Zimbabwe

Play us again, Sam. Play us as time goes by.

happier times

It was understandable that we’d start fantasizing about Thabo Mbeki and Julius Malema. Inevitable, even.

In the 1990s we thought we were God’s Rainbow People. Ten years later we believed we were the first flowering of the African Renaissance. Since the eruption of the Gupta e-mails, however, we have discovered what we truly are: slack-jawed, wide-eyed rubes being taken for a monumental ride; the butt of a gigantic, multinational, criminal joke.

It’s a tough thing to accept. Nobody likes being laughed at, especially not by hypocrite arseholes in pointy shoes and bulletproof SUVs.

But it’s not just insulting. It’s frightening, too. If you accept that our so-called leaders are mere bagmen and that almost every single aspect of national government is rotten to the core, then you have to accept that, for as long as the Zuptas remain in power, we are entirely rudderless, practically lawless and essentially stateless. In short: while anyone with Zuma in his or her surname controls this piece of land, South Africa does not exist in any meaningful way.

Which is why it was inevitable that we’d invite Mbeki and Malema into the spotlight and, at least for a few minutes, relegate the Zupta hyenas into the darkness.

It was Mbeki who appeared first, summoned like a ghost to a séance by Power FM almost two weeks ago. His familiar tones – the warmth of hot chocolate, the crackle of a fire in a room full of aromatic pipe smoke, the faint rustling of pseudo-intellectuals kowtowing at his slippers – revitalised a tired and gloomy nation. Social media heaped love on the former president and took a moment to remember a more dignified time when statesmen argued not over kickbacks and e-mails but beetroot and garlic and when a president didn’t fight to keep himself out of prison but rather fought tirelessly to save Zimbabwe from a vicious outbreak of democracy. Good, good times.

Having fondled the pre-Zupta past, we were ready to gaze into a post-Zupta future, and this weekend the Sunday Times obliged by interviewing Julius Malema.

Speaking with his familiar frankness, the Commander-In-Chief identified the greatest problem looming over South Africa right now, namely, that the media narrative has shifted away from Julius Malema.

It’s been a tough few months for the Commander. Venezuela and Zimbabwe, often cited by the EFF as poster children for its policies, can no longer even claim to be basket cases: the baskets have unravelled and the straw is being eaten by starving goats.

Worse, however, is that after some solid wins in parliament on Nkandla, the EFF and Malema have been relegated to mere spectators by the power struggle in the ANC: they, like the rest of us, are simply waiting to see if the party will commit ritual suicide by persisting with the Zuptas or whether it will opt for Cyril the Human Gag-Ball and stay in the low 50-percents until it dies in 2024.

Being an excellent politician, however, Malema understands how to wrest attention back to himself and to give the impression of a Napoleon on the march even if he’s just marking time. He knows seizing the initiative requires bold and militant action, even if that means speaking boldly and militantly straight out of one’s revolutionary butt.

Which is precisely what he did in the interview. The EFF, he claimed, was going to grow by 600% in the next 18 months and snatch 50% in 2019.

I assume space constraints meant the Sunday Times couldn’t print his other predictions, like the EFF’s Science Brigade perfecting cold fusion in 2021 and its History Commissars erasing all mention of Venezuela and Zimbabwe from its policy documents in 2022, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Still, Malema did say one thing that I believe is gospel truth. Asked about working with the DA, he said: “Sometimes you use your enemies to achieve what you want to achieve.It’s a game and we are playing it to achieve what we want to achieve.”

And so on we tumble; the past getting brighter; the future just a game in which you and I are pieces to be played. And, if necessary, sacrificed.

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Published in The Times

Crouching Tiger, Obliterated Rhino

Bloemfontein, 2025

Bloemfontein in 2025.

We all want to know what lies around the next bend, but nobody can read the future. Nobody, that is, except futurolog futuristologists futologistogist fut people who figure out likely scenarios using computer models, statistics, and industrial quantities of marijuana.

In the final chapter of my 10% TOTALLY TRUE history book, The Unauthorised History of South Africa, I tasked some futu of those people to provide a glimpse into the future of our country. And this is one of the scenarios they saw: Crouching Tiger, Obliterated Rhino.

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In 2017, South Africa’s two last remaining international investors, Vietnam’s Rhino Horns R Us and Nigerian cellphone operator, Spam-n-Phishing Inc, begin to worry that the country’s small pool of taxpayers is running out of money.

To calm their anxiety, the government decides to launch an advertising campaign to reassure them. The campaign is subcontracted to an agency owned by the wife of the Minister of Finance, who levies R1.3 billion in tax revenue to pay for it.

As a result, South Africa’s taxpayers finally do run out of money.

For a month, nobody in government gets out of bed. For their whole lives the politicians have assumed that taxpayers would always pay for everything, regardless of whether or not the politicians did their job, and the shock of running out of money – and having to go to Woolworths in person to buy their midmorning yoghurt drinks, rather than sending their bodyguards – sends many into deep slumps.

At last, South Africa’s politicians have to face the unthinkable: they will have to get real jobs like everybody else.

Some begin to type out their CVs, listing their honorary doctorates from online universities in Turkmenistan and their previous work experience as deputy assistant paper-shuffler for the ANC Youth League.

But then, a cheap knock-off email arrives via cheap knock-off iPad: China wants to buy South Africa.

In 2021, amid a week of massive celebration, South Africa becomes the twenty-fifth province of the People’s Republic of China, and is renamed the Giant Southern Crater Province in honour of the enormous strip mines that soon get to work removing all of South Africa’s topsoil.

China’s twenty-fourth Province, the Giant Tobacco Field Province, formerly known as Zimbabwe, welcomes the Crater Province to the People’s Republic and soon money is pouring into the country almost as fast as its soil, crops and fresh water are pouring out through a large suction tube linking Richards Bay with Beijing.

Many citizens become upset when famous landmarks such as Table Mountain and Bloemfontein are turned into small bits of gravel for the Beijing construction industry, and they unite in a letter-writing campaign.

200 million letters are delivered to Pretoria by a convoy of trucks. The letters are welcomed by a delighted Energy Minister, who sends the trucks directly to the new Glorious Peoples’ Aluminium Smelter in the crater formerly known as Brakpan. (According to official Chinese records, the letters take 83 seconds to burn and help smelt up to 19 grams of aluminium, which is ultimately turned into three fake Hello Kitty lapel pins.)

The Giant Crater Province enjoys a decade of extreme prosperity. In 2032, it also achieves energy independence, thanks to the enormous Happy Nations Glorious Democratic Nuclear Power Plant. This engineering marvel, built by the lowest bidder out of bits of off-cut Hello Kitty memorabilia and based on a blueprint stolen from France in 1959, generates a billion kilowatts of power once it is powered up. For thirty-nine hours it is the envy of the world. Then it explodes, mainly into the country’s remaining groundwater.

The Giant Crater Province is renamed the Giant Glowing Crater Ex-Province and is handed back to South Africans by the Chinese government, with thanks.

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If you want to read more future scenarios, or you just want to learn about First Tannie Elize Botha’s 1974 Day of the Vow mushroom quiche that sent 35 people to hospital with radiation burns, please buy the book by clicking here.