NEWS & ANALYSIS

Iqbal spooked

Andrew Donaldson says on the disturbing dirty tricks campaign against Mandela's personal physician

A FAMOUS GROUSE

There is concern that Nelson Mandela’s personal physician is the target of a dirty tricks campaign and his life may be in danger. Salem-like hysteria followed news that a mysterious white substance had been smeared on the headrest of the driver’s seat in Iqbal Survé’s luxury German motor car. The saga has dominated headlines in Independent Media titles for the past 10 days and, as we say in fish-wrapping, this “breaking” story has the legs to run a whole while awhile. 

For several weeks, it’s claimed, the noted struggle doctor received warnings there may be attempts on his life. Going public about these threats, though, has unleashed unprecedented support for the modest medico turned media mogul with the un-Midas touch. Ace Magashule, the ruling criminal enterprise’s general secretary, said this was uncalled for and that law enforcement agencies needed to act swiftly: “The perpetrators must be brought to book. We are saying to South Africans this is the time to unite and build a South Africa for all.” 

Several small but significantly fractious groups, like the Pan Africanist Congress, the Insika Economic Movement, the Congress of South African Students, the Concerned Young Peoples’ Forum of SA and Black First, Land First, have put aside their differences to condemn the goo job. Not to miss the boat, the MKMVA (again) has also waded into the fray, fingering the usual suspects: apartheid security apparatuses, Stratcom operatives, reactionary and anti-democratic forces, white monopoly capital, fake news, enemies of fundamental and radical economic transformation and, for good measure, those who were opposed to a “progressive, proudly black successful independent business person, who stood his own ground and did not scrape and bow before the white captains of industry”.

We’re now told that executives in Survé’s Sekunjalo Investment Holdings are shocked that their telephones have been illegally tapped. A “listening device”, looking suspiciously like old Telkom landline equipment, has been discovered in Survé’s office. This has troubled some of us at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”). Why spy on these people? It’s not as if they’re doing anything remotely worthwhile, even in secret. If they were, surely Survé would have told us about it himself, in a strikingly moist, self-aggrandising manner?

More importantly, how are the police dealing with this? 

Not very well, it would seem. Senior hacks have been directed to report on the progress of the crack detectives investigating these heinous crimes. From the Cape Times, top local newspaper:

“Police spokesperson Novela Potelwa said: ‘The matter cited in your enquiry is currently under investigation by provincial detectives. Unfortunately details thereof cannot be divulged out of respect for the process currently being embarked upon.’ Pressed for more information, Potelwa said that after consultation with her colleagues, that was the only information police were prepared to release … National police spokesperson Vish Naidoo confirmed the complaints were being probed at the provincial level. About whether the matter had been brought to the attention of national police, he said ‘not officially’.”

Hmmm. Odd that. However, it was noted that the “white substance” found in the Swervemobile had yet to be analysed. Once completed, this would determine the charges to be pursued. “It is also understood,” the newspaper said, “that the police forensic labs are quite busy at this time.” 

But at least one commentator on social media has hinted at possible fowl play. As he put it, “[Survé] left the window opened and a bird took a chance! Stop wasting our time, please!” There may even be an enormous bovine element to this chancer bird’s troubling deposit.

The panda pander

It’s surprisingly easy to offend the Chinese government. They’re very sensitive these days. Mention “hair extensions”, for example, and they’re immediately on the defensive: the interment of Uighur women in labour camps where they’re reportedly forced to make these beauty products is an internal matter and none of your business.

Sadly it is our business. Just as it is our business that Pretoria has grovelled before Beijing and followed its instructions to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan and bar the Dalai Lama from attending a meeting of fellow Nobel peace laureates in Cape Town. 

It is our business that the Chinese were allegedly involved in the series of burglaries at the Pelindaba nuclear research facilities in 2007, according to documents handed over to Al Jazeera’s investigative journalists. It is our business that, in its comments on the matter, Pretoria has resolutely refused to acknowledge any reference to alleged Chinese involvement. This is despite the apparent findings of its own intelligence networks.

The crackdown in Hong Kong is also our business. On Tuesday, at the UN Human Rights Council, 53 countries voted in support of China’s new draconian national security law, while 27, while 27, led by the United Kingdom, voted against it. Tellingly, the vast majority of those countries that did support the law have all signed onto China’s massive “Belt and Road” infrastructure project. 

South Africa did not take part in the voting. But still it is our business, very much so. According to the news site Axios, Beijing’s critics are concentrated in Europe. They also include Australia, Canada and Japan. All 27 countries are considered “free” democracies in terms of Freedom House’s Global ratings

Those that backed China are considered “not free” or “partially free” and include some brutal dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, Syria and North Korea. Many of the African countries that supported Beijing are apparently trying to renegotiate debt payments to China amid severe, Covid-related economic downturns. 

China’s investment in developing countries is bearing fruit. As Axios commentator Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian put it: “Beijing has effectively leveraged the UN Human Rights Council to endorse the very activities it was created to oppose.” This is very much our business, then.

The new law makes it illegal for anyone in the world to promote democratic reform for Hong Kong. According to Allen-Ebrahimian, China has for years used quiet threats and coercion to stifle dissent abroad. This “diplomacy” has now been codified into law — potentially forcing people and companies around the world to choose between speaking freely and ever again entering the former British colony. 

Article 38 of the law bluntly states: “This Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” 

That makes it our business. And everyone else’s. As Wang Minyao, a Chinese-American lawyer based in New York, explained, “It literally applies to every single person on the planet. This is how it reads. If I appear at a congressional committee in DC and say something critical, that literally would be a violation of this law.”

Some British universities are now devising courses that won’t offend the Chinese government. The Times, for instance, has reported that students in lockdown in China who were enrolled at UK universities were not able to download academic papers or write exams because “they were not necessarily approved by Beijing”. To get past the censor, these students will only receive government-approved study material. 

It seems strange that a vast organisation like the Communist Party of China should be so terrified of what others may think and say. Perhaps they’re not so powerful after all. Yet the perception endures that they are an invincible geo-political force and, these days, when we think of China, it’s not “panda” that comes to mind, but “pander”. 

Interestingly, there are suggestions that Chinese interest in Africa is on the wane. Votes in favour of draconian legislation are all very well, but in terms of dollars, the continent is a bit of a loss-leader, accounting for less than four per cent of China’s global trade balance. 

Pretoria should follow the UK’s lead and offer pro-democracy Hong Kongers permanent residency in South Africa. That should rekindle Beijing’s interest in our affairs.

Fiery trousers

Carl Niehaus, famous dancer and renowned Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association national executive committee member, addressed a few issues this week and, as a result, there may be some boy-cow stuff foully floating in the pond. 

The biggest of the pats is the claim that Jacob Zuma’s legal difficulties can in no way be attributed to any wrongdoing by Jacob Zuma. Instead, “certain parties” were to blame. As Niehaus put it, at least according to News24: “We still maintain that it is wrong for the court case to take place. We still believe this is not a criminal court case, it is a political court case. There had been numerous political interference [in] this matter, over 20 years.” 

Many of us were under the impression that the former president had done all this interfering himself, but now it seems he’s had help — only Carl is not revealing the identity of these accomplices. “I’m not accusing anyone and I am certainly not accusing President Ramaphosa,” he said. “I’m talking about a general political process that has played itself out. I’m talking about fiction that is a reality.”

As we all know, Carl is a great one for fiction, and there was something of a penny dreadful in his assertion that the media had convicted Accused Number One of his many crimes through a “kangaroo court” and that the judiciary involved in the matter may have been influenced by the former president’s bad press.

Well, call me Skippy as I hop about the place, but I really don’t think that is the case. However, if by some remote possibility the Constitutional Court’s dismissal of the Thief in Chief’s appeal for a stay of prosecution had in any way been influenced by anything I may have written, well, I’ll happily take credit for it, and you may all buy me a drink.

Elsewhere, Carl had to deal with a bit of dissension in the MKMVA ranks. Last week, Limpopo veterans expressed their dismay at the ANC’s decision to lift the suspension of Danny Msiza and Florence Radzilani, both implicated in the looting of VBS Mutual Bank. 

This was completely out of line, Carl has now said. These less than gruntled Limpopo vets had no right to grumble on behalf of “all ex-combatants and the people of South Africa”. It was only the MKMVA’s national executive committee, of which Carl is a member and their chief fibber, who had that right. And, because they favour criminal enterprise, they in fact welcome Msiza and Radziliani's return to the trough. So that’s all clear, then. 

Black-and-white movies

Suddenly everyone’s a film critic. An open letter to Leon Schuster has warned the director of the futility of defending his movies against charges of racism. Ian Flint writes: “It doesn’t matter what your intentions were anymore than it matters what the facts of the case are. Racism isn’t about facts and intentions. To be racist, you need to fulfil two conditions. Firstly, you have to be white. People of colour are never racists because they are victims of white oppression. Secondly, you have to offend someone of colour. What leads to the offence is in itself immaterial. That offence is taken is the only thing that matters. Again, facts and intentions are not relevant.”

The letter is obviously satirical. That the Cape Argus, another top Survé title, selected it for publication suggests, yet again, a rich vein of gullibility in the national psyche. This, of course, is the essence of Schuster’s work. He is a trickster. His early films were sketch shows of “candid camera” set-ups. They were enormously successful, so much so that Schuster then had a stab at sophistication and introduced standard cinematic elements into his comedies: dramatic conventions such as shallow plots, well-worn themes and cliched storylines along with flat dialogue, archetypal characters, ham acting and vague “direction”. Again, audiences loved them.

That there should now be such outraged yammering over Schuster’s use of blackface, a trope he has drawn on his entire career, seems hypocritical. Back then, any suggestion that his movies were basically crude rubbish was given short shrift. “The box office says otherwise,” the culturati would say. “The films are mass market entertainment, not arthouse fare. You can’t judge them by your standards.” And, more patronisingly, “Besides, black people love them. They recognise the characters. They’re laughing at themselves.” 

No one laughs at themselves in a Schuster film. But they do laugh at others. At first, in the early films, it was at his victims, those who had the misfortune to be pranked. Then it was at the stereotypes. But now that we are wide awoke we know better and those jokes are no longer funny.

Years ago, a friend was roused from sleep on a Sunday morning to find a man dressed as a sangoma outside his Melville home, shouting that it had been built on ancestral land and that he was claiming it back. It was a Schuster stunt. Rather than remonstrate with the pest, which was the desired outcome, my pal phoned the police to report a public nuisance and then returned to bed.

And so a morning’s work was wasted. But perhaps it was for the better. A more adventurous film-maker would have attempted this trick at Nkandla, or perhaps even at Ulundi or Ventersdorp, where the locals have a sophisticated sense of humour and are amenable to such things. That would have made for truly exceptional cinema.