An insult to glaciers

Andrew Donaldson on Thandi Modise's apology for parliament's slow response to state capture


On Monday, National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise apologised for Parliament’s slow response to state capture. This is mighty gracious of her. However, details of the Guptas’ larcenous project were common knowledge ten years ago. There are glaciers in Greenland that move faster.

Forgive the cynicism, but the fact that former president Jacob Zuma, a number of his ministers and MPs, and senior ANC members were all regulars at the Saxonwold Shebeen and enablers of this wholesale looting could reasonably be regarded as having had something to do with the standstill. 

Judging by what’s emerging from the Zondo commission, it would appear that severe hearing problems may also have contributed to the resolute inactivity.


Modise was National Council of Provinces chair and Baleka Mbete the National Assembly speaker in 2017 when the emails between the Gupta brothers and their associates, dubbed the “Gupta Leaks”, were made public. 

It was only then, Modise told the commission, that Parliament realised there may be a problem. She and Mbete got to together to discuss how portfolio committees could investigate these allegations.

“What concerned us,” she said, “was that it wasn’t your usual maladministration or petty thievery. We felt Parliament must wake up and smell the coffee.”

However, and before nipping off to the nearest barista, perhaps an ear check-up. The media first raised the alarm about the brothers in early 2011. Since then journalists have grown hoarse from shouting about the activities of Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh Gupta. This has made no difference. The headlines about Zupta Inc, absolute screamers, were all ignored. The plunder continued.

In May 2016, then deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas claimed the brothers had offered him the finance ministry and a massive bribe if he did their bidding. The reaction from his colleagues? 

Pardon? Can’t hear you. What’s that you say? A passive tribe? What passive tribe?

Then, in October 2016, former public protector Thuli Madonsela released her State of Capture report. It was met with familiar indifference. At least, at first. The hue and cry it generated did eventually result in the establishment of a commission of inquiry into state capture as Madonsela recommended. This after Accused Number One’s “reckless” legal bids to overturn this directive over the years were rejected by the courts.

Although her hearing appears to have improved, Modise is still unfortunately tone deaf. She was asked why it took so long to react to the state capture allegations and replied, somewhat obliquely, “In politics, sometimes there are games.” These allegations, she continued, may have been “spurious”, and “propaganda”. Hence, we may infer, they were ignored — until now.

Such “problem avoidance” is common. When the ANC’s national chair and resident gnome, Gwede Mantashe, appeared before the commission last week, he said the party allowed itself to become ensnared in the Gupta project because Ajay, who had been a member of Thabo Mbeki’s international advisory council, had approached the ANC about setting up ANN7 and The New Age newspaper. 

“We needed diversity [in the media],” Mantashe said. “At that stage we did not know [the Guptas’] other businesses. What we know today, we didn’t know then.”

Again, this was no through no fault of a very shouty albeit non-diversified media. Who, as it turned out, knew an awful lot about the brothers’ business.

The chartered wedding aircraft debacle at Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013 did set off alarm bells, Mantashe admitted, and it was becoming clearer what sort of hold the family had on the party. The ANC, he added, did not tell its MPs not to ask questions or “stop thinking” in this regard. 

If there was an instruction of sorts buried in that response, it was not one the party apparently heard. 

There are hearing problems elsewhere. This week, the DA’s spokesman on health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, raised yet again concerns about the woeful conditions in Johannesburg’s fire-ravaged Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital. 

Personally, I cannot recall a time when Bloom hasn’t alerted the public about the collapse of the province’s health services. It hasn’t made a jot of difference. No-one’s listening. But they may do so when it’s too late. 

As they say in Spesbona, “Hulle ma se deaf post.”

The Cape of Storms 

The City of Cape Town’s lawyers are demanding R87 312.25 from the EFF to pay for public infrastructure damaged while protesting outside Brackenfell High School in November last year. Readers will recall the fuss over a private matric dance function to which the Fighters weren’t invited. 

Mayor Dan Plato told TimesLive that the Redshirts trashed traffic lights, set fire to a vacant field and damaged public vehicles, including a fire engine — actions which apparently violated conditions for such gatherings. They have 21 days to cough up or face further legal action.

It is a paltry sum, yet the EFF are refusing to pay. They claim the police are at fault; it was their rubber bullets and stun grenades that caused the damage. 

But what the beret bullies fail to understand is that the SAPS were not attacking protesters, but protecting them from parents, many of whom were prepared to adopt a forceful, hands-on approach in convincing the EFF they had no business at the school. 

Meanwhile, the city’s also demanding more than R1.3-million from activist group Gatvol Capetonian for damages related to a “reckless, wrongful and unlawful” shutdown of major routes in Grassy Park, Atlantis, Mitchells Plain, Delft and Bo-Kaap in August 2019. 

This is, both literally and figuratively, a bit much. They are a grassroots organisation whose members are among the poorest in the metropole; where are they going to get that kind of tom? Plus, Gatvol are the good guys, defenders of minority rights and fierce champions of Spesbonan autonomy. 

Plato should pick his enemies more carefully. Three by-elections took place in the Western Cape today, one of them in Delft South, where Gatvol are active. Their spokesman, Fadiel Adams, has accused the DA-led city of “blatant and shameless electioneering”, dredging up an old complaint as it was worried about losing support in the ward. It was “hypocritical”, he added, as “this is the very same thing the DA always accuses the ANC of doing”.

Adams has a point. The DA have been fairly crap in by-elections in recent years. Despite a convincing win in Delft in 2016, they’ve steadily lost support here to shouty upstarts like GOOD, Al Jamah and the Gatvol-aligned Cape Coloured Congress. Imagine the DA’s embarrassment should they be forced into an alliance to keep the ward out of ANC hands.

Incidentally, and like other groups opposed to BEE policies, Gatvol Capetonian have been accused of racism, a charge from the usual suspects and one they deny. “I am not a racist,” Adams was quoted as saying in 2018. “We have never shown hatred towards blacks. This is about fairness, justice and equality. We have welcomed people from the Eastern Cape until we discovered they don’t want us here. They want our land.” As another Gatvol leader, Oscar Lyons, put it: “[Coloureds] are suffering at the hands of black oppression and black racism [because they] are not ethnically black citizens of this country.” 

I must say that I approve of the name. It’s a shame other organisations don’t give themselves titles that more accurately reflect the mood of their constituencies.

The Protocols of Woo-Woo

It seems peculiar that one-time ANC presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale should be suckered into a hoax based on an age-old anti-semitic conspiracy theory. Yet on Sunday evening he appeared on JJ Tabane’s eNCA show, Power to Truth, and revealed that this was indeed the case by claiming billions of rands earmarked for the upliftment of the poor had been looted from the Reserve Bank. 

“I am part of two people,” Sexwale said, “who are in charge of [this fund] that belongs to a very powerful family out there in the world. This fund is here in South Africa already, it comes through the SA Reserve Bank. I’m part of two people who are mandate holders.” 

Yeah, yeah, whatever. 

But the theory is basically this: the Illuminati have a secret hoard of $600 trillion, $3 trillion of which is in South Africa, in a Standard Bank account under the name, “White Spiritual Boy Trust”. It is this trust that is being plundered hand over fist by villains unknown. All of this has been dismissed as nonsense by National Treasury and the Reserve Bank. Finance minister Tito Mboweni has said that Sexwale appears to be the victim of a scam. Even QAnon will have nothing to do with the “White Spiritual Boy Trust” malarkey, and those suckers believe in some weird stuff.

But not so with numpty fibber Carl Niehaus, who has tweeted, “This is an extremely serious allegation by comrade @TokyoSexwale, which must be thoroughly investigated.” Carl’s concerns are not surprising, boring even, and we have come to expect nothing less from him. Despite this, his boundless enthusiasm for an alternative to credulity continues to amaze. Long may the fantasies continue.

The long and winding road

To Windsor to report on the Duke of Edinburgh’s passing. In the process, a fascinating detail emerges regarding the last moments of King George V. At 11pm on 20 January, 1936, the royal physician, one Lord Dawson of Penn, gave the dying monarch a lethal morphine injection followed by another of cocaine to hasten matters and have him gone by midnight.

Dawson later wrote that he did so to preserve George’s dignity and spare his family further distress. He also wanted the King’s death announced in the morning edition of The Times and not a “less appropriate” afternoon newspaper. It’s not known whether the King or his family were informed of these plans beforehand but Dawson did record George’s last words, a curse directed at his nurse: “God damn you!” This could be a sign the King was aware the bastards were killing him.

That said, Dawson’s actions demonstrated a commendable appreciation of deadline pressures and spoke volumes of the esteem in which journalism was once held. There is sadly no such regard these days and the fourth estate is widely reviled, perhaps as a result of “less appropriate” management practices that are commonplace and the calibre of loafer on the editorial floor. 

I have, over the years, spoken to journalism students about my adventures in ink and indignation and have come away dismayed that so many want nothing to do with print. They wish instead to be television celebrities and “hang with famous people”. 

Little wonder, then, that newspaper reporters must now bribe municipal officials in order to not write stories. This is a cry for help and raises not only troubling questions about literacy but also certain issues concerning my own final arrangements.

Like Prince Philip, who was so meticulous about his send-off that he spent many years designing his bespoke Land Rover hearse, I too have matters to attend to. 

Guest lists must be drawn up for the service at St Kevin’s and the wake at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”). There are decisions about catering and the choice of music. Appropriate speakers must be selected and their eulogies vetted. Ditto professional mourners, wailing women who tear off their blouses in grief before launching themselves at the casket. Not to mention all the dress rehearsals.

What a burden, then, that I must now also write my own obituary. As indicated in this space recently, local standards have lapsed to such an extent that the obit section, once the destination of those seeking a newspaper’s liveliest columns, is now a grubby ditch filled with supine fawning and one-handed typing. Writing your own notice is therefore absolutely necessary if one is to rest in peace. 

Preparing an account of one’s life should not be seen as an opportunity to embellish or fudge a record of modest achievements and inglorious failures. It is rather an occasion for both mordant self-deprecation and a final savaging of one’s worst enemies. Properly executed, the self-penned obituary should at the very least spare one from dying of embarrassment.