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…


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.]



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.


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.


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.


The best toy in the box

He-man-toysThey say rich people don‘t have books in their houses. I beg to differ.

We all knew Michael was rich. He had the 36-pack of Colleen pencil crayons. I‘m talking serious money.

Michael‘s wealth kept him unusually calm and clean. Like at break time. While we unscrewed the caps of our bulging plastic juice bottles with the delicate slowness of bomb disposal technicians, dreading the tell-tale fizz of fermented orange juice about to go supernova, Michael would sip branded, non-exploding juice. Through a bendy straw. That‘s serious 1% shit right there.

Sometimes his cleanliness seemed supernatural. Take recorder class, for example.

If you’ve ever played competitive recorder, you’ll know that spit is your greatest enemy. Some people say the greatest threat to a recorder player is the urge to break into Mango Groove’s Special Star penny whistle solo, but they‘re wrong. It’s spit.

You first sense it after about a minute into Frère Jacques; a general moistening, like thunderclouds creeping across a blue sky. Two minutes in, and you‘re starting to sip at the mouthpiece between toots. And then, just as you start Lavender’s Blue, your recorder transforms into a porpoise with bronchitis. You’re no longer covering those holes to make the right notes come out: you’re just trying to plug the deluge. As you reach the finale, you’re fingering a length of 19th-century sewer pipe. There’s no music any more, just the echo of rats scampering down the pipe and the panting of Jean Valjean dragging himself past them.

Not Michael. Somehow, in a sea of spit, he managed to keep his recorder as dry and crisp as the R20 notes he got every month as an allowance…

So yes, we knew Michael was rich. But I didn’t realise just how rich he was until I went to his house.

It only happened once. We weren’t friends so I‘m not sure why I went. In retrospect it’s possible it was a half-hearted kidnapping carried out by his parents, wealthy suburban fortysomethings trying to break the monotony of coke-snorting and wife-swapping.

His house was a palace. It had two bathrooms, with carpets. And there were two phones. Two. With buttons. Buttons.

They had a Sodastream machine, with gas in it. Nobody in my world had gassed-up Sodastream machines. If you had one, it was one you’d been given by rich people who’d emigrated to New Zealand, and you didn’t know where to get the gas so when you pushed the button it went “ugh” and coughed exactly three bubbles into your bottle of broken dreams.

But when Michael’s mom pushed the button, bubbles poured out like coins out of a slot machine at Sun City. (His family had also been to Sun City.) And once we’d been handed our drinks we were sent out onto “the patio”, which was an actual patio and not just the concreted-over ruins of 1985’s attempt to build a pool without planning permission from the city. It was basically Southfork in Dallas.

I was awed as I wandered down the carpeted passage past yellow-tinted windows with swirls in the glass but when I walked into Michael’s room, my knees almost buckled. Because Michael had everything. The yellow Tron cycle and the red one. The whole A-Team, plus their van, plus Amy. I didn’t even know who Amy was, but she was here. Behind them: a giant bin containing every toy ever produced in the 1980s. I could just make out He-Man and Skeletor, locked in their eternal battle, their rubber heads slightly mashed in by the bumper of a battery-powered Batmobile.

I thought Michael would show them off to me. Instead, he went to a special shelf. With reverential care he took down something heavy and said, “You can‘t get this anywhere.”

It was true. You couldn’t.

It was that year‘s Guinness Book of World Records.

I had only held one once, the 1982 issue, in which I’d gazed at the world’s fastest computer, which could do up to nine calculations a minute depending on how often you changed its oil and water. To get this one, just months off the press, Michael must have known someone Overseas.

We sat together and pored over it, and he showed me his favourite pages. The most dangerous snake, the largest goitre … I reached for the edges of the page and tried to ease the book out of his hands but Michael pulled it away. I could play with anything in the room, but not this.

Writing is probably never going to make me rich. Every year words get cheaper and books get dearer. But still, I remember the richest boy in the world, tired of all the toys, guarding his book like a dragon on a heap of gold. In a world of stuff, sometimes marks on a page are all the treasure we need.


First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

The Thunder That Thunders


So I wrote a fake history book in 2013, all except the last chapter. That was provided by the government, after a spokesdrone slipped R5 into their new Historo-Matic machine. This is what came out of the Truth Slot.


Hello South Africa, how are you, we are fine, thank you for asking. This is going to be a short chapter, because reading is a leading cause of cancer. That is the golden rule of Msanzi: overtaxing taxpayers is Good, overtaxing your brain – especially in thinking about politics – is Bad. So let us get started! Halala the Historo-Matic machine, halala!

The era of Msholozi, aka Jacob Zuma, aka Number 1, aka The Thunder That Thunders, aka Pappy, was the greatest time for Mzansi ever in the history of the world. This was because of President Jacob Zuma’s incredible brilliance, which continues to shine down on us today like the sun which orbits around the Earth. If you still doubt that he is the Chosen One, please consider the following true facts about Msholozi:

1. Msholozi did not have human parents. His father was the lightning and his mother was the rich red earth of Nkandla. As such, he will live forever, so if all you patriots out there want to campaign for the constitution to be changed to allow him to rule forever, that is cool.

2. For over 6 million years, his people begged Msholozi to run for President, but he declined, as he was too busy protecting the Earth from asteroids by using his handsome, generously domed head as a mighty space-shield.

3. When he finally agreed to become President, the nation rewarded his selfless sacrifice by giving him 468% of the vote. Thabo Mbeki got 102% of the vote, because our movement is united and there is no dissent, and anyone who disagrees is clearly a member of the dirty rotten stinky Mbeki faction. (Helen Zille got one vote, from her husband, but it was spoiled because after he made his X he remembered that he was married to Helen Zille and vomited on the ballot paper.)

4. His first act after becoming President was to make South Africa perfect. (Note: if you or your loved ones have encountered anything that is not perfect, this is almost certainly the result of an evil spell, probably cast by Lindiwe Mazibuko.)

5. In 2009, Msholozi listened to the hopes and dreams of all his people (by shutting his eyes and saying, “Omniscience, on!”). Despite the fact that he had made South Africa perfect two years earlier, he heard that his people wanted jobs, and so he created 80 million jobs. You can’t prove that he didn’t. And it’s not his fault if only a few thousand people turned up for work that Monday.

6. In 2010, he scored the winning goal in the World Cup final, a header into the top corner from the other end of the field. He headed the ball so hard that it popped, but the force of his head made the shreds of ball fly straight and true into the opposite goal, a few seconds before the sonic boom of the shot echoed around the stadium. (Note: if you don’t remember this happening, it probably means you weren’t watching the game but were rather engaged in subversive anti-Ubunti behaviour like reading books.)

7. Msholozi is an incredible mentor. In 2011, Msholozi found a frightened non-swimmer cowering next to a municipal swimming pool, terrified of the water. He went to the boy and told him that he would teach him how to swim. That boy’s name was Chad le Clos. (Note: the only reason that Msholozi did not compete in the 2012 Olympics himself is that he wanted white people to feel good about themselves by winning a few medals. His withdrawal from the track and field events also came as a huge relief to Ussain Bolt, who had feared the humiliation of watching Msholozi disappear into the distance in a cloud of dust and swinging leopard tails.)

8. In 2013 he was officially recognized as the most inspirational leader in the history of the world. Thanks to Msholozi, millions of children can now believe in the South African dream: that you can grow up dirt poor and leave school in Grade 5 but end up earning millions of rands a year just for singing and dancing at election rallies every five years…


If you want to read more truths printed out by the Historo-Matic, please buy the book by clicking here. After all, Jacob Zuma has made so many people rich, he might as well send a few bob my way.