Andrew Donaldson writes on the ANC SG's PR efforts ahead of his expected arrest
A FAMOUS GROUSE
CAN they not just arrest Ace Magashule and be done with it already? Everyone’s fair gagging for it, and that seems to include Magashule himself. Such is the apparent determination with which the ANC secretary-general and former Free State premier is willing to assist the authorities with their inquiries that he is now widely suspected of feeding the supine Survé press with blow-by-blow accounts of his looming takedown. The big question, of course, is why this should be.
Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), there is a firm belief that it’s a pre-emptive strategy. An advanced weasel, to coin a phrase. The man most likely to be key to solving the infamous Missing Pierneef Mystery wants to consolidate his support base while further delineating the Squirrel-Zuptoid factional divide within the ruling criminal enterprise. To do so he must paint himself as the hapless victim of some vile and underhanded plot. It is tiny violins time.
Magashule has supposedly been a person of interest to the National Prosecuting Authority for years. Hardly a week has passed since the silver-spired golden dawn of the Ramaphosa era without some speculation of his imminent arrest.
This latest farce about Ace (if I may*) follows the appearance in court of former ANC MP Vincent Smith and several Free State housing officials on fraud and corruption charges. On Tuesday morning, NPA spokesman Sipho Ngwema gamely announced that more arrests relating to this sordid mess would be made by next week. No names were mentioned but, as teasers go, it caught our interest.
This was not, it’s been claimed, empty posturing or braggadocio on Ngwema’s part. He is a grown-up person, and would have chosen his words carefully. That is, he knew what he was doing; he wanted to release the cat among the pigeons.
On Tuesday evening, Independent Online reported that the Hawks had prepared an arrest warrant for Magashule. SABC News quickly picked up on this “breaking” story, saying their own “reliable sources” had confirmed the report. This was swiftly and firmly denied by the Hawks.
Then, three hours later, IOLreported that, no, Magashule had himself told them he was to be arrested and that this was not fake news. As he put it, “I’m aware [of the denial]. I said its going to be a Hollywood style type arrest. They shouldn’t spin it now.”
Such to-and-fro-ing all but diverted attention from the unusual speed with which Magashule’s supporters had reacted to the sudden news of his latest imminent arrest. The battered remnants of the ANC Youth League in the Free State had quickly issued a statement of unstinting fealty to the former premier. It had all the spontaneity of a state funeral and read as if prepared in a ponderous committee meeting.
All the usual tropes were there: a “well-orchestrated usage of state organs to fight internal ANC factional battles”, a witch-hunt of the sort that went after Jacob Zuma, and baseless charges against Magashule to “ensure that the real stumbling block against the white monopoly capital cartel is sidelined”. Such coherence suggests there may even have been a few experts at that committee meeting.
So far, so dull. Then in jumped another ANCYL branch, this time from, uh, Vhembe, in Limpopo, with frothing guff about “some leaders” settling political scores and “their failed commitments by arresting fellow comrades”. That camouflaged dancing master, Carl Niehaus, also emerged from the shadows to tellCape Talk’s Lester Kiewit there was nothing fake or “conspiratorial” about plans to arrest Magashule: “The SG of the ANC was reliably informed that there was an arrest warrant issued and signed for him to be arrested.”
And that was it as far as Magashule’s apparent support was concerned. Feeble, to say the least. The ANCYL is all but finished as an organisation. Most of it jumped ship to follow Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters. Even so, the remaining dead wood appears sharply divided over Magashule.
Shortly after the release of the first Free State ANCYL statement, a rival provincial faction wittily dismissed its authors as a “Ma-gang-shule” hellbent on promoting misinformation that the secretary-general’s arrest “will destroy the ANC” and derail the radical economic transformation agenda. According to the Daily Sun, this ANCYL “provincial task team” is also adamant that Magashule will soon be arrested, and said in a memorable statement:
“There is no amount of ideological farting and twerking of eldership [that] can convince us that State institutions of law enforcements are used against ‘RET forces’. Ace Magashule led no ‘Economic Struggle’ in Free State as a former Premier and Provincial Chairperson of the ANC, except for destroying comrades and wrecking marriages.”
The task team added that the Magashule faction who released the first statement did not represent the youth of the Free State but rather their own “tenders” or business interests. “They must be moered tomorrow for making the revolutionary house a playground to twerk for leadership,” it added.
I must concur. A good faction fight is a joy to behold, even without vigorously shaken backsides. That said, the coming week should be an interesting one for Magashule. At the time of writing, his lawyers had apparently still not been able to determine whether or not their client will be arrested.
When Zweli Mkhize was appointed health minister last year, much of the commentariat’s reaction was positive and ran, unimaginatively, along the lines of being “just what the doctor ordered”. His predecessor, Aaron Motsoaledi, was widely regarded, not without justification, as a bit of a loss. A Zuma appointee, his decade-long tenure saw more than half of provincial health placed under either national or provincial administration. Motsoaledi also had limited political influence in Accused Number One’s administration, and as a result, very little decision-making power.
Enter then Mkhize, a former KwaZulu-Natal premier whose appointment was seen as an important development as he was one of the ANC’s top six and this, according to Mark Heywood, the former director of public interest law NGO Section 27, suggested “an unprecedented prioritisation of health”. Mkhize had, Heywood claimed, “exactly what [Motsoaledi] didn’t”: the political authority within the ANC to “crack the whip on health MECs, to phone premiers and say, ‘sort your shit out’.”
Not to mince words, but along came the pandemic and Mkhize’s own style of sorting out shit has emerged as very troubling. Last month, he summarily axed all the medical scientists on the Medical Advisory Committee on Covid-19 who had found themselves at odds with the government’s lockdown actions. In what can be regarded as an Orwellian masterstroke, the whip cracking Mkhize described this as a “strengthening” of the committee.
Those who supposedly let down the team included Professor Glenda Gray, CEO of the SA Medical Research Council; Professor Shabhir Madhi, head of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand and leader of South Africa’s first two Covid-19 vaccine trials; Professor Francois Venter, head of Ezintsha, a world-renowned Wits research group investigating first-line antiretroviral treatment; and Dr Angelique Coetzee, who chairs the SA Medical Association. All received a one paragraph note stating their services were no longer required. At least nine other members of the 50-strong MAC have also been let go.
Some of the original MAC members will remain on to maintain a degree of continuity, according to Mkhize. They include professors Abdool-Karim, Marc Mendelson, Sthembiso Mkhize, Rudo Mathivha and Nombulelo Magula. Not to diminish their knowledge or expertise, but I wonder how they feel about their duties going forward without the assistance of the country’s top scientists.
Professor Venter later told News24 that his letter of dismissal came without warning. “It is not like the epidemic is anywhere over,” he said. “Government really needs to embrace transparency, and explain jetting in a crowd of WHO experts, an inexplicable curfew, or disbanding an expert panel that didn’t rubber stamp decisions made behind closed doors.
The letter does mention that new “experts” would be serving on the MAC. These new members, Mkhize has said, will include social and behavioural scientists because of the “changing pattern of the pandemic”. No word yet as to who these boffins may be, but five gets you ten they will know the business end of a rubber stamp.
The sleep of reason produces monsters
Grandma was right. Eating cheese before bedtime brings on the bad dreams. But scientists have determined that fears and anxieties over coronavirus now feature in more than half our nightmares. Researchers in Finland examined the sleep and stress data of 4 000 people in the sixth week of lockdown there, and found that 55 per cent of their bad dreams contained pandemic-specific content such as failures in social distancing (the dreaded “mistake hug”), Covid-19 contagion, issues with personal protective equipment, and dystopian and apocalyptic pandemic-related scenarios.
With typical Nordic insouciance, Dr Anu-Katriina Pesonen of the University of Helsinki’s Sleep & Mind Research Group commented, “We were thrilled to observe repeating dream content associations across individuals that reflected the apocalyptic ambience of Covid-19 lockdown. The results allowed us to speculate that dreaming in extreme circumstances reveal shared visual imagery and memory traces, and in this way, dreams can indicate some form of shared mindscape across individuals.”
Similar studies have been conducted elsewhere, and reveal the same themes. Harvard Medical School psychology professor Deirdre Barrett examined the unsettling dreams of almost 3 000 subjects between March and July and found they echo real-life anxieties. One woman, for example, dreamt that her ten-year-old’s entire class was coming to her home, and she was responsible for home-schooling all of them for the rest of the year.
Unique to pandemic-related nightmares, though, as opposed to those thrown up by other wide-scale stressful experiences, is the “attack bug” phenomenon. Barrett told Live Science: “I had never seen one of those after 9/11 or after World War II.” One such possible terrifying scenario features a hyper-infectious processed cheese-like contagion trailing a malevolent effulgence of yellowish … hang on, that’s not a dream, that’s the US president, describing his condition as a “blessing from God”.
It is a peculiar intercession, and a real-life nightmare of his own making. “Go back and watch those scenes of Donald Trump on the [White House] balcony,” columnist David Aaronovitch writes in The Times. “Watch how, caked in make-up like Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice, he gasps for breath even as he defiantly takes his mask off and tries and fails to put it in his pocket. He is an ailing elderly man who is not even allowed to be ill. Tyrannised by himself, he cannot admit to being a loser, and in this way he surely stands to lose everything.”
A report in New York Magazine on the president’s refusal to participate in a virtual debate carries what must be one of the headlines of the year: “Trump Won’t Debate Unless There’s a Risk of Infecting Biden.”
Zeroes are not for heroes
Julius Malema has long since considered Venezuela’s economic policies worthy of emulation. The EFF leader visited the place in 2010 for a first-hand gawp at the late Hugo Chavez’s nationalisation programme and was probably impressed by the country’s ingenious face-saving measures when it comes to printing money: it simply drops the zeroes from the notes.
Bloomberg reports that the central bank in Caracas has taken delivery of 71 tons of security paper from an Italian printing company to issue a new run of 100 000 bolivar notes, the country’s largest denomination. As in previous cases, the note will be missing several zeroes, ostensibly to make accountancy simpler but chiefly to avoid the humiliation that comes with issuing funny money like Zimbabwe’s old trillion dollar notes. The note features a prominent “100” in bold type, but the small print reveals its real value: “cien mil bolivares”. It is worth about R3.85.
*With apologies, and acknowledgment to Pieter-Dirk Uys