EFF

The sext lives of politicians

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe

“…and about this long.”

Yesterday I read something that truly shocked me.

According to the Sunday Times, Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency, had allegedly sent texts and e-mails of a sexual nature to a young government photographer, asking her to send him nude pictures of herself.

Wait, I haven’t got to the shocking part yet.

The photographer was reportedly suspended because of “improper behaviour” (we all know how hard this government comes down on improper behaviour) and, bizarrely, because of the sorts of clothes she wore in the presence of politicians.

That wasn’t the shocking bit either. No, what stunned me was the reaction to the story. Because there, in black and white, I read experts suggesting that the sext scandal had scuppered whatever chance Radebe had of becoming president.

I’m not sure which country those experts have lived in for the last decade, but in my country we have a president who was tried for rape and came through it absolutely unscathed. His loudest supporter at the time suggested that his accuser had had a good time. It was a vile and vastly destructive thing to say, but that statement did not stop Julius Malema from becoming the leader of a large party and it won’t stop him becoming president at some point.

Of course I’m not suggesting that Radebe hasn’t got problems. No doubt he lies awake every night, tossing and turning on that huge pile of money that senior ANC people use instead of mattresses, fretting about the coming months.

For starters, he’s got to time his leap off the sinking SS Zupta just right. Then there’s the wording of his inevitable not-quite-apology. This, at least, is less stressful because he can just plagiarise someone else’s: these days there’s a new one almost every week, delivered by one of the coterie of arse-kissers who put Zuma in power and kept him there, becoming gigantically wealthy as they helped him sell the country to the highest bidder.

The rhetoric is pious, full of resolutions to do better, but every single one of them is saying that same thing: “Baby? Babe? Please pick up. I was going through some stuff back at Polokwane…and…Also it’s not really my fault, you know? I mean, you don’t know what he’s like! He’s…well..I just want to let you know I’ve changed and I promise this time it’ll be different. For realsies.”

Yes, Jeff Radebe has plenty to vex him, but if anyone in Zuma’s South Africa still believes that explicit sexts are enough to hurt an embedded politician, they really haven’t been paying attention.

The story has been sold as faintly salacious but one should be cautious of seeing the sexual exploits of powerful people as some sort of entertainment, given their potential for exploitation, a wildly skewed power balance, and, frankly, abuse.

What do they write?

Still, it did make me wonder about the secret, digital sex lives of our senior politicians. Assuming that some of them have secret affairs with relative equals, what exactly do they write in those sweaty-palmed exchanges?

After all, desire is a fairly honest emotion but how do you express it when you’ve been trained since Comradegarten to speak in euphemisms? Are you able to suggest a lunchtime quickie in a nearby hotel or does everything sound like a policy statement? “Our position is that we are generally in favour of a potentiality in which we boost job creation in both the hospitality and prophylactic industries.”

Certainly, I would imagine that it’s important to take into account someone’s political ideology before embarking on a secret sext affair. For example, if an EFF member asks you for a picture that will make the earth move, he is almost definitely asking for a photo of a tractor-manufacturing plant in the former Soviet Union.

Likewise, if you’re going to get steamy with a senior DA type, you should probably abandon some of your more traditional romantic preconceptions. “Send me a picture of you…No, that one’s got a poor person in the background. Please put it on a bus to Wolwerivier and then take the pic again. OK. Good. Hot. Now show me the benefits of colonialism! Yes! Put on a pair of jodhpurs and straddle a railway line. Oh god yes, you really float my gunboat.”

But whatever you do, and whomever you do it with, do not have an online affair with someone high up in the ANC. Because we all know how that ends.

He’ll tell you he looks like Idris Elba. You’ll ask for a picture. He’ll send you a picture of Idris Elba. You’ll say, “Wait, this is Idris Elba”, and he’ll say you’re a racist who works for the CIA. You’ll say, “It’s over, I’m mailing a picture of a tractor-manufacturing plant to the Commander-In-Chief,” and he’ll beg you to stay. He can change. He was wrong. He’ll do anything. Except, you know, actual governance.

Yes, we’ve all been there. Many still are. And it’s time for that sordid little affair to come to an end.

*

Published in The Times

Simply showing up is a start

showingup

A few people look slightly embarrassed.

Embarrassment has been a big topic ahead of this march. Some have been embarrassed by the lack of embarrassment of their friends. Others have been embarrassed by the idea of making this all about them and their middle-class discomfort, preferring instead to make it all about them and their middle-class mortification. Their Victorian ancestors beam down on them proudly.

One group, though, isn’t embarrassed. They’re the ones about to get richer than God by pushing through the nuclear deal.

A few modern Victorians still ask: “Have they no shame?”, using the language of a 19th-century dressing room to try to make sense of a 21st-century looter setting his eyes on the biggest prize in South Africa’s history.

One of those naive souls is outside parliament near me, holding up a sign: “Save the ANC, fire Zuma”. Determined to ignore what his eyes tell him, he still clings to the notion that the ANC is being held captive in a tower when in fact it has sold the tower to Russia and is sending the cash to Dubai in brown paper bags.

Of course, his isn’t the only misinformed banner out here. Over there a guy is holding up a picture of Nelson Mandela and the words, “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.” When I was there in 2015, watching students getting gassed and shot at, that sign might have been relevant. But today it has the opposite effect to the one its waver is hoping for. Today, it serves as a call for perspective. No, it says, we are not there yet. Vote them out because they are irreparably corrupt or because they can’t deliver services or education; but don’t demand they go because you think this is oppression. That helps nobody.

High above us, a drone hovers, drifting against the cusp of sinister. One day it will be frightening. This afternoon it is still pleasant. We look up at it the way people looked at aircraft in 1913.

Two EFF fighters in full regalia raise their fists, looking subtly self-conscious as you might when you’ve worn bondage gear to a wedding.

We’d take anyone with a megaphone and a message

The absence of leadership is palpable as thirst. We’d take anyone right now, anyone with a megaphone and a message. One man, his credentials printed on a union T-shirt, obliges, leading some raw-voiced amandlas and a speech about educated revolutionaries; but it’s an underpowered megaphone and only the front row can hear. The tens of thousands shuffle on, good-natured, used to being leaderless, wanting more.

Half-hidden in a shaded doorway, a young woman holds a sign reading “Fuck white people”, the now-familiar logo designed by Michaelis art student Dean Hutton. She is tired and the sign is drooping. People glance at her and glance away.

I know that some people want a tabula rasa in this country, a great resetting of the clock and the balance sheet. From what I’ve read they understand that this would result in societal and economic collapse but they feel that the ensuing wreckage would still be better than what we have now. They believe that democracy has failed, or that it is inherently unable to improve their lives, and that it is time to knock it all down so that something new can be built.

I have my doubts. I don’t think that that path inevitably leads to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge but, without being an expert, I am pretty certain that it produces years of stagnation and regression and the potential for astonishing violence. Blank slates are seductive but they can also become a canvas on which monsters paint their fantasies. What comes next is trial (or show-trial) and error. Finally, once scores have been settled and the wheel slowly reinvented, the country starts a slow and painful crawl back towards the global status quo: generally capitalist, nominally democratic.

South Africans don’t need to read all the clichés about the inherent flaws of democracy to see its failings: they only need to look at the inequality in this country to see how easily democracy can be manipulated to avoid restorative justice.

But for me, it remains the least-worst method of government we’ve groped towards. And if, like me, you think that democracy is worth maintaining, then showing up is literally the least you can do.

Soon, the looters will ask us to show how much we’re willing to do to stop them. They will ask us if we’re sure that we want democracy, and they’ll demand that we prove it. They might call it something official like a “state of emergency” or a “temporary suspension of information technologies”, but it will be a question, plain and simple: “What are you going to do about it?”

Showing up is a start.

*

Published in The Times

“It’s not sinking, it’s a submarine!”

titanic

Had Angie Motshekga been the owner of the White Star shipping line on the morning of April 15, 1912, history might have sounded quite different.

As flashbulbs popped and journalists shouted questions, she and her team would have shuffled into place behind a table. An appeal for quiet; and then the big news, delivered with half a smile: White Star Lines was delighted to announce that early this morning the RMS Titanic had become the world’s first passenger submarine.

She was still verifying the figures, but it looked like almost a third of the passengers had survived, and she wished to extend warm congratulations to them and their families.

I like to imagine that a sensible public would have howled her down and run her out of town, but after last week I’m not so sure.

Instead of uniting to mourn the countless young lives trapped in a sinking system and dragged down into the deep, many South Africans instead argued over the matric results as if there was something to argue about; as if we’re still unsure about whether this is working or not; as if our schooling system might still turn out to be a submarine rather than a wreck.

Perhaps the confusion is understandable. Assumptions, both sensible and false, are wobbling. What once felt like bedrock now shifts like jelly under our feet. It is increasingly difficult to know what to think, indeed, to share ideas at all. Who, these days, would risk the wrath of one of the many inquisitions doing the rounds, or has the energy to take on the legions of know-nothings?

All of which is why I’m going to stick to a few simple guidelines in the year ahead; not so much resolutions as gentle reminders to myself: Post-It notes stuck on the fridge of my subconscious.

The first is to keep remembering that this year our politicians are going to say a lot of words, because that’s how politicians make money. When they say those words I’m going to want to believe that they have some connection with reality and I’m going to want to catch feelings. But that’s what the politicians’ financial planners want me to do: every time we take the bait and get worked up, we send up dust and smoke and noise, a great smokescreen that allows the looters to steal a few million more. So in 2017 I’m going to try to count to 10 and opt out of actively making the conmen richer.

They will clutch portraits of Oliver Tambo

I will also look up the definition of “gaslighting” just to remind myself of what it looks like, and who does it, and why. Because this year, as senior gang bosses shift allegiances to get a better grip on the teat, they’re going to tell me that I’m mistaken for thinking poorly of them. They will clutch the constitution or the Bible or portraits of Oliver Tambo and insist that they never voted to entrench corruption and that if I still believe them to be scoundrels then the problem must lie with me. Yes, “gaslighting” is definitely one to remember in 2017.

(Note to self: remember to keep some salt aside to sprinkle over think-pieces about how the deputy president is going to grab the controls and pull us out of our current dive. Having watched Cyril the Human Ball-Gag smile and nod his way through the calculated dismantling of accountability and good governance in this country, I will emulate him by simply smiling and nodding.)

The next Post-It is just a number: 8.5. That’s the percentage of my compatriots who voted for the EFF. Which is why, when I read tumescent prose about how the EFF is a giant, red tsunami, I will remind myself that there are more left-handers in South Africa than Fighters.

Likewise, when the Commander-In-Chief denounces Jacob Zuma, I will recall how he made his career by giving us Zuma, and how he now furthers that career by attacking Zuma. (And yes, in fairness, I expect the president also features heavily in the prayers of Padre Maimane: “For what we are about to be handed on a silver platter in the next few months, may the Lord make us truly thankful…”)

Finally, I will try to remember that opinion is not news. Twitter is not a peer-reviewed journal, and shouting, “This is the worst year EVER!” reveals only that one knows very little about history. Most of all, pessimism is not insight. Rather, it is a narcotic fog we breathe, vented by millions of people seduced by misery; people who have watched footage of a distant massacre before they’ve got out of bed or read angry words on a screen before they’ve spoken to another human being. They are not informed: they are infected.

Right. The Post-Its are up. Let the noise begin. Hello 2017.

*

Published in The Times

Stockholm Syndrome, the Good ANC, and other fantasies

south-africaThere’s blood in the water.

Sorry, false alarm: that’s just a cranberry juice being nursed by an anxious comrade over by the buffet table; the one who’s quietly practising saying, “Congratulations, Comrade President Ramaphosa!” over and over so he doesn’t cock it up when he says it for real.

Still, something seems to be shifting. There might not be blood in the water but there’s definitely a clot in the gravy. And, for the first time in a long time, South Africans are allowing themselves to think about what comes next.

Of course, some of us are struggling to think anything at all. For example, last week, a DA counsellor in Cape Town, tried to organise a “march against grime” during which homeless people would be asked to “move along”.

She wasn’t clear about where “along” was. One could be unkind and assume she was thinking of somewhere with less grass, circa 1962. Or you could be charitable and assume she literally had no idea and that the DA’s official policy is to shunt social issues into the next ward and hope they simply vanish.

After all, it’s worked for Cape Town when it comes to pumping raw sewage into the Atlantic. I don’t know which PR agency is handling the shitstorm in the city’s sea water, but they’re fantastic. Last year there were reports of tourists coming down with “food poisoning” and I can’t wait to hear which local industry gets thrown under the bus this festive season. (Cue a reassuring male voice. “Are you a tourist? Have you recently swum at Clifton? Are you curled up in your shower, vomiting and crapping uncontrollably? You’ve clearly got altitude sickness from climbing Table Mountain via an unsafe route! Next year, try the cable car!”)

Most DA supporters, however, seem to want a government like the one in Sweden. Because Sweden works. Mostly at H&M, but still. It’s also very safe. I visited Stockholm a few years ago and was warned that I was staying in a murder hot spot: a drunk had accidentally stabbed his buddy to death a few months back and the locals were still reeling.

My hosts were proud of how economically equal their country was, and I had to agree that I had seen very few poor Swedes.

That’s because most of them were now Americans. Something that tends to get overlooked in South Africans’ Scandinavian fantasies is that, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, about a fifth of Sweden’s population – mostly poor rural people – upped and left for the New World.

Which is why, when I hear people wishing we could “be like Sweden”, I have to wonder where they’re planning to send the 10-million poorest South Africans. “Move along”, indeed.

Of course, not all South Africans want to live in Sweden. Many, I discovered this week, want to live in Cuba.

In the days following the death of Fidel Castro, I learned from my compatriots that he had left behind a small piece of paradise in the Caribbean, where children received excellent free education and everybody received excellent free healthcare. Yes, a few political opponents had received excellent free bullets to the back of the head but, as one local Castrophile said on Facebook, “It doesn’t matter what you do to your enemies as long as you serve the people.” (And then we still pretend to be confused when Jacob Zuma uses the country as a bidet.)

The EFF stated that Castro’s death had been painful to them, but probably not quite as painful as the death of Venezuela’s economy, a Ponzi scheme they once punted as a model for South Africa to emulate.

Still, the fighters will also be looking to the future and refining their plans to give the land to the people. Not the title deeds, of course, but long(ish) leases contingent on party approval are basically just as good.

Perhaps that’s why many, if not most, South Africans are allowing themselves to start dreaming about the possibility of the return of something called “the good ANC”.

In case you’re confused, the good ANC is the one that’s going to “self-correct”, the way rich people throughout history have decided to be less rich and to let more poor people into their club.

It’s also the ANC that says it’s not seduced by populism or demagoguery. Well, except that one time when a charming young player called Julius got it pregnant, hung around just long enough to see his big, bubbling, bouncing, buffoon of a baby brought into the world, and then buggered off. The good ANC might cling to its imaginary virtue but its track record suggests the only thing it’s good at is being used by Big Men on the make.

So what comes next? Your fantasy is as good as mine.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

Yes, but what can we do?

people

Yes, but what can we do?

It’s a question I’m seeing everywhere as the oxygen is sucked from our national life.

We’re feeling desperate. Almost desperate enough to do something.

I’m reading angry Facebook posts about tax boycotts and marches and petitions to the United Nations. Intelligent people are talking about emigration. Less intelligent people are Tweeting about shooting students and assassinating politicians.

Almost all of it is unwise or downright suicidal. But what do we do? Is it enough simply to vote in 2019, and, if the results are ruled free and fair, to suck it up for another five years?

This option is becoming increasingly unpopular. There is a feeling in South Africa that we are running out of time and that the usual rules and systems of democracy might need to be put aside to save the country.

That, of course, is exactly what dictators say in their first broadcast to the nation. Which is why it might be important for all of us to step back; to make a conscious decision to resist this collective anxiety and to try to find a space of relative calm and perspective. Perhaps the answer to “What can we do?” is simply to stay alert, and to try to remember some of the following.

1. Things are moving. The 24-hour news cycle and a lack of historical perspective have made us dangerously impatient with the pace of the democratic process. To the Twitter generation a week is an age. It feels as if the current cabal has been in power forever. But it hasn’t, and whatever is happening is happening fairly fast.

2. We don’t have a government, we have looters. Once you understand this, most headlines will make a lot more sense and your gloom will feel slightly more focused.

3. Hyperbole is a national sport. When you hear that a certain neighbourhood or campus has “turned into a war zone” because armed police are present and there are some bricks in the road, take a look at a picture of Aleppo. South Africa is a violent, angry country, but we’re not at war and it helps nobody to believe that we are.

4. The bar has been lowered so far that ground zero feels like progress. In our country it is now considered an act of almost Scandinavian good governance for a mayor to drive to work in a car worth less than R1-million. This is not a rational response and we need to be wary of it. Eventually the ANC is going to charge someone with corruption or appoint a qualified person into a senior job, and, because our expectations have been lowered so execrably far, it will seem that accountability Nirvana has arrived. Don’t fall for it.

5. The EFF has told us what it is: we should try to believe it. The Fighters want a nationwide shutdown in support of the students and to remove Jacob Zuma. This makes perfect sense, because, as any surgeon will tell you, the best way to save a patient on the operating table is to switch off the machines and to walk out. (Also, I don’t want to rain on any goose-stepping parades but the last time a militaristic party representing less than 10% of South Africans brought the country to a grinding halt, we called it the Rubicon Speech and agreed it probably wasn’t a great idea.)

6. Experts create clarity. Read Achille Mbembe on Facebook and Pierre de Vos on his blog. Likewise, the AmaBhungane are very good at what they do. For the rest, don’t automatically believe anyone who makes a living from expressing an opinion, and that includes me. Also don’t assume an academic title means anything. (Speaking of which, if there’s anyone at the University of Zululand reading this, I’m still waiting for my PhD in Astrophysics to arrive in the mail like you promised. Did you not get my EFT or what?)

7. The looters want us to call each other names. The more cross-eyed we get calling each other “stupid” or fighting small battles of ego and identity, the less clearly we can see the gangsters for what they are and the more cash they can stuff into their pockets.

Finally: have a plan for what comes next. The looters are either going to win or they’re going to be severely injured in 2019 and start scattering. If they win, you’ll need a passport and liquid assets. If they lose more ground, and opposition parties step into the vacuum, stay intelligent. Everyone is corruptible and if you don’t think 20 years in power would turn the DA or the EFF into the current ANC, then you’re a politician’s wet dream.

So what can we do? Read. Think. Prepare. It doesn’t feel like a solution. But it’s a start.

*

First published in The Times and on Rand Daily Mail

Pols, poles and polls

ANC-poster

High up in the sky, at the top of the tallest telephone pole in the street, Jacob Zuma is smiling like a dope.

His expression is that of a Roman emperor being fellated on a tiger skin while listening to an ensemble of harpists and a briefing from a temple priestess who had a dream in which the emperor was riding a burning elephant through a barley field, sure proof that this year’s crop will be the best ever. So pretty apt, really.

The impression of distant, untouchable, delusional power is reinforced by the location of Jacob Zuma’s face. In Cape Town, the ANC’s elections posters tend to be very high up on the lampposts. This is because if they are anywhere within reach, Capetonians tend to attack the placards, clawing and biting at the cardboard until it hangs in ragged shreds. Defacing campaign posters is illegal, but then again so is building a private home with public money, so perhaps we’ll call that one a draw.

Lower on the poles and lower in the polls, the DA candidates have grown wings: a clever designer has placed the hopefuls in front of the national flag so that colourful stripes rise from their shoulders like the feathery pinions of archangels. The trouble is, nobody likes people with wings.

Like that X-man with the giant pair, who looked like the unfortunate result of an upsetting tryst between a human and a swan. We were encouraged to pity him and the prejudice he faced, but I got to tell you, if I saw that dude flapping past me I would properly freak out and throw a wrench at him before the pro-mutant lobby could conscientise me. As for the other superheroes that had wings poking out of their shoulders: do you even remember their names? Was it Kiewiet-Girl? The Silver Hadeda? Night-Chicken?

Speaking of forgetting people’s names, the FF+ posters are next, emblazoned with the smiling face of Constand Viljoen. Ag, not him, the other one. Connie Mulder. No, wait, he was the Information Scandal guy. (To think that a government-funded newspaper used to be called a “scandal”. Bless.) So not Connie. His son. Something Mulder. Japie? Fox? Pieter! Anyway. There’s Pieter.

always leave ’em wanting more

There’s nobody on the EFF posters. That’s one of the fantastic benefits of a personality cult. You know The Face is etched into the hearts of the faithful, and by not showing The Face you remind everyone of The Face. First rule of razzle-dazzle showbiz: always leave ’em wanting more.

So there they are, all asking me to vote for them. Except for the EFF. They’re ordering me to vote for them. “VOTE EFF”, their poster says. I can respect that. It’s a clear, concise announcement of centralised, militarised power: a barked instruction, undiluted by wishy-washy nonsense like promises or explanations or track records.

Not like the ANC and DA posters. Those are full of – actually I’m not sure what they’re full of because, even though I’ve read them a thousand times, I can’t remember the words. To be fair, the ANC ones are too high up the pole to read clearly – something about power and people and Dora the Explorer’s pirate adventure, no, wait, that’s an ad for some school holiday theatre. But the DA slogan is actively repelling my mind. Why? Because for some reason they decided to use the word “progress”. And “progress”, my friends, is what polite teachers write in the report cards of idiot children. I know, because it’s what my music teacher used to write about me. “Tom is making steady progress through Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s Book of Elementary Tunes for Tone-Deaf Children Who Can Only Use Two Fingers at a Time.”

Last week I wrote rather cynically about wanting better lies from politicians, but that supremely vague and euphemistic “progress” got me thinking about how tired I am of the jargon and the coded language, and it made me think about how refreshing it would be to hear the truth, no matter how banal or unsexy it might be.

Imagine how much more you’d respect the ANC if its posters showed Zuma mashing a slice of cake into his face under the slogan, “We were pretty fantastic until about 1998 and then the wheels fell off because let’s be honest, money is lekker, and in theory most of us would like to do the right thing but we’ve got hungry interior decorators to feed so please don’t cut us off.”

The DA? “A few parts of Cape Town are run like a Swiss watch-making factory and we might have just enough capacity to replicate that in one other metro, so pull in and it might be your metro! Maybe. Terms and conditions apply.” The FF+? “It’s flippen scary here, yo.”

The EFF, though, don’t need to change a thing. “VOTE EFF” says it all, doesn’t it?

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

Still snorting the fairy dust

magic

The young woman at the clinic had just received unexpected and upsetting news: she was six months pregnant with a human baby.

The doctor gently asked her if she had noticed any changes in her body that might have revealed the living thing growing inside her. Yes, she said, of course she‘d noticed changes. She wasn’t stupid. She‘d just never considered the possibility that it might be a baby.

The doctor was confused. What had she thought it was? A magical frog, answered the young woman; probably put there by a witch paid off by someone who bore a grudge against her.

The doctor who told us the story had done enough community service in rural areas to know such things were complicated and not easily dismissed with a “she should know better”. But the man across the table from me was aghast. How could people still believe in magic in the 21st century? How could any country hope to move forward when people still held medieval beliefs?

It was a peculiar thing for him to say, mainly because he had made it clear that he was a proud Christian, which meant that his beliefs were also medieval. But, more importantly, it seemed odd for someone to dismiss one magical tradition while being an eager supporter of another, in his case a Middle Eastern one in which bushes talk, sticks turn into snakes, oceans part and people come back from the dead.

The religions imported from the Middle East have used extraordinary violence to rebrand themselves as non-magical, so it‘s understandable that believers would actively reject the idea of magic existing in the modern world. These days, though, you don‘t need to burn women for witchcraft to stamp out magic: you just need to let the routine of urban drudgery suck the fairy dust out of life.

These days, magic is seen as something for children and depressed illusionists lurking along rain-swept piers in the off-season. Which is an astonishing self-delusion, because almost every single one of us has a deep, unshakable belief in magic. No matter our faith, our traditions, our history or our education, almost everybody believes in the possibility of a single transformative moment — a flash of light, a blue fairy, a line of numbers on a Lotto ticket — that will turn bad into good, sadness into joy and a pile of straw into a heap of gold.

If only we smear snail goo on our face, we might be loved

If we weren’t steeped in magical fantasies, the advertising industry wouldn’t exist. We know that advertisements are lies, and that we are being deceived by people who are paid to suppress our critical faculties. And yet the ad industry is worth $600-billion a year because under our fashionable cynicism, deep down, we nurture the possibility of magic. If only we smear snail goo on our face, we might be loved. If only we drive that car, we might be popular. If we just do that one thing, the spell will be spoken, the room will glow, and everything will be instantly all right.

It might seem incongruous to find that childlike hope permeating our political landscape, a place where parasites are willing to kill each other for a place at the artery. But those parasites are there precisely because we South Africans can‘t break free of our belief in magic.

We’ve been inhaling the fairy dust forever. If we make the castle walls high enough we won‘t ever need to have any dealings with the natives. If we just kill our cattle, the whites will be flung into the sea. If the National Party can just find a way to separate whites and blacks, the Republic will thrive. If we can only end apartheid, Uhuru will follow. If we can just recall Mbeki we‘ll finally have the country we deserve. If they find a way to remove Zuma, everything will eventually be okay. If only Helen Zille ran this province, she’d fix everything! If only everyone could see sense and vote EFF, President Commander Malema will create a land of milk and honey!

On and on, the same fantasy. And as we dream, the cynical realists get richer and more powerful because they understand magic better than we do: the magic of rhetoric, of how to play to our self-delusion, of preaching revolution and anti-capitalism while investing their cash in the cold, hard, non-magical market.

I don‘t think we‘re going to abandon magic any time soon, but if we can begin to accept that we have a pathological weakness when it comes to charismatic men promising us instant, permanent fixes, then we might have a chance to begin pulling this country back on a path towards something better.

It‘s time to break the spell. It‘s time to wake up.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail