Why did the Gareth Cliff Show really get the boot?

Andrew Donaldson on the possible reasons the youth weren't interested in watching our greatest public intellectual at 6am in the morning

TERRIBLE news, but in what can only be described as a grave insult to South Africa's greatest public intellectual, the television channel Comedy Central Africa has given The Gareth Cliff Show the boot a mere six weeks after it launched because it failed to attract viewers.

This does not necessarily mean the show was rubbish, and I won't judge it on the one excruciatingly awful episode that I saw. In the interest of fairness, I will however point out that its producers went to some lengths to tell us that it was groundbreaking entertainment of an ambitiously derivative blonde sort and perhaps they even believed they were out there on the wilder frontiers of the culture. And why not, given the sort of self-importance that comes with the territory?

Like most TV that passes itself off as edgy and something of an envelope-pusher, the show was built around a deceptively simple premise. Cliff is a popular "radio personality" and youngsters enjoy listening to his witless babble because that is what they believe comedy to be - a lot of rude noise. 

So wouldn't it be terrific if there was a TV show or "simulcast", as the professionals in reality programming are wont to call it, where the gormless prattle can be actually be "seen" at source in the form of moving lips and so forth?

A definite winner, the planning types would have thought. Comedy Central Africa moved Cliff to an earlier time-slot at the beginning of June, believing that viewers weren't watching the show because they were stuck in traffic on their way to school - where most of them won't have access to a television anyway. Then they discovered that nobody was watching at 6am either, because the little dears were still fast asleep.

Of course, there could be another reason why our youth don't want to watch Cliff, and that is because they're too busy dreaming about high-paying jobs with the government.

That's at least according to a recent study by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an annual assessment of the entrepreneurial activity, aspirations and attitudes of individuals from nearly 100 countries. The latest survey covered 75% of  the world's population and 89% of world GDP and it found that SA youth don't have a high regard for entrepreneurship - 61% of them believe that being an entrepreneur means working too hard for too little money. 

It's unclear whether this means that they regard businessmen like Khulubuse Zuma or Kenny Kunene as poor role models, but tellingly 67% of them are convinced that a government position is the best way to make money.

This finding was of some concern to GEM SA report co-author Jacqui Kew, who told The Times newspaper: "While an efficient and well-run government is important it does not add to the wealth of the country."

Thankfully, South Africa is presently not at risk of being run by such a government, and in all likelihood won't be for some time, so perhaps a job in the public sector was the way to go. The really good news is that with the new super-sized jumbo cabinet announced by President Jacob Zuma last month there could well be a job for everyone - and then some.

The new cabinet now includes, among others, ministries of water and sanitation, telecommunications and postal services, and small business development. Three departments have two deputy ministers each. 

It is true that, perhaps in a bid to prevent an unseemly rush of youthful job applicants beating at the door, government has played down reports that the new cabinet will cost taxpayers an additional R40-million a year. 

As the Acting Government Communication and Information System CEO Phumla Williams put it, "I find the reporting misleading as [Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene] did not mix his words when he said the money would come from existing budgets, ‘mostly through expenditure reprioritisation'. This is by no means a suggestion of an extra burden from the taxpayers." (We know what Williams means: the money is definitely there.)

Remember, this is Zuma's second and last term in office. But there is nothing to suggest that - either with an eye on leaving a legacy of sorts or in a bid to crack on with that vaunted, quixotic job-creation mission - even more cabinet positions won't be pulled out of the hat in the not too distant future. 

Here at the Mahogany Ridge we envisage ministries of rolling labour unrest and strike actions, e-tolling, small potatoes and yes, with a tip of the hat to fans of the old-style, "funny" TV comedy programmes of the 1970s, silly walks as well.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter