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Call 0800-PIMP-MY-PRIDE and join today!

UgUyIWhen I heard about the Anti-State Capture Death Squad Alliance, I was quite upset.

I know you felt it too. And how could you not? That hyphen! What the hell? I mean, is this a Death Squad Alliance that is opposed to state capture, or is this a Capture Death Squad Alliance that is anti-state and, if so, what is a Capture Death Squad Alliance? It’s a nightmare, people.

Mostly, though, it upset me because it was yet more evidence of how low the once-great art of spin-doctoring has fallen.

In case you missed it, perhaps because you don’t subscribe to the state’s “Grasping At Straws” mailing list, the Anti-State Capture Death Squad Alliance consists of an unemployed man by the name of Elvis Ramosebudi, who couldn’t afford bail despite having allegedly raised R140-million from “business”, which, obviously, means the secret wood-panelled Masonic bunker where White Monopoly Capitalists brush cigar ash off their tuxedos and plan regime change by hiring the best of the best, i.e. Elvis.

If anyone was still uncertain that Elvis was up to no good, a hit list was soon circulated online, helpfully headed with the words: “This are the beneficiaries of the State Capture regime, who are to be assassinated by our undercover coup plot sniper operation.”

Then followed a comprehensive list of every South African currently having awkward phone conversations with Russian debt-collectors.

If you had paid any attention to this – instead of spending the weekend like a sensible adult, trying to figure out ways of getting your scant finances off-shore – you would have realised that Elvis was obviously one of only two things: the most inept plotter in South African history, or – and this seemed much more likely – someone suffering from a mental illness and in need of help. Either way, he posed no threat whatsoever to the Saxonwold Bhutibond.

By Friday afternoon, however, the desired effect had been achieved.

Major news websites used words like “coup” and “target” in their headlines. “#Coup_plotter” was trending on Twitter, subliminally repeating in tweet after tweet that an actual coup had been plotted.

Most responses were contemptuously dismissive, and yet that’s the thing with hashtags: unless you start a new one – say, #YetAnotherBlindinglyObviousAttemptToGiveZumaEmergencyPowers, the first one leaves a lasting impression.

It was, I suppose, a very small win for Paid Twitter. God knows they’ve needed one. But it was still so abject. I’ve written before about the depressingly low quality of this government’s lies, but Mac Maharaj’s ludicrous efforts of a few years ago, back when everything was being “taken out of context”, now seem like Machiavellian brilliance compared with intellectual mucus dribbling out of the corridors of power.

when life gives you morons, make money

Still, when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade, and when life gives you morons you should try to make money. Which is why I’d like to use this opportunity to announce that I will soon be retiring as a columnist and starting an academy for young propagandists, in the hope that I can restore some intelligence to counterintelligence.

Yes, it’s time to launch the School for Young Cadres, Hangers-On, Paid Hucksters And Nkosazana’s Toadies, or SYCOPHANT.

I’m not sure many of my future students will be reading this – most are under severe deadlines, PhotoShopping Johann Rupert’s face onto Satan’s body – but if you know anyone who might benefit from my new curriculum, please pass this on to them. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

For example, we’ll be kicking off the first semester with “Getting Your Paid Twitter and Fake Facebook Avatar Just Right”, a vital skill for the up-and-coming party shill. Using your own face is obviously out of the question, because that would require courage and if you had an iota of that you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, right? But the internet has also matured and most readers have figured out that pretty much any account without a human face is a bot or a fragment of intellectual dung like you. Worried? Don’t be. Leave your troubles and your real identity at the door as we learn exciting new Photoshop techniques that mean you no longer have to steal other people’s identities!

But that’s just the start! In the second semester you can enrol for “How To Be More Convincing Online By Hiding Your Extreme Idiocy and Hatred of Women and Gay People Behind Fiery Rhetoric”. If you feel that clever attacks on White Monopoly Capital are being undermined by your seething bigotry, this one’s definitely for you.

And finally, “Finding New Scapegoats” is already filling up fast. Sure, you could fall back on classic anti-Semitism and accuse everybody of being a puppet of George Soros and a global Jewish conspiracy, but the problem with that route is that it reveals you to be a gurning, slack-jawed imbecile incapable of rational thought. This course will help you tap into new scapegoating trends. Educated women! Journalists! Former Zimbabwean soldiers! Don’t they sound eeeevil? Ditch your beloved copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and be wowed!

So, if you’d like to enrol, please call +971 (Dubai dialling code) 0800-PIMP-MY-PRIDE. Our SYCOPHANT operators are standing by.

*

Published in The Times

Out of the Fry panning into the fire

Fry anger

Tayla got straight to the point. I was, she said, “a complete p***”.

I studied the phrase, typed, stars and all, on my Facebook page, and wondered whether she meant I was a complete pope, perhaps combining the craggy good looks of John Paul II with the refreshing openness of Francis.

But a moment later another word appeared, this time typed by someone called Tamarin. It read, simply, “Poes”. So not a pope, then.

Other comments were less gynaecological and more general. David, for example, was terribly concerned over the state of local writing. “Your sour, ungenerous piece is typical of what is coming out of South African society at the moment,” he pronounced.

Lorna, too, seemed troubled by the quality of the populace, urging me and my “yob friends” to stop embarrassing ourselves on Facebook.

And the cause of all this wrath? Stephen Fry.

Last week the English actor and wit left Twitter, explaining on his blog that a once-pleasurable online meeting place had become overrun by viciousness. He is, of course, right. Twitter is now a sewer clogged with rage; the spiritual home of people defined by conservative pundits as “cry-bullies”. It has become an aggressively self-pitying mob that knows almost nothing and will believe almost anything.

To amuse myself, I wrote my own blog post called “Stephen Fry Is A Monster“, from the perspective of one of those “cry-bullies”: an outraged rant condemning Fry’s post, riddled with deliberate errors and obviously stupid assumptions.

I have never been accused of being subtle in my satire, and in this instance I laid it on particularly thick. For example, in his blog, Fry quotes a line from Rupert Brooke’s Peace. My reply: “I read Rupert Brookes’s blog entry, which is called Peace, and it was complete rubbish, it didn’t make any sense at all, and I showed it to a friend who said Oh of course, it’s a fucking POEM. A POEM, Mr Fry, you elitist prick. You know perfectly well that nobody can read a poem or what it means, and by plagiarizing a poem you were DELIBERATELY EXCLUDING THE 99%. You are a white supremacist.”

Delicate as a sledgehammer, ne?

The response was depressing. Not all of it, of course. For instance, I don’t blame Tayla and Tamarin for saying what they said. If you’re popping up on a stranger’s Facebook page to write “Poes”, it means you’re operating on a level where the world must be a very confusing and scary place, and it’s understandable that you’d want to lash out.

I get it. Reading is super-hard.

Even for people less intellectually challenged than those two, it can be very difficult to tell authentic online vitriol from parody, especially if you click on a story without any context. Sure, you might take a moment to read a couple of other pieces by the same writer, or perhaps skim through the dozens of comments on Facebook explaining that the piece is poking fun at the people who chased Fry off Twitter. But I get it. Reading is super-hard. And in a world where time is precious, why would you spend 30 seconds looking for context when you could spend them venting your spleen?

So no, it wasn’t the idiot anger. What depressed me was the fury of people who really should have known better. Some were people who have read my work for some time. One had a profile picture showing a proud humanities student being awarded a university degree.

When you write for a living and start interacting with readers you quickly learn that people who can read are not necessarily literate. But I confess I was shocked by the determination of those readers to remain illiterate.

They refused to search for context, or resisted having it handed to them; when someone pointed out their misreading of the piece, they would go into a series of aggressive emotional contortions rather than admit a mistake. It’s satire? No it’s not: I know satire and this isn’t it. Oh, it really is satire? Well it’s pretty stupid and Eaton is still a dick and Stephen Fry is still awesome.

In the coming months our country is going to get a lot louder and angrier. The written word, already militarised, will become even more wrathful. All our possible futures will be fought over, column centimetre by column centimetre. It’s going to get nasty.

But when it does, and various camps are clamouring for the high ground, it might help to think of Tamarin, queen of the illiterates, and her subjects who generate enormous amounts of heat but almost no light, and who can therefore be ignored. And what of the manifestos, the open letters, the think-pieces? Maybe ignore most of them too. After all (and Tamarin can confirm this): you can’t believe a damn thing you read any more.

*

First published in The Times

 

Stephen Fry is a monster

Fry

I don’t know if you have heard of someone called Stephen Fry but don’t worry if you have not because if you have not it probably means that you are a good person.

I have only ever seen him in a TV show called QI, which is where the sons of the ruling elite show off the “general knowledge” they got at Oxford. Obviously if you know anything about science you will know that QI has been completely debunked as a true test of intelligence, so calling your show QI is pretty damn stupid if you ask me.

So yesterday Stephen Fry closed his twitter account and wrote a blog about the reasons why he had closed his twitter account, stating why, and for what reason, etc. It was all incredibly offensive. If you want to read the blog, click on this link here => (put your cursor on the words with the different colour and press “click”) here => now => to the right => CLICK ON THESE WORDS HERE.

I will not inflect the whole blog post on you because it is elitist drivel written by an old white hegemonist, but I do want to address myself to Mr Stephen Fry and take umbridge with and to a few of the statements that he stated on his blog.

Hi Mr Fry.

In your blog you used a metaphor (classic far-right diversion) comparing the old twitter to a “secret bathing-pool” where you used to swim with your Oxford co-conspirators. Secret? Why is it secret? Who are you trying to keep out? That is clearly exclusionary. In fact, I would go so far as to say that’s a hate crime.

Then you write: “It was glorious ‘to turn as swimmers into cleanness leaping’.” That sentence made no sense, and at first I thought maybe you had had some sort of mental episode (because you are incredibly old, I say that not in the ageist sense but in the sense that physiologically you might have had a stroke or something). But then I saw that you had put those finger-marks in the text, like when you make finger-marks in the sky when you are saying something that is a joke or ironic and you bend your fingers twice, like you are beckoning someone in the sky but obviously you aren’t because there’s no-one in the sky because GOD IS DEAD. Anyway I saw those marks and I realized something weird was going on so I googled your sentence and I found that YOU MADE PLAGIARISM. “to turn as swimmers into cleanness leaping” was written by someone called Rupert Brookes, and you didn’t give a reference, so you are a PLAGIARIST, Mr Fry, and I cannot believe you ever hosted something called QI when you can’t even make up your own lines.

Then I read Rupert Brookes’s blog entry, which is called Peace, and it was complete rubbish, it didn’t make any sense at all, and I showed it to a friend who said Oh of course, it’s a fucking POEM. A POEM, Mr Fry, you elitist prick. You know perfectly well that nobody can read a poem or what it means, and by plagiarizing a poem you were DELIBERATELY EXCLUDING THE 99%. You are a white supremacist.

Then you describe how you “water-bombed” people. This is written in a positive way, and unconsciously conditions the reader into being in favour of unilateral military action. It is people like you that made it possible for George W Bush and his war criminals to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, you say, the pool has now gotten “frothy with scum”. This is so typical of the patriarchy: completely undermining the contribution that scum makes to the ecosystem.

You then become even more aggressive in your othering rant, claiming that we, the people of twitter, have peed in your pool. You make it clear that this is a bad thing without ever considering our point of view. What if we HAD to pee in the pool? What if the public toilets in the forest glade were not working, or were being renovated, or someone had locked the door and taken the key home? And that’s not even considering cultural reasons which you TRAMPLE. Like: what if it is our religion to pee in the pool? By saying we are bad, you are being an intolerant BIGOT.

But you don’t stop there. Oh no. You call us “sanctimoniously self-righteous”. How dare you?! How DARE you? I am not even going to waste any time looking up what those words mean because I already know that they are horrible.

It goes on and on. You write: “It doesn’t matter whether they think they’re defending women, men, transgender people, Muslims, humanists … the ghastliness is absolutely the same.” So the people who step up to defend the oppressed are GHASTLY, Stephen? Being a good person is GHASTLY? How can you live with yourself?

Then you claim that someone has pooed in the water, but you are so mean about it: “I would contend that just one turd in a reservoir is enough to persuade one not to drink from it.” OMFG, Stephen Fry. DO YOU KNOW HOW FEW PEOPLE HAVE CLEAN WATER, STEPHEN? ONE TURD IS A LUXURY FOR LITERALLY BILLIONS OF PEOPLE.

You end off by insulting “the slab-faced dictators of tone and humour”. Firstly, that’s disgustingly ableist: dictators can’t choose the face they are born with, and if they get a slab face, that is not their fault, OK? Take your privilege and stick it up your bum. And secondly – and this is the most important thing anyone has said up to this point – stop trying to police how we police you. Now. Or else.

Regards,
We The People of Twitter.

“Smoking is good for you”

smokingDear one,

I’m so sorry about vanishing like that just before Christmas, but I couldn’t stand the traffic and the wailing toddlers snotting on sweating Santas. I had to get away.  I hope you’ll forgive me for not forwarding an address for postcards and the like. The thing is, I’ve deliberately come to a place where news travels very slowly, if at all. You know how I’m always droning on about how there’s too much news and too much stupid? Well, I decided to go to a place where there’s none.

In the end I didn’t need a visa or even any money. All I needed was a decision: to switch off the babble for a few weeks. So I did.

I haven’t looked at Facebook or Twitter or news websites for two weeks.

Two weeks! Do you realise what that means, dear one? How much rancour I’ve avoided? How much prose-farting I’ve dodged? I feel that these two weeks have added two years to my life. What a glorious place this is!

You’d love it here. At first glance it looks a bit like South Africa, but the longer you stay here, the more you see the differences. The main one is that here, people just get on with things. Those who talk, talk to each other. If they fight, they work it out afterwards, like adults. Nobody drops an imaginary microphone and prances out of a non-existent room. And the most wonderful difference: in this country, people who lecture other people are actual lecturers rather than flakes who think that an audience is a substitute for years of therapy. Lord but it’s good to be free of the aggressive self-pity of the Internet Republic!

I won’t lie, though: getting here was tricky. Call it the turbulence of going cold turkey.

I can admit to you that I was properly hooked, and I knew it. But like a true addict I was deluding myself about the nature of my addiction.

I told myself that my need for news was virtuous; that the urge to check my phone was a desire to stay informed, and that each tweet or headline was contributing to a godlike view of the world, which, by implication, would ultimately lead to a godlike righteousness and wisdom.

You’ve felt it, too. I know you have: that subtle but relentless pressure to have an opinion about everything, to engage earnestly with everything, and, once the virtue commissars have named the target for the day, to rain down rhetorical fire upon it.

Yes, dear one, I told myself that I was hooked by a desire to be informed so that I could use my knowledge for good. But it wasn’t that. After all, if I was after knowledge I would have spent my days reading books by experts rather than poring over the nervous tics of nobodies.

No. The truth is, I was hooked on the jolts, the small but relentless bursts of anxiety that happened every single time I opened Twitter or Facebook or any local news site. I was plugged into an endless stream of second-hand disasters and third-rate manifestos. And every time one of them flared onto the screen, presented as the outrage du jour, it lit me up with a dim, smoky spark.

I know the brain doctors have figured out how this all works and their findings are depressing: it turns out that we’re all just lab rats pressing our noses against a red button marked MORE PLEASE. But I also think I was mistaking anxiety for a feeling of engagement. I was confusing chaos with connectedness.

Dear one, you know that I can be overly dramatic, but this holiday has made me begin to think that the internet is very, very bad for me, and I don’t only mean bad as in distracting and confusing. I mean that I suspect it’s bad for my physical and mental health.

Yes, I know the internet democratised knowledge (or at least porn and kittens) and helped the Arab Spring bring democracy to — oh, wait, never mind that second one. Anyway, it’s hailed as a Good Thing. But so were cigarettes, once. Doctors said so.

And I’m now convinced that we’re in the “smoking is good for you” phase of the internet.

In fact I’m sure that, 50 years from now, medical people will shake their heads and murmur, “Can you believe the toxic filth those poor rubes deliberately pumped into their eyeballs every single day?”

And they’ll be doubly grateful that China banned the internet once it bought the last independent country back in 2045.

I’m sure I’ll see you soon. Writers can’t stay off the internet forever. But, dear one, when I come back, it will be carefully. Very carefully.

Yours in being much more cautious and much more content, T.

*

First published in The Times and Rand Daily Mail.

Steyn has nothing to apologize for

An average Bangladeshi Test pitch

An average Bangladeshi Test pitch

Dale Steyn has dished out some short and nasty stuff over the years, but this week he was on the receiving end. Granted, it was only moderately nasty, but it was very short: 140 characters, to be precise.

The South African giant turns 32 next month, and on Monday hinted in an interview that he might want to sit out a couple of games on the upcoming tour of Bangladesh since it didn’t make sense to “waste” any of the few thousand deliveries he believes he has left in his body.

Bangladeshi Twitter wasn’t impressed and started steaming in off its long run. Steyn, however, has always shown courage and technique when attacked, and he quickly went back and across, got into line, and tweeted a solid apology. “Waste”, he said, might have been the wrong word.

I understand his apology. No public figure wants to alienate a country with a population of 156 million. But those of us with less to lose, like, say, columnists, can still call a spade a spade – or a pointless series a pointless series – and point out that Steyn has nothing to apologize for. Every ball he bowls at a Bangladeshi is one fewer he’ll bowl at an Australian or Indian or Englishman. And that is a waste.

Bangladeshi fans would insist that their team, although weak, is trying. I agree. Bangladesh is extremely trying. The pitch they prepared for the first Test against Pakistan recently was a crime against cricket, producing 1515 runs, 26 wickets, and five days of tedium. If their fans want to get angry with someone they might start with their groundsmen. But really, as supporters of a team that has won just 7 of its 90 Tests (and 5 of those were against Zimbabwe), they should probably just sit down and be quiet and let the nice man decide for how long he wants to grace their country.

In the same interview, Steyn explained the logic behind rationing his bowling over the next few years: he wants to win a World Cup for South Africa. It’s a noble ideal but I suspect one that is well out of reach. A year ago I predicted that his international career would be coming to an end more or less now. He’s proved me wrong, but I still hold that he’s been mismanaged and over-bowled. He’s already flung down hundreds (and, in some instances, thousands) of balls more than elite speedsters like Waqar Younis, Michael Holding and Jeff Thomson managed in their entire Test careers. The cumulative strain on his body is unimaginable.

Still, there are more attainable glories to be achieved. Steyn is just four scalps away from becoming only the 12th bowler to take 400 Test wickets. He’s implied that he wants to sit out the One-Day Internationals on the upcoming tour, but surely his host of fans would want him to skip the Tests? That would allow him to reach the magical number later this year against much worthier opposition, either India or England. Against Bangladesh? That feels like a bit of a waste.

*

An edited version of this was first published in The Times and TimesLive

Blocked by Mbaks

instagramThis week I got blocked on Twitter by South Africa’s sports minister, Fikile Mbalula. That doesn’t make me special. Mbalula aka Fiks aka Mbaks aka Razzmatazz aka Beyoncé Please Call Me blocks people faster than a jammer having a “glitch” in the media gallery at Parliament.

And to be honest, he’s actually been pretty restrained with me. I’ve been heckling him on Twitter for months, wondering aloud what a Sports Minister is actually for, or why he is paid 2.2 million of our tax rands every year, or how his ministry spends the billion tax rands it is handed annually. I mean, after you’ve signed off on your latest campaign to get South Africans interested in basketball (Because Americans! And Americans!) and then headed out for lunch in Camps Bay, there’s quite a lot of change left.

lunchMbalula, however, has not been idle since taking office. (You will recall he was once our deputy minister of police, in which role he urged cops to “shoot the bastards”, a policy which came to fruition at Marikana.) Oh yes, he’s been a busy little bee, and in the process has become famous for four things:

  • a public crush on Beyoncé which made him overlook the local musicians he’s supposed to support as he tried to get his dream date to come and perform at…
  • an awards dinner costing R21-million
  • calling Bafana Bafana a “bunch of losers”, and…
  • overseeing said losers’ progress in the global rankings from about 50th to about 50th

Bafana

The numbers don’t lie. This is a FIFA graph showing how our football team has fared compared to the football teams of the moderately fucked Democratic Republic of Congo, the mostly fucked Haiti, and the completely fucked Iraq. Say what you like about Mbalula but you can’t deny that under his administration we’ve performed much better than one country destroyed by war and another destroyed by an earthquake. Yes, we’re currently lagging another country being destroyed by civil war, but Mbaks surely has a plan. Perhaps involving lunch in Camps Bay.

But of course Mbalula’s biggest claim to fame is his addiction to social media. His instagram account is a selfie-encrusted altar to narcissism. It’s so startlingly self-obsessed it’s even had two articles written about it in proper newspapers. (Here’s one. And here’s the other.) And Twitter, ah, Twitter: it’s the padded cell in which Fiks can get his fix.

Now, Mbaks has always had a way with words. Not a good way, mind you, but still a way. His tweets are always memorable, in the same sort of way that a glimpse of a hillbilly dragging a bloody sack into the trees is memorable when you see it from a speeding train.

On Tuesday afternoon, though, things got very strange, very quickly…

razz

As the tweets rolled out, Fiks seemed to be going from DEFCON Loveable Babbler to DEFCON Oh Wow He’s Been Hacked to DEFCON Oh Fuck He’s Having A Nationally Broadcast Mental Breakdown.

hacked

A concerned nation weighed in. Some phoned the number he’d tweeted…

number

And then, just when it seemed that the Sports Minister had redeployed himself to Groendakkies…

not hacked

Now here’s the thing.If you’re having to explain to people that you were doing comedy, then you’re a bad comedian. But if you’re the Sports Minister and you’re having to explain to people that you were doing comedy, THEN YOU’RE AN UTTERLY SHIT SPORTS MINISTER. I was unimpressed.

humor bankrupt

Something that’s always fascinated me about politicians is how they have two kinds of skin on their bodies. The one kind is incredibly thick. They can take astonishing abuse from each other. They can survive the kind of pressure that would kill you and me. They can be found guilty of fraud, of stealing our money; they can be shamed before an entire nation and be back in Parliament a few months later without even a hint of a blush. But the other kind of skin…that’s tissue-paper thin. The faintest, flimsiest film. Anything can get under it: a dandelion seed, a kitten’s sneeze…or perhaps a tweet about fucking around on Twitter.

Suddenly the jovial, I’m-Still-Mbaks-From-The-Block banter was gone, and the Honourable Fikile Mbalula, MP, stood up to wag the finger of state at me…

wag1

Oooo! Look at all the properly-spelled words! Look at the Capital Letters! Somebody was piiiiiiissed! But there was more…

wag2

I had no idea that asinine jokes about Wifi grants were a way for Public Reps around the World to engage, but he did have a point: if I didn’t like what I was reading, I was welcome to unfollow him.

Except, before I could unfollow him, this happened…

blocked

“You’re going to break up with me? Not if I break up with you first!” And bam! it was all over.

It was tempting to see a bigger picture; to imagine that this was yet another example of the ANC’s pathological inability to tolerate dissent. After all, Mbalula is an integral part of a corporation (because that’s what the government is) that brought us the proposed Media Tribunal, non-commissions of non-inquiry into the arms deal and Marikana, signal jammers, and a Speaker who fails to recognize people depending on how thick her political cataracts are that day.

But of course this wasn’t government or the ANC or even politics in general. This was just Mbaks being Mbaks. This is how he rolls. Scrambling up onto his moth-eaten high horse, wagging his little cyber-finger at me, he declared that Twitter was a way of engaging with people. And yet his reputation as someone who blocks first and asks questions later suggests that when it comes to Twitter, the only engagement he’s interested in involves a ring and Beyoncé.

Oh well. That was that. It was all over. Or was it?

Seconds after being cast into the outer darkness my Twitter mentions started lighting up.

Could Fikile have said something about me after blocking me? No. No adult, let alone an adult public servant, could be that petulant or juvenile. It would be like walking away from an argument, claiming it was beneath you, and then, once your opponent was out of earshot, turning around and yelling “And yo mamma too!” Not only would it be childish, it would be desperately weak. Pathetic, even. No, it was impossible.

But in Mbaks, all things are possible. This is what I found.

verwoerdSure.

Because the only possible reason taxpayers would tell you to do your job is white supremacy. Obvies.

His fans were cross. What they hell was I on about? What kind of Calvinist slave-driving buzz-killing arsehole was I to criticise Razzmatazz for spreading joy on Twitter?

buzzkill
She raised an interesting question, though: how much time was he spending on Twitter? At which point, as if reading my mind, the number crunchers at SA By Numbers weighed in:

stats

More analysis revealed that most of Fiks’s tweets are sent during working hours. So how much of our money is he pissing down the urinal of social media? *turns on overhead projector, licks finger, rubs off last remnants of yesterday’s lecture, wipes blue fingers on trousers*

Let’s assume the following:

1. Razzmatazz works 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year.

2. He works 12 hours a day. (MPs and Ministers pull long hours. What they actually do in those hours is debatable, but you can’t deny they arrive early and leave late.)

3. 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year = 2,940 hours a year.

4. For working those 2,940 hours he is paid R2,211,937, or R12.50 per minute.

In short:

giphy

OK. We know Fiks tweets around 22 times a day and that most of those happen during school hours. So let’s assume he’s tweeting on the job 18 times a day. Some of those are brain-farts. Some are imperious slap-downs to uppity columnists. Some or just re-tweets of things he’s liked. Some take 5 seconds to compose, others might take up to 20 seconds. So let’s go with about 15 seconds per tweet – which covers reading his timeline, replying to some tweets, getting annoyed by others, and generally trawling for stuff to re-tweet.

18 tweets x 15 seconds? Fiks is spending just 4 and a half minutes of his working day tweeting. We’re paying him R12.50 a minute, so his Twitter addiction is really only costing us R56 per day. Or R280 per week. Or R13,700 per yea – actually, fuck that. That’s social grants for three children living in hunger and poverty

Emotive? Manipulative? Perhaps. But I admit, I’m pissed off – at watching so much potential squandered by untouchable politicians, at being associated with Verwoerd when I demand that my public representatives work harder – so maybe I’m overreacting. After all, Twitter is an important tool for politicians. It gives them a direct link to the voters and allows them to communicate their policies, plans and success without all the red tape of press releases or speeches. If Mbaks is using Twitter to promote South African sport, to keep us informed of the successes of his ministry and his progress in transforming rugby and cricket (his biggest policy promise to date), then perhaps that’s R13,000 a year well spent.

So what does Fiks tweet about?

Life is far too short to read his Twitter feed for too long, but I thought 10 days would give a fair sample of content. And so I waded through his tweets from 1 March until lunchtime on 11 March. And here’s what I found.

  • Religious messages: 1
  • Comments on local music: 3
  • Lobbying for Durban to host the Commonwealth Games: 5
  • “Comedy” tweets: 8
  • Pictures of himself supporting sports events. Or playing golf. Or just of himself: 14
  • Messages of congratulations to sportspeople or musicians: 14
  • Messages of good luck to sportspeople (including re-tweets from others): 15
  • Zinging slap-downs of his critics: 16
  • Updates on current or upcoming sports events: 26
  • Various official-ish tweets on topics ranging from sports development to gender violence to Ebola to the sentencing of the Ivory Coast’s First Lady: 33
  • Informal banter with his followers, about sport, Twitter, the price of gold teeth, etc: 37

And what topic did Fiks fixate on most of all? What essential subject dominated his social media time? What could be important enough to keep those three kids hungry?

Fikile Mbalula, of course.

Between 1 March and the middle of 11 March, Razzmatazz re-tweeted or commented on a total of 41 tweets that were compliments to him by his fans.

Actually, “compliments” is too restrained a word. Rather think teenage girls at a Bieber concert.

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Reading through the endless self-congratulation, I began to realize that I had completely misunderstood Mbaks. I had thought he was a public servant, working to uplift South Africans through sport. I hadn’t realized that he isn’t a Sports Minister at all. He’s not even a minister. He’s a celebrity comedian. He’s a marketing tool for the ANC.

These two tweets in particular helped me realize the error of my ways.

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He’s hilarious. And he does what we pay him to do. In short, we pay him to be hilarious.

On Wednesday and Thursday, as sports writer Antoinette Muller took to Twitter to try to raise R8,500 to send two promising Khayelitsha touch-rugby stars to national trials, some might have wondered where Mbaks was. After all R8,500 is what he “earns” in a single day at the office.

But of course Fiks has nothing to do with sending those boys to trials. That’s not his job. His job is Razzmatazz, an endless song-and-dance routine, keeping the voters laughing so they don’t ask why his colleagues aren’t doing their jobs. No wonder his fans were angry with me: suggesting that he actually do his job was like me grumpily telling Beyoncé to get an office job.

His portfolio isn’t Sport and Recreation. It’s Hearts and Minds. Largely unqualified to win minds, he’s turned all his skill as a comedian and showman to winning hearts – and if Twitter is anything to go by, he’s doing his job superbly well.

Maybe it’s all a joke that this Caucasian isn’t getting. But I can’t help feeling that if voters are happy to hand over a billion rand a year to a joke ministry run by a joker, the joke’s very much on them. And Fikile Mbalula is having the last laugh.

Fiddling while SA load-sheds

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Do lobsters scream when you drop them into boiling water? I can’t say, never having done it myself, but I do know what frogs say when you slowly bring a pot of water to the boil around them: “Stop complaining about Eskom and do something constructive!”

Last week our national swamp was in full voice. Most chirped “Bloody Eskom!” but a sizeable chorus was stamping its tiny webbed feet and telling the rest not to be so pessimistic. “Complaining has never changed anything!” croaked some on Facebook; but one of them was more concerned with the present than the past, and specifically how I was undermining the country.

We had just subsided, with a collective judder of expiring fridges, into a spell of Stage 3 load-shedding when I suggested on Twitter that the country was now being powered by an Eskom technician’s grandmother rubbing a Shoprite packet against a cat. At once I was told that such jokes did nothing but undermine the efforts of those trying to fix the country. We needed solutions, not jokes.

I don’t want to undermine anyone, least of all the whole country, so please allow me to issue a warning. Dear reader, if you are easily undermined, perhaps by brushing against a dandelion seed, please stop reading now: the rest of this column contains words that might not spontaneously eject flocks of winged kittens straight into your eyeballs. If your solution to the electricity omni-shambles is to quote Oprah quoting a head prefect quoting a Hallmark card quoting a unicorn farting a rainbow, then perhaps now is the time to go back to your wigwam and put the cheese back in your ears.

Still, there is no use ranting. Shout too loudly and nobody can hear the words any more. Besides, I am not one of those people who are angry because they believe something has gone terribly wrong.

On the contrary, I believe the power crisis is running exactly according to plan. That plan, called “The Plan” and written on a napkin in barbecue sauce during a bosberaad in 2002, reads as follows: “Electricity. The mains box is in the kitchen. Make sure the big switch is in the up position. If it jumps down check if an appliance has fallen into the Jacuzzi, then push it up again. If it jumps down again wedge it up with a stick. If the box catches on fire, phone Eskom. If Eskom doesn’t answer, phone Eskom again. If Eskom still doesn’t answer, phone Eskom and tell them to answer because it’s a national emergen-” The rest is obscured by a blob of mustard.

I am joking, of course. There is no napkin, because there’s no plan. All there seems to be is a kind of totem-stroking faith, as if our leaders are a group of cargo-cultists who have built a replica of a power station out of fruit crates and are now wondering why the megawatts aren’t crackling through the palm-frond wires they’ve plaited together. Their confusion is palpable. The electricity used to come from Eskom (they murmur to each other). If we go through the correct motions – wiggling the mains switch, paying gigantic bonuses – the electricity will come from Eskom once more. We just have to wait and pray.

But there I go undermining again. And to be honest, I don’t actually believe that our leaders spend all their time waiting for the electricity to come back, mainly because they’ve all got generators. I also don’t believe that they’re deliberately ignoring our questions and demands. They just can’t hear us above the cacophony of the trough. Seriously. It’s really hard to hear distant whines about electricity when you’re deafened by glop-blorb-schplurp sounds punctuated with contented grunts and burps.

Maybe I am cynical. Perhaps, on the whole, it is better to suggest solutions than to complain about problems. But the thing is, my poor, easily undermined darlings, solutions were suggested. Over and over again, for 20 years. They were suggested and then underlined in luminous marker pens. They were presented in clear, large fonts on official documents, with pictures for those who are resistant to reading. They were written in fairy lights wrapped around polite, articulate submissions by experts. They were written in chocolate sauce on the ice-cream cakes celebrating 10, 15 and 20 years of democracy. And now it seems that they were ignored. So you’ll have to forgive those of us who amuse ourselves at Eskom’s expense, because at this point all we can do is laugh.

As for undermining the country, I think Eskom is doing fine without my help. South Africa became famous for negotiated power sharing. We just never imagined that power sharing would one day involve nipping next door to plug your phone into your neighbour’s diesel generator.

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Originally published in The Times and TimesLive