WE learnt another of those untranslatable German words this week: Torschlusspanik, the fear that time is running out or, as the philosopher and author Alain de Botton put it, “the feeling that the options are narrowing, that the boat is leaving, that you’re too old”.
As is often the case with Teutonic outbursts at the Mahogany Ridge, De Botton’s explanation, via a tweet, came not only at the height of an artisanal gin bender, but just as our chatter on President Jacob Zuma’s reported exit strategy reached, if not exactly fever pitch, then certainly an agitated hum.
Talk of Zexit, if we may call it that, is not exactly new. Over the years, sectors of the commentariat have suggested it may well be in our best interests that we swallow our pride, drop the charges, and allow Accused Number One to quietly leave office sooner rather than later.
But now come reports that the amnesty will also include a R2-billion “retirement” package. This, according to the Daily Maverick, is a plan apparently cooked up by an ANC faction which is backing Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma as party president. It is claimed they will raise the money themselves, and that it will not be taxpayers’ picking up the bill.
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa has dismissed the report as “fake news”. Which, as far as many Ridge regulars are concerned, is perhaps reason enough to take it seriously.
Others certainly have. The political analyst Ralph Mathekga, for example, has written that, on one hand, the amnesty plan is absurd; no one, supposedly, is above the law, and the idea of paying the thief in chief a fortune to happily retire in Dubai, as the EFF’s Julius Malema says he will, is beyond the pale for many of us.
But Mathekga also suggests that “reports of this plan are trickling into the media space in what appears to be a carefully orchestrated attempt to test the waters regarding how far this idea can be taken forward”.
Testing the waters? There is a plumbing term — perhaps the Germans even have a word for it — that perhaps best describes such a preposterous proposal, and that is “floater”. But there it is, brazenly out there, and how we wish we weren’t aware of it.
To some extent, it does suggest that the Zupta faction is still a powerful force within the ANC and the leadership battle, and that his opponents clearly believe the surest way to keep Zuma from installing his ex-wife, the eminently pliable Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as proxident is through bribery.
And why not? It has worked in the past.
As far as the rest of us are concerned, this idea that Zuma be spared his day in court in order to save the ruling party from itself is laughable. But it nevertheless seems to be a common campaign theme with the anti-Zuma party presidential hopefuls.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has compared them to wild horses. As he put it, “I look at them and I say: ‘These horses have bolted. They are all over the camp now.’ How will you bring them back to the stable? Let them gallop. We will start the nominations in September.”
One such nag, then, is Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who launched her campaign with much fizz at Kliptown in Soweto last weekend. She too raised the possibility of a Zuma amnesty from prosecution in order to “preserve the unity” of the ANC.
The problem with that, as constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos and others have explained, is that it’s not possible without first subverting the rule of law and the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the National Prosecuting Authority.
Put another way, a pardon can only be legally granted after Zuma has first been convicted of fraud, money laundering, corruption and racketeering.
Perhaps our best response, then, is to “test the waters” with a few suggestions of our own regarding an exit strategy. Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuisen, for example, feels that a jail term should be part of the package.
He told supporters in Pietermaritzburg, “To us the best exit package for Zuma is ensuring that he wears the orange uniform in prison [rather] than taking money when he has taken so much already.”
But, we feel, not before he is carted to the court house in a tumbril and jeered at by the townsfolk. At his very public trial, a whole grudge of advocates will mockingly remind him of their training in Western lawyerly ways. Shaun Abrahams will not be there. Happily, it will not be a laughing matter.
And the German word du jour (ahem) will be schadenfreude.
This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.