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Whatever you call him, don’t call him stupid

JayZee

Image: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Did you hear about the latest stupid thing the idiot Jacob Zuma did? What a stupid thing. What an idiot.

I don’t even need to give you details, because we don’t need them any more: “Ugh, what an idiot!” has become the knee-jerk response of many South Africans whenever the president is mentioned.

To be fair, Zuma hasn’t helped cement his legacy as one of this country’s great philosophers. He has proved entirely unwilling to halt the vast and relentless crime that is our education system, a broken machine that now does nothing except eat up and spit out the potential of literally millions of young South Africans.

He is happy to choke off funding to universities and then make political mileage out of ensuing anger. When he spoke about “clever blacks”, he surely became one of the only leaders in history to imply being educated is a character flaw.

But of course that was always the plan.

Zuma’s surge to power was built on a fundamentally anti-intellectual platform. We’re not the best-educated country to start with, so it was very easy to link Thabo Mbeki’s alleged “aloofness” to his bookishness and addiction to long words.

Thinkers, the Zuma camp told us, are robotic elitists who don’t care about you and your problems.

Once those prejudices were firmly in place, all Zuma had to do was roll into town, singing, dancing and unleashing his vast charisma; playing to perfection the role of a man of the people.

Given all of that, perhaps it was inevitable that people would start calling him stupid.

The racists got in early, setting up a shrill chorus of “Zuma is stupid!” right from the start, perhaps because the best way of hiding the fact that you are fantastically stupid is to point the finger at someone else.

But not all those who have subsequently joined the chorus are motivated by racism.

appeal to the gods to restore justice by sending the queue-jumper back to square one

Many, I think, are reacting to the anxiety educated people feel when the natural order of the universe – school, university, hard work, harder work, status, power – is usurped by someone who seems to leap straight from school to power. Whether the usurper is a politician or a pop star, the response is the same: “But X is so stupid!” It is framed as an insult but I think it’s more of an appeal to the gods to restore justice by sending the queue-jumper back to square one and forcing them to go through the proper middle-class channels.

In Zuma’s case, however, I think the insults are meant. Which is weird, because Jacob Zuma is not stupid. Not by a very long shot.

You disagree? Then let me ask you: if Zuma is so stupid, how is it that he still has his job despite those 783 counts of corruption while you’re one sick day away from getting called into HR? If he’s so thick, how has he secured his family’s financial future for generations while you’re living pay cheque to pay cheque? If his Standard 3 education is so laughable, how has he learnt to play the game so masterfully while you with your degree still aren’t sure what you’re doing with your life?

Yes, you say, but accumulating wealth and power have nothing to do with being a good president. You’re right. But I’m not talking about a good president. I’m talking about Jacob Zuma. We have to judge him by the goals he and his enablers have set themselves; and by those standards, he’s a borderline genius.

Even in relatively staid democracies, where dull governments run quiet administrations, national politics is a bait-ball seething with sharks. Merely surviving requires extraordinary cunning, knowledge and lightning reflexes.

To thrive, politicians must have extreme powers of perception, interpretation and prediction; an elephantine memory for faces, names, strengths and weaknesses; the subtlety to play highly skilled operators off against one another; and the desire and ability to take in huge amounts of information and to discard instantly all that doesn’t help them.

And that’s just in Belgium or Denmark. Can you begin to imagine what it takes to become apex predator in these bloody waters down here?

So no. Do not tell me that Jacob Zuma is stupid. A disgrace. A blight we will regret for decades. But not stupid.

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Published in The Times and TimesLive

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Shame on you, Cyril!

surprised cyril

I must admit that I am terribly disappointed in Cyril Ramaphosa.

Just one affair? What kind of presidential contender only has one affair?

In France you can’t even become deputy mayor unless you list at least three dangerous liaisons in your CV. The Italian constitution demands that when a new president is inaugurated, he or she has to take the oath of office while being orally pleasured by at least five lovers. And Ramaphosa has the nerve, the barefaced audacity, to admit that he’s only had one paltry dalliance?

No, Mr Ramaphosa. This will not stand. You have betrayed the very institution of patriarchal politics and you have lost the respect of the millions of hypocrites in this country.

Still, at least the disappointing revelations of the weekend were illuminating in other ways. For starters, there was more confirmation (if any more was needed) of just how inept the Zupta camp can be when it comes to Machiavellian schemes.

A sex scandal? Seriously? All the dirty tricks at their disposal and they opt for a sex scandal? Their own godfather brushed off an extramarital one-night stand and a rape trial. The political consequences of Jeff Radebe’s sexting shenanigans have been the distant chirping of a lone cricket. And yet somehow they convinced themselves that South Africa would rise up in puritanical fury against Ramaphosa.

It seems delusional, but I think there is method to this madness; a method written down and learned by heart, 50 years ago, in the Soviet Union or Bulgaria. It was even a good method: back then, kompromat – salacious information used for blackmail – could remove opponents and topple governments.

But what the Zupta brains trust doesn’t seem to understand is that it is 2017, not 1967. The sex scandal has been defused and rendered almost entirely useless as a weapon. And that’s because its animating, destructive energy – shame – has been evaporated by modernity.

“Hey Jacob you little hottie. Send nudes. Also nuclear contracts.”

The world in which powerful people offer tearful apologies and resignations is gone, replaced by one in which a man can boast that he “moved” on a married woman “like a bitch”; can urge men to “grab ’em by the pussy”; and still become president of the US. It is a world in which a politician can joke that an alleged rape victim “enjoyed” her ordeal because she stayed for breakfast, and go on to become hailed as a progressive president-in-waiting.

None of that, however, penetrated the bubble of the Zuptas or their puppets in the press; and so they trotted out their kompromat and told us that Ramaphosa is a “blesser”, a hilarious accusation given that this country is hostage to the biggest blesser-blessee relationship of them all. (“Hey Jacob you little hottie. Send nudes. Also nuclear contracts.”) Sigh.

The second thing the B-grade smear illuminated was our collective desperation for something better.

We’re fond of false dichotomies in this country but within hours of the non-story being published by non-journalists, Ramaphosa’s supporters were outdoing themselves. If Zuma was Voldemort, Ramaphosa was Harry Potter, the magical chosen one, a reluctant messiah who would save us all.

“This is the kind of leadership we need!” tweeted “rebel” MP Derek Hanekom, a post retweeted almost 100 times by fellow Ramaphosists.

I enjoyed his enthusiasm but I wondered what kind of leadership, exactly, Hanekom was referring to. Was it Ramaphosa’s impression of a smiling statue, holding perfectly still as the ANC was hollowed out? Was it his refusal to take a meaningful stand against wholesale looting until he was ready to launch his own bid for power?

Obviously, it couldn’t be either. Which makes me think that Hanekom wasn’t actually talking about leadership. Instead, he and those who think like him are actually talking about Elastoplast. Because right now the country has only two presidential candidates. The first is a rusty spike being hammered deeper into a sucking chest wound. And the other is an Elastoplast.

I don’t think anybody seriously believes that an Elastoplast can fix a country. It is, after all, a sticking plaster, not a statesman. It might not even close the hole. But at least it’s not making the hole bigger. And right now, that feels like progress.

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Published in The Times and TimesLive

South Africa has always been a terrible place run by terrible people

SAdisaster

There’s no funny way to say this, so I’m just going to say it.

The CEO of SAA has been paid R600-million to leave his post.

That’s 20 times the amount Brian Molefe was going to be paid for “saving” us from load-shedding, or two Nkandlas with R100-million in change.

I am, of course, not talking about the current CEO, Vuyani Jarana, who is still very much at his post, overseeing a team of men shovelling piles of our tax rands into the spinning turbines of a parked Airbus.

No, the guy I’m talking about left in 2001. His name was Coleman Andrews and he was paid R230-million on his way out the door, about R600-million in today’s money.

Did you feel that? Your blood pressure easing as you realised I was talking about something that happened ages ago? Perhaps even a twinge of annoyance that I was bringing up ancient history when there’s so much corruption happening right now?

Those feelings are how we cope.

We relegate old scandals to the past and brace for new ones, like castaways on a raft cresting one wave and bracing for the next.

That reaction, however, also reveals the depth of our collective denial.

If you believe each scandal is a singular event, a crisis to overcome so that you can return to some sort of pre-existing calm, then you believe every wave in the ocean is an anomaly. But, of course, the ocean is made of moving water. And South Africa is made of corruption.

We pretend it isn’t. Every day we tell ourselves this or that example of thievery or violence is an anomaly in an otherwise law-abiding country. Every day we tell ourselves that beyond the next wave there is flat water.

That delusion is essential to our survival. If you allow yourself to see your position – nowhere, on a raft, facing an infinite number of waves – it’s easy to despair. We have to believe the ocean will end; that everything will be fine once we send a few crooks to jail.

And yet when has South Africa ever been fine? When, in the past three centuries, has it not been a Gordian knot of exploitation, misery and unabashed criminality?

Murder drew the country’s borders and mapped out its regional fiefdoms. Slaves established its farms. People stripped of their dignity and property dug its mines and built its towns and cities. And in those towns and cities exploitation was rebranded as enterprise, a lie sold so well that even the exploiters started believing they had built it all by themselves by working hard.

And yet, even now, we resist acknowledging this existential corruption continues. We agree the Sharpeville massacre was carried out by a monstrous system, but the murder of miners at Marikana, well, that was an anomaly. We dare not admit fully to ourselves that violence and trauma and profound corruption comprise the very DNA of this country. And so we forget.

Take Coleman Andrews. If you’re like me, you’d probably filed him away, the way we’ve filed away slavery and colonialism and the Land Act and apartheid and even some early ANC scandals, packing them into the box labelled “The Vague Past, To Be Discussed Later Once This Is All Sorted Out”.

Because that’s what total corruption trains us to do. No collective memory, no collective consequences. Just brace for the next wave and continue to believe the waves will end.

So what do we do? I think the first step is to discard the self-soothing belief that this is a good place being ruined by bad people. Instead, perhaps it is time to consider this is a terrible place, being run, as it always has been, by terrible people; that the country we pretend to live in doesn’t exist.

At least, not yet. It could, but it will be hard, because we will have to do it all ourselves; deciding who gets what land and what economic justice looks like and who has to foot the bill.

In the end, however, it is the only hope we have. The alternative is a tiny raft on an ocean of waves.

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Published in The Times and TimesLive

Scandal? Send in the Clown!

clown

We are led.

Fourteen years ago, as Robert Mugabe was doing to Zimbabwe what his wife allegedly does to South African models and waitresses, a press conference was called in Pretoria.

At issue was South Africa’s policy of “silent diplomacy”, a plan dreamed up by Thabo Mbeki to enable Mugabe to steal two elections and effectively end democracy in Zimbabwe.

According to Mbeki and his palace footstools, the policy was well on track: Mugabe would almost definitely cede power within a few years of his death, and then Zimbabwe could look forward to electing either Grace Mugabe or Grace Mugabe. As for the million Zimbabweans heading south, well, they were simply patriots eager to tell South Africans face to face how much they adored King Robert.

The world’s journalists, however, wanted clarity; and so, in March of 2003, they asked South Africa’s foreign minister for the country’s official stance on the deliberate destruction of Zimbabwe.

The reply was succinct.

“The problem with you,” the minister said, “is that you are waiting for one word – condemnation of Zimbabwe. You will never hear that. It is not going to happen as long as this government is in power.”

The minister’s inability to count words aside, this reply is notable for two reasons.

The first is that the minister who delivered this extraordinary defence of fascist kragdadigheid and who, by implication, is in favour of murder squads, the stealing of elections and unlimited terms for despots, was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. You know, the one who wants to be president in 2019.

The second thing I find memorable about Dlamini-Zuma’s statement is its honesty.

We sometimes accuse the government of hiding its malignant intentions behind gobbledygook, but that’s not true. For almost 20 years the ANC has been telling us that it will always side with violent power rather than democracy and justice.

“Silent diplomacy” sounded like a euphemism. It wasn’t. Mbeki explicitly told us that nobody was going to say anything to anyone. Dlamini-Zuma wasn’t fudging either: she told us that the Mugabes have a blank cheque, forever. So let’s not pretend that anybody was ever going to arrest Grace.

very good at diversions and distractions

Still, I understand why some people might cling to the belief that the current ANC is a benevolent uncle who has merely had a few oopsies. The party is very good at diversions and distractions. And they don’t get more diverting or distracting than Fikile Mbalula.

Last week, as Pretoria was planning Grace Mugabe’s departure, Mbalula declared that police were on “red alert” at South Africa’s borders. It sounded like a fantastically stupid thing to say given the existence of heavier-than-air flying machines, suggesting that, in Mbalula’s dream-world, international fugitives drive up to border posts, roll down their windows and present their documents.

But I would argue that Mbalula wasn’t being moronic. On the contrary, he was doing exactly what was required of him.

Mbalula does his job better than any other minister. That’s because his job is to be a clown. Literally. Whenever things get dark, there is a sudden drum roll, a spotlight, and there he is in his comically ill-fitting suit: pouting and puffing, pulling funny faces and shouting catchphrases or bits of popular slang. His fans roar with laughter and slap their thighs. That Mbaks, they say; that guy is a good guy.

When Mbalula was appointed police minister, critics of the government expressed familiar exasperation. Why, they asked, does the ANC keep appointing lightweights to vastly important and difficult portfolios?

They missed the point. Appointing Mbalula as a minister isn’t about his ability in a particular ministry. Rather, it is to give him a job, any job, high up in government, so that he can wheel out his routine at press conferences and on Twitter when the party needs a distraction.

There was no red alert at the borders because Grace Mugabe was 30,000 feet above those borders. Instead, there was a clown honking his nose, reassuring the people that he, too, loves Beyonce and blood sports and shooting baddies. Because when you’re laughing at a clown, it’s hard to believe that the circus owners would feed you to the lions in a heartbeat.

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Published in The Times and TimesLive

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.

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Published in The Times

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.

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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!

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Published in The Times