giant squid, just to see what happens. Basically we are going to go all Hunt For Red October, except with less nuclear war.

COST: A lot. We’ll let you know once the arms dealers’ middle-men give us a clearer idea of how many unmarked dollar bills we have to put in brown paper bags for them we’ve established market value.

CAPACITY: Super high. The SA Navy is the best in the world at looking after submarines in dry dock. We estimate that we will be able to have at least one submarine on bricks by 2004, where crews will train for emergency situations, e.g. what do to when penguins nest in the torpedo tubes or pelicans cover the periscope lens with poop. We are also confident that by 2015, all new submarines will be at peak dive readiness, thanks to large holes rusted in their sides that will allow them to sink the moment they are put in the sea.

CONCLUSION: We’re going to take a bit of stick about these, but they’re totally worth it, even if we just end up stuffing them full of Arms Deal paperwork and sinking them.

South Africans were suspicious. It seemed odd to them that South Africa would be spending billions on weapons when the biggest threats to their country was the HIV/Aids pandemic and the imploding education system. Would the submarines wear condoms on their periscopes to raise awareness? The navy had no comment. Perhaps the Ubuntuceptors would be deployed to drop laser-guided textbooks down the chimneys of rural schools? Again, no: SADTU vowed to prevent this from happening by using schoolchildren as human shields.

South Africans wanted answers to their questions. Mostly, because of outcomes-based education, their questions were “What is five plus six?” and “Is rain made of God’s tears?”, but a few of them wanted answers about the Arms Deal. However, the government had bigger concerns.

The night before, the Red Phone in Thabo Mbeki’s bedroom had rung, startling Mbeki out of a dream in which he was riding a unicorn bareback through a field of Aids denialists. Disoriented and groping for his beard wax, he answered. Over the crackly line he could hear the sound of laughing and shouting, and someone singing ‘I’m A Barbie Girl’ on a karaoke machine. He recognised the voice: it was his old friend Robert Mugabe. Someone shouted, ‘Comrade President Field Marshall Liberation Ninja! Your call to Pretoria has gone through!’ The singing stopped and Mugabe wheezed warm greetings down the phone. His news was exciting: he had just won the Zimbabwean general election with fifty-five percent of the votes. This was particularly exciting because the general election was only taking place the following week.

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If you want to know what happened next, please redeploy your credit card from your wallet and storm the barricades of economic freedom for local writers! The Unauthorised History of South Africa is available as a Kindle here and as a paperback here.