BellPottinger

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

Advertisements

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.

*

Published in The Times