The Justice Malala Question

Jeremy Gordin asks whether the ANC has tipped The Times columnist over the edge

I think, brothers and sisters, that it is exceptionally difficult to be a weekly columnist. I think we should all spare a thought - maybe switch on our headlights between 10 and 11am this morning - for newspaper columnists.

Some of you nasty people out there read pieces and proclaim snottily, "Oh well, this is quite good" (dankie, baas, dankie) or "This is terrible and boring", as though you were our grade seven class teachers. Yet most of you can't string together a simple sentence, let alone spell Gedleyihlekisa.

Meanwhile, we columnists have to be crisp, creative and funny, if that's our alleged bag.

Or, if we are Justice Malala of The Times, we have to find weekly proof that the sky above Seffrica is indeed going to topple tomorrow. Or, if we are Malala (yet again - what deja vu!), we have to grow deeply indignant on a weekly basis about the disappearance of the soul of the ANC, and so on.

With such difficulties, I - as you realise - sympathise. In fact, on the evidence of his last column on Monday (see here), I'm feeling quite concerned about Malala. Could the strain be getting to him? Could his recent barney with Pallo Jordan have tipped him over the edge?

Might he be so upset one morning - having found that he had not been arrested during the night by Jacob Zuma's Praetorian Guard - that, on entering Avusa, he might pull out from under the jacket of his elegant suit, an AK-47 and blaze away? I worry about this stuff.

For example, his column on Monday was headlined "How do we find our freedom?" A witty title, as we shall see ...For the column began with Barack Obama - politically correct people love the squeaky clean Obama - buying a copy of Jonathan Franzen's mind-numbing, ball-aching new novel, Freedom (a book which, incidentally, gives new meaning to the Hans Christian Andersen tale about the emperor's new clothes).

Look here, friends - Malala was saying - I know about books, I even read them - and, by golly, so does Obama. What clever dicks are we! He continues: "They love Jonathan Franzen in America. They engage [another word that's big with the PCs] with him. Oprah Winfrey has chosen Freedom for her book club ..."

Blow me down with a white feather! Oprah Winfrey has chosen the book for her book club! As film-maker Michael Duffett would say, I feel so moved that I might just have to touch myself ...

Then Malala explained to us that he was reminded of what "the Americans do for books" [- actually it's more about what the American book marketing industry does for books, but we'll let that be -] he was reminded of what the Americans do when he read that Howard Jacobson recently won the Man Booker Prize.

Why would Malala care about Jacobson having finally won the Man Booker for his latest novel, The Finkler Question? Well, actually Malala didn't care at all - what he wanted to do was introduce the Man Booker and thereby mention Damon Galgut, the Seffrican who was short-listed for this year's award and has been short-listed for it before.

Aha, said Malala. "Here we have an author [Galgut] who is causing waves internationally [well, maybe a couple of waves, Justice, but no tsunami yet], yet he goes unheralded in his native land. It illustrates [Malala continues] a particular South African psychosis [sic]: only when the Brits and Americans celebrate one of our own will we wake up to their brilliance."

Really? Seems to me that we forgot, remarkably rapidly, about the brilliance of JM Coetzee (who, I admit, can also sometimes be a ball acher) once he stopped toeing the Seffrican PC line: that we are all happy campers who love one another. We forgot about him even though the Brits and Americans (and Norwegians) still celebrate his brilliance.

Then Malala writes: "Perhaps if the president of the country is seen [I think he means "were seen"] with one of Galgut's books in his hand we, too, will get into a froth." Then he adds witheringly: "I doubt it, though."

Wrong, Justice; no cigar. If JGZ were seen with any book in his hand, there would be national celebrations ...and a general bestowal of the Order of the Library Card to all those fit to receive it.

But here's the really interesting part - for which we have all been waiting.

In a startling segue, Malala suddenly apologises to the ANC for having said that the ANC poisoned Thami Zulu (TZ). This was not so, said Malala; the MK commander TZ died of poisoning (allegedly) after he was released from ANC detention.

Now, tell me: what had Malala just been frothing about for half his column? About books, you say. Well, blow me down with the breath of Oprah Winfrey. Are not pages 36-38, 205, and 351-4 of Zuma: A Biography (Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2e, 2010) by the learned Jeremy Gordin about the death of TZ?

Are not chapters five and six of Inside Quatro: Uncovering the exile history of the ANC and Swapo (Jacana, 2009) by the learned Paul Trewhela about the death of TZ? Are there not more than a few pages in Truth is a Strange Fruit (Jacana, 2010) by the learned David Beresford about the death of TZ?

And has not the aforementioned Trewhela cudgeled me repeatedly for treating the TZ matter in a cavalier fashion and for not making Jacob Zuma admit that he, as chief of counter-intelligence, was culpable?

Do Trewhela and Beresford not make it clear that they consider the ANC responsible for what happened to TZ even though it was unknown who actually administered poison to TZ (if it was poison that killed him)? In the view of Trewhela and Beresford, the ANC was responsible because it had detained TZ in appalling circumstances for a long time.

And are not Zuma, Inside Quatro and Strange Fruit all books - the reading of which would have saved Malala from having to apologise?

What's going on? Has Malala not read these books - notwithstanding his assertion that by engaging with books (and Oprah?) we shall find our freedom? Could it be that he would rather ruminate about Obama, Oprah and Galgut than actually read books?

Who knows? A columnist's life is terrible hard, as Alice once said to Christopher Robin. (That's from another book, Justice - but I don't know if it's on the Obama/Oprah bookshelf.)

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