politics

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.”

*

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

Time to call things by their name

photo6“Student leader”. That’s what the journalist called Mcebo Dlamini.

I reread the paragraph to check if I’d missed a line somewhere, perhaps one in which Dlamini was described as a fantasist who admired Hitler, who called Jews “devils”, who claimed that Wits had head-hunted him to do a “secret” degree in nuclear physics, and who was now leading a minority of students at the university. Nope. It just read “student leader”.

Because, of course, that’s how we roll. An integral part of our shared South African-ness is a refusal to name things as they are. We can be outspoken, loud, even rude; but without fail we’ll call a spade a fork.

Decades ago, politicians enforced white supremacy but called it “good neighbourliness”. They shot schoolchildren but called it “restoring order”. These days the policies have changed but the coyness remains. When Julius Malema threatened journalists with violence, their colleagues giggled and called him “charismatic” and “controversial”. When corporations collude to fix prices we are told that “free enterprise” can be “complex”.

Of course, none of this is new to any of the angry South Africans dispirited by this country’s ongoing rush towards insignificance. But what is remarkable is that our angriest, most outspoken critics seem themselves to be indulging in a strange kind of denial.

You see it in our incredulous responses to the latest abuses of power. We find it shocking that the SABC has lost R400-million and disgraceful that Hlaudi Motsoeneng is still employed. We wonder exactly what Blade Nzimande is paid for, given the omnishambles that is higher education. And as for Zuma, well, don’t get us started! Has he no shame? Why would he do everything he’s done when he knew he’d be found out?

I don’t want to knock anyone who voices these sorts of ideas. It is important to speak out against bad government.

But here’s the thing.

Zuma isn’t in government. Neither is Nzimande. Because there is no government.

Hlaudi doesn’t work for the national broadcaster because we don’t have one.

SA Airways isn’t a dysfunctional airline because it’s not an airline.

What they are – what all of it is, from the corridors of the Union Buildings right down to crumbling rural municipal offices – is an ATM.

withdraw as much as you can, as fast as you can

The entire edifice that we still insist on calling “the public sector” is a vast cash-dispensing system, and everyone with the PIN code has only one job: withdraw as much as you can, as fast as you can.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. In 2010, Zwelinzima Vavi famously warned us of a “predatory elite”. The SA Communist Party dispensed with its usual gobbledygook long enough to use the word “looting”. Even Gwede Mantashe admitted that people in the government were using their positions as “a stepping stone to power and accumulation”.

But I would argue that, for all our huffing and puffing, we remain naïve. After all, you’re only shocked by Zuma if you believe that he is a civil servant answerable to the public. You’re only outraged by Hlaudi and the SABC if you believe that they are still somehow connected to a functioning bureaucracy. You only talk about money being “lost” if you believe that there is a system in place and that something has gone wrong. Which, of course, is not the case.

“Why do they do it when they know they’ll be caught?” Well, it’s basic maths. By the time they’re caught they’ll have pocketed tens of millions. And what does “caught” actually mean? Nothing. If the only price of acquiring multi-generational wealth is to be called a thief by some columnists, many more of us would climb in with both hands.

All of which is why the outrage is starting to sound a bit foolish. When people get robbed by a gang dressed as police, they immediately recognise that they’ve been duped. Not us. We’re still aghast, telling each other “Sjoe, those were really unprofessional cops, hey?”

The looters have about 30 months left. That takes us up to the 2019 elections, at which point the ATM’s code will be changed and a lot of peripheral gang members will be cut off. Those B-grade gangsters will need to crack on if they’re going to take their 10- or 15-million before they’re ousted or audited. They know what they need to do.

And so do we. For starters, we need to take our collective head out of our communal arse and dispense with naïve beliefs. We need to look past the illusion of politics and see the ATM.

Journalists need to say “stolen” instead of “lost”; “looted” instead of “misallocated”. For our own intellectual clarity, we need to stop believing that these are good people doing their job badly and start understanding that they are bad people doing their job well.

And in 30 months, either they go or we do.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

The Freedom Charter – Rebooted!

pen_write_text_manuscript_old_letter_retro_script_diary_parchment_historic

We, the Connected People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: screw you.

We know we once said that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, but that’s obviously a ridiculously naive position, so from here on South Africa belongs to anyone with enough non-sequential, unmarked dollars in a brown paper bag.

To help you understand your place, here are some important principles to remember:

The people shall govern. From Dubai.

All national groups shall have equal rights – unless their rights get in the way of our rights, in which case you’ll find that some rights are more important than others. This discovery is calling “marikana-ing”, derived from the verb “marikana”, “to remind the public about whose rights matter and whose don’t”.

The people shall share the country’s wealth. Mostly people who live in Dubai, or whose last name is Zuma. Mines and SABC soaps don’t come cheap, you know.

The land shall be shared among those who work it. And since our National Executive Committee has been giving this land a proper working-over for the last few years, we think it’s only fair that it be shared between us. (If you disagree, please see “marikana-ing”.)

All shall be equal before the law. Except for those who don’t ever have to come before the law because they know where the bodies are buried. Also this obviously excludes rich people. But if you’re poor or don’t know the dialing code for Saharanpur, India, the law will take its course, all over your face.

All shall enjoy equal human rights. Except, obviously, poor people. Because, honestly, screw them. Also, please see “marikana-ing”.

There shall be work and security. But mostly work in security. Signal jammers and email-readers are a major growth industry in our South Africa. Also, those iron gates at Nkandla and Saxonwold aren’t going to patrol themselves, you know.

The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened. By a government messenger, arriving at 3.15pm for his 11am meeting, to tell the Vice-Chancellors that they’re getting fokkol from  Treasury because we blew it all on Dudu over at SAA.

There shall be houses, security and comfort. Hell yes. So many houses. So much security. And so, so much comfort.

There shall be peace and friendship. Actually, on second thoughts, no, there probably won’t. Because those 25-year-old “military veterans” are itching to earn some combat medals, and elections are so goddamn unpredictable.

Adopted by an untouchable cabal, printed on buffalo-skin (thanks, Cyril) and signed in Veuve Clicquot.

We demand better lies!

Pik

Do you know what’s really gone to hell in the new South Africa? The quality of the lies we get told by our government. Yes sir, the lies were way better in the old days

I grew up listening to the fictions of the Nats and, by God, those hillbillies had the gift of the grift.

South Africa’s military could napalm a foreign country, have photos of said napalm splashed on international front pages, get condemned by the UN, and what would happen? Pik Botha would appear on the SABC to explain that we had misunderstood.

He didn’t tell us we’d taken it out of context. He didn’t claim that news reports had been fabricated by enemies of the state. He’d simply nod knowingly, take his sexy hot-chocolate voice down an octave, and reassure us that the world was a confusing place and that it’s easy to get confused and not understand complex adult issues.

By the end of his earnest sermon, the volk had forgotten all about war crimes and had gone back to sleep with a vague sense that a Sunday school picnic had gone awry but that a kind oomie had arrived just in time to make sure the ants didn’t crawl into the Redro.

When democracy came to South Africa, and the world and its spin-doctors opened up to us, we assumed this tradition would continue and even flourish. As arms dealers and corporate predators swarmed towards Nelson Mandela’s government, we believed that now, at last, we would finally get the lies we deserved: beautiful, gleaming things crafted by the greatest propagandists our taxes could buy.

For a few years the new government delivered on that promise and we were treated to a couple of masterful smoke screens.

Consider Sarafina 2, the new South Africa’s inaugural corruption scandal. Do you remember who was to blame and who got punished? No? Job done. If you have to Google a scandal to recall its details, then excellent liars have delivered some primo perjury and awesome obfuscation.

Sadly, however, the early promise soon faded.

The Arms Deal presented Thabo Mbeki with a wonderful opportunity to cook up some presidency-defining perfidy (for example, faintly sabre-rattling stuff about South Africa needing to step up to its rightful place as the biggest, baddest nation in Africa; of walking quietly and carrying a big stick; of maybe needing to invade Lesotho again) but what did he do?

Instead of being tastefully aggressive, he went defensive and told us we needed Swedish fighter jets to keep us safe, presumably from Botswana’s air force of three crop-dusters and Zimbabwe’s squadron of kamikaze weather balloons. Soon even the explanations dried up, replaced by terse denials and then accusations of racism, counter-revolution and disloyalty.

When Jacob Zuma was put into power by Julius Malema it seemed that we might enjoy something of a lying renaissance: any young demagogue who declares that he is willing to die for his paymaster is clearly getting ready to lead your country towards a new dawn of big, bold, juicy lies.

But once again the ANC flattered to deceive, squandering a good start by appointing Mac Maharaj as Zuma’s spokesmuppet. Suddenly everything and everyone was being “taken out of context”. It wasn’t even a proper lie.

In retrospect, it was inevitable that the whole sorry thing would end in a fire pool.

It was a ridiculously weak lie, and we heaped scorn on Zuma; but really the fire pool was an indictment of all of us: final proof of how low our standards have dropped when it comes to the lies we accept from our leaders.

If we weren’t such rubes or so resigned to our fate we’d be calling for “accountability” (the process whereby politicians tell small, elegant and reassuring lies to the public), we would speak with a clear and united voice to the corrupt and self-serving people in government and business, and we would say:

“Stop insulting us with these kindergarten fibs. Take us seriously as adult human beings who deserve adult lies. Hire consultants. Weave dazzling tapestries of legalese and opaque finance. Bore us into submission!

“For God’s sake, you know we’re all financially illiterate. All you have to do is present us with a vast spreadsheet and tell us it reflects the expenditure on Nkandla as off-set against the value-added deal we struck with China to balance the 2015 fiscal surge which was part of the Treasury’s eight-point plant to ratchet up the overshoot of the underspend of the – see? We’re nodding off already.

“But a swimming pool for putting out fires? Are you f***ing kidding me?”

I know the rich and powerful won’t stop lying to the rest of us, and frankly I’m OK with that: I don’t want to know what they know. But for now can we agree to one, first baby step? Can we demand some better lies?

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

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A country of no consequence

i did it my way

“I did it myyyyyyyyyy way!”

As I watched David Cameron resign, I wondered: what would it take for Jacob Zuma to stand on Plein Street outside parliament and resign?

Most of us have asked a similar question but I’m not sure how many have pushed for an answer. In this increasingly gloomy society it’s not so much a question as a statement of despair, usually followed by someone guiding the conversation somewhere else by announcing that they’re putting on the kettle and asking if anyone wants a biscuit.

But at that moment, as I watched a politician trying to keep his head above a flood of consequences, I really wanted to know: what would Zuma have to do in order for the ANC to tell him to quit?

Think about it. Anything coming to mind? No? Well, that’s to be expected. When astronauts spend months in space, their muscles atrophy. The same thing has happened to us. We’ve spent so long floating around in this zero-consequence country that our imaginative muscles have withered. We are no longer familiar with cause and effect, action and reaction. Around here, things just happen.

Which is why it’s so difficult to think up a hypothetical crime that might force Zuma’s hypothetical resignation. Nothing makes sense. Nothing fits. We’ve decoupled from the laws of political physics.

Looking back at events, each of which would have destroyed a British prime minister or a US president in a blinding flash of public humiliation, you see that bizarre upending of reality. Being on trial for rape made Zuma stronger. Dodging hundreds of charges of corruption entrenched him even deeper. When it emerged that he’d used public money to build a private palace, the faithful revealed that the real villains were his architect, Thuli Madonsela and the media. (The R7.8-million he’s been ordered to cough up is no doubt a plot engineered by our CIA-controlled Treasury.) When white-shirted goons invaded parliament and the broadcast signal was jammed, he just giggled.

By the way: if you’re one of the many ANC stalwarts who told me that you would recall Zuma the moment he stepped out of line, please get in touch. I’m eager to hear whether the fact that you haven’t recalled him yet is because you don’t feel he’s stepped out of line (in which case you’re clearly in a coma and I would like to send some flowers to your hospital ward) or whether it’s because, as I respectfully suggested to you at the time, you’re the turkeys who voted for Christmas. In which case: gobble gobble while you can.

“Listen, Jacob, we need to talk.”

Given all that completely bonkers history, let’s take a sane moment and try to imagine an event that might cause enough anger and disgust within the party to trigger a chain of events that will end with the Buthibond knocking on the bunker door and saying, “Listen, Jacob, we need to talk.”

Drunk driving? Oh please, that’s so 2013. Drowning a barrelful of kittens? An unfortunate accident, with a generous donation to the SPCA. Assault? He’d be happy to defend himself in court – if you can find a witness.

No, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain that the only way the ANC would tell Zuma to fall on his sword would be if he murdered somebody live on national television.

Not just anybody, mind you. If he shot an opposition MP in parliament, it would be a matter of hours before the ANC unearthed evidence of a plot against his life. Luckily for a grateful nation, the ever-alert Zuma saw the villain going for his gun and managed to whip a pistol off a nearby officer before blasting away in self-defence. When the media and the public started working through the footage frame by frame, revealing no assassin, the ANC would accuse them of using fake footage, of being CIA moles, of taking the pixels out of context .

Of course nobody would be listening because the country would be on fire. But Zuma wouldn’t be forced to resign. You know he wouldn’t.

No, the only way he’d go too far would be to mow down a bunch of senior ANC officials in parliament for no reason whatsoever.

People in his faction would cook up reasons – a moment of poor judgment caused by relentless psychological attacks from the EFF and DA; a Pavlovian response to finally being handed his machine gun after years of asking for it – but then, and only then, would he be required to step down.

Is this preposterous? Perhaps. But the fact that it’s not an insane leap – that we have to rack our brains to think of more likely scenarios – is evidence enough of just how far up Shit Creek we’ve drifted.

And, in the end, it’s a pretty simple equation: zero-consequence countries end up being countries of no consequence whatsoever.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail

 

They’ll send your mom a telegram when you die

youth

The Americans counted their bullets, pressed their backs against the stack of Tintin books, and waited.

The Japanese army was everywhere. Half a dozen sappers were already crawling through the scattering of Lego blocks on the western perimeter, and there were rumours of a sniper up on the book shelf. Sarge bellowed into his radio again, begging for air cover, but the Mustang was still being refuelled under the duvet.

The Battle of the Bedroom Floor was interrupted by a polite knock on my door. Our house-guest had been sent to call me to dinner.

He was a plump, kind man with a shock of fading yellow hair and eyes that wrinkled to nothing when he smiled, which was often. His English was poor and so he adopted a jovial silence, beaming and nodding to show that he was enjoying the conversation if not contributing to it.

But now, as he looked at the toy soldiers strewn across the floor, his face was pale and unsmiling. Even though I was not yet 10, I realised that something had hurt him as he knocked and looked down. It had slipped through his defences because he had never expected to encounter it here, in the room of a child. He leaned against the doorframe, and seemed enormously tired.

“This is a game?” he asked. It didn’t sound like a question. It sounded like an accusation. Then the real question came.

“But why would you play this?”

Later, seeing my embarrassment, my parents explained.

Our guest was German and when he was in his late teens he had been drafted into Hitler’s navy and sent aboard the battleship Tirpitz. The ship was relentlessly hunted and spent the war limping from one Norwegian fjord to another, where steep mountains and shallow water offered some protection from the British bombers and submarines that pursued it. Forty years later, that fear still clung to our guest: many of the Cape’s coastal roads, where mountains plunge into the sea, made him anxious.

In the end the bombers found their target. The Tirpitz was destroyed, along with 1000 of its crew.

Our guest survived the attack and the war. Millions didn’t. All of his brothers were drafted and killed. Hitler sent his mother a medal for surrendering so many of her babies to the meat grinder.

“But why would you play this?” At the time, I thought I heard disbelief in his voice and that was why I was embarrassed. I thought he was saying: “You stupid child, how could you take any pleasure from war?”

We swear that now we know better

Now, though, I think I understand his tone better. It wasn’t disbelief. It was despair.

When industrialised killing ends, we bow our heads and swear that now we know better. Those working to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive say, “Never again.” In those first moments after the killing stops, it seems the most fundamental truth that it should never start again; that war is an obscene crime.

And yet here I was: a child, playing at mass murder. Somewhere in those first eight or nine years I had learned that war was fun. And I think that’s why the kind, anxious German felt overcome with despair. We had learned nothing.

I wonder what that damaged man would say about our politics, where every day the imagery and rhetoric of war become more entrenched and more normalised. Jacob Zuma now goes nowhere without a platoon of helmeted, camouflaged stormtroopers carrying assault weapons. The EFF, already fond of uniforms and talk of fighting, crushing, overthrowing and destroying, has begun to let its civilian veneer slip: Julius Malema has spoken publicly about waging war against the current government, and at the party’s election manifesto launch, leaders were flanked by enormous men in camouflage fatigues.

Revolutionaries like to warn us about how deeply we’ve been indoctrinated by racism, sexism and capitalism. Yet, oddly, for people who claim to be fighting for a peaceful future run by civilians, they remain silent about militarism. Both left and right still recite the utterly discredited Victorian euphemisms for killing to make a few profiteers richer: “the fallen”, “the ultimate sacrifice”, “the glorious dead”, “martyrs”. Basically, all the stuff Hitler told that man’s mother.

It seems ridiculous that one needs to spell it out. You’d think we’d know by now; that we might have learned to stop playing at soldiers like ignorant 9-year-olds. But since we haven’t, here goes.

War is bad.

Those who use its rhetoric have no plans to do any actual fighting. They’ll leave that to you, but if you get killed they’ll do their best to send your mother a telegram.

The people who will win will not be your friends. They will not look after you when it’s over.

So to those South Africans cheering the war-talk, I ask again: “Why would you play this?”

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail