Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

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

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Would the Comrades make it past Polly Graph?

Comrades“They’ve jogged past Mangaung! They’ve slogged through Polokwane! They’ve sidestepped Nkandla! And now it’s the final sprint towards the Union Buildings! Bob, incredible drama here in the closing stages of the 2017 Comrades’ Marathon!”

“Steve, absolutely. “What a race it’s been this – ”

“Sorry, Bob, a correction: the Comrades have asked us not to call it a ‘race’. Apparently they prefer to keep that word in their arsenal until just before election time.”

“Well, it’s been a helluva marathon, Steve, and picking a winner is going to be a game of Russian roulette.”

“You mean it’s still wide open?”

“No, I mean the winner is going to be decided in Russia over a roulette table.”

“I think you’re confusing this with the American electoral system. But never mind, these are covfefe times.”

“Nice use of an internet buzzword to make our commentary more hip for the Millennials, Bob.”

“Anything to woo the youth, Steve. Which raises the question: does 75-year-old Zuma have what it takes to go all the way, or will Ramaphosa time his kick just right and surge past at the line?”

“Bob, Zuma has been working with some amazing international coaches. As you know, he’s been part of the Gupta stable for a few years now, and they’ve reportedly done an incredible job training him to respond to basic commands – sit, stay, roll over, appoint this person as deputy minister – but you have to say that he’s going to struggle, especially because he’s carrying Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on his back.”

“Let’s see if we can get some footage of – oh, there they are, he’s battling on, she’s got her arms and legs round him, she’s urging him on with mumbled policy statements, but Steve, he’s gotta be feeling this right now. I mean, those legs are literally going to be on fire.”

“From your mouth to God’s ears, Bob. Oh, I’m hearing we’ve got to take a quick word from our sponsors.”

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“Welcome back, folks. Some great footage coming in now, that’s, er, oh, OK, that’s Gwede Mantashe, with that distinctive way of running in a circle.”

He has never run this marathon, except for when he has

“Interesting technique, Bob. He’s always made it very clear that he has never run this marathon and will never run it, except for the times when he has run it, and might still run it. He says he’s especially looking forward to the up-run which will give him the opportunity to excel in the down-run, which is his preferred race.”

“Sounds like he’s on tik, Steve. But then most of the Comrades are, am I right?”

“Absolutely, Bob. And speaking of which, I asked a couple of them this morning about why they still call each other ‘Comrade’. I mean, ‘Comrade’ is a term appropriated from the Soviet Union, which we all know ended in total economic collapse and ushered in a new era of authoritarian kleptocracy.”

“What did they say?”

“They said, ‘Yep, sounds about right’.”

“OK, a lovely aerial shot right now of the pack heading up the Long Climb Towards 2019.”

“Bob, always a taxing hill. Although you’re aware of the current controversy around this route, a lot of people demanding that the Comrades get routed up and over Polly Graph.”

“I think we’d all love to see them tackle a Polly Graph type of challenge, Steve, but of course the fear is that nobody would get past a Polly Graph and we’d have to call the whole thing off.”

“The Comrades is tough enough as it stands, Bob. Already some big names dropping out of the running. Baleka Mbete, veering off course, endlessly repeating that she didn’t recognise the route. Brian Molefe, starting strongly, then retiring in tears, then getting dropped off by bakkie at the halfway point and claiming he’d never left.”

“Steve, any chance of an upset from an outsider? Julius Malema is looking fighting fit these days. And how about Mmusi Maimane?”

“Bob, I don’t have high hopes. Julius wants to nationalise the route and lease small chunks of it to each runner to grow potatoes on, and Mmusi, well, that story is just pathetic.”

“Yes, sad scenes at the start line. When Helen Zille got both feet wedged in her mouth we thought Maimane was a shoo-in, but who could have guessed he’d grab the starter pistol and shoot himself in both feet?”

“Bob, this is being broadcast by the SABC, which means we’ve got to cut away from the action for absolutely no reason, but before we go, any final thoughts?”

“Steve, these Comrades are going to lay everything on the line. Remember, the winner gets that beautiful gold medal, plus a blank cheque signed by Treasury. If I was a Gupta right now, I’d be on the edge of the servant I use as a seat, chewing the nails of the servant I pay to chew my nails. This ain’t over. Not by a long shot.”

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Published in The Times