Jeremy Gordin writes on the fury of South Africa's scorned smokers
“Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)/ Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, / And saw within the moonlight in his room, / Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, / An angel writing in a book of gold .../”
Thus Leigh Hunt. But Abou Yankel (that’s me), whose days of increasing his tribe seem long gone, awoke this morning to see his gorgeous wife peering gimlet-eyed at him over the bedclothes while ramming The Faber Book of Smoking (ed. Walton, 2000) into his right ear.
“Well,” I asked her, “are you going to give up smoking now?”
“Listen bud,” she said, “I’m a kaaskop [she was exaggerating, she’s only one-quarter Dutch] and no kop in a doek is going to tell me that I can’t smoke”.
Necessary background to this domestic interaction is that my helpmeet is the original sweetheart. Yahweh has never created anyone so ostensibly gentle, gracious and kind (and she’s starting to cook pretty well too). For her to utter such words about Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ), Minister of Non-Cooperative Governance, is unheard of.
And I believe my spouse’s attitude is shared by many thousands, if not millions, of Seffricans in the wake of the government (part of the government? some of the government? one of the government?) reneging on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s undertaking that cigarettes would be sold from Friday, when Level Four of the Lockdown kicks in.
Talking of which, where was our “exemplary” president? Was he outside having a puff when the National Command Council (NCC) sent his promise up in smoke? Has he been taken hostage? Under house arrest? Accident with his face mask? Was he, that sly squirrel, hanging NDZ out to dry?
This is the second such backtrack. Previously Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize – who by the way, when seen on TV, is coughing and hacking to beat the band, he ought to get tested for a respiratory problem – Mkhize said exercise would be just fine, only to be gainsaid by our resident gauleiter and Minister of Police, Bheki “chapeau” Cele. Now Cyril has also been publicly embarrassed.
What could be going on? Could there possibly be warring factions inside the “unified” cabinet and NCC? One set of nincompoops versus another? How do they (or we) tell the difference?
Before trying to answer those questions – a reality check or three. First, cigarettes can be purchased – with ease. Someone with whom I am very well acquainted has done it himself from two different sources. Second, neither NDZ nor anyone else seems at all interested in the fiscus. According to an article published by fin.24 today, the SARS under-recovery for cigarettes comes in at just R300-million.
“Overall loss of revenue from VAT, excise duties, import duties and PAYE tax, amounts to over R30 billion for the past month.” Third, in terms of Level Four regulations, shebeens, restaurants and suchlike are closed – so NDZ’s circumlocutions about people sharing their zols and roll-your-own smokes was stupefyingly irrelevant, not to mention a masterpiece of patronizing us to death (in which she has some serious competition).
Talking of which, it might seem a ridiculous suggestion, but if we (or some of us) get through this more-or-less alive and if “we” ever manage to get rid of the present tag team of bozos in the cabinet and at Luthuli House (I know, I know, dream on Gordin, you naïve pinko liberal), NDZ could give up her day job and go into showbiz, becoming the world’s new Peter Sellers.
Think about it. NDZ’s mumbled stream of non-sequiturs about people sharing cigarettes or zols as the primary raison d’etre for banning the purchase of tobacco products was brilliant. It transported me immediately to Dr Strangelove and its War Room (aka the NCC).
Similarly, NDZ’s reference to a push-back by roughly 2 000 people against allowing the sale of cigarettes– while not mentioning the petition in favour of cigarette buying, signed by roughly 380 000 people (and still counting)– was a masterful execution of the famous Reverse Ferret (RF) maneuver – a sudden reversal of a political line or policy on a certain issue while adamantly refusing to acknowledge any previous position.
If, however, NDZ wants to remain in “politics,” President DJ Trump, the reigning champion of the RF, could, when re-elected, do worse than have NDZ handle press conferences for him, especially ones related to pandemics and suchlike. No nonsense from CNN, medical experts, or other SJWs. But, if she doesn’t want to do this, there was NDZ’s quip about “maybe someone could give hairdressing courses online” – yup, and maybe she could offer courses on Zoom on how to be a cabinet minister.
Back to the questions about what the hell is going on in the NCC, in this case regarding smoking. Well, several theories about the smoking retraction have been flighted. Some conspiracy theorists, including even John Steenhuisen MP (if the tweet is genuine), have suggested that NDZ’s alleged connections with the illegal cigarette trade, in the shape of alleged cigarette bootlegger Adriano Mazzotti, lie behind the banning of “tobacco products”. In The President’s Keepers Jacques Pauw alleged that NDZ received campaign donations from Mazzotti during her bid for the presidency at Nasrec.
In other words, with “legitimate” products banned, bootleggers can have a field day, as they indeed appear to be enjoying.
Maybe. But I think – although it’s foolish to impute any rational or cogent motives to the cabinet, NCC or ANC – it’s rather more about a mixture of moronicism, confusion, and pressure from NDZ’s peer group (doctors, virtue-signallers and Stalinists) as well as from the EFF (Malema has owned up to having connections with Mazzotti).
These are not, as Paul Simon sang, the days of miracle and wonder. These are the days of epidemiologists, doctors and computer program modellers, and they believe smoking is unhealthy. I do too, of course, even though I’m not a doctor, but then again, there are apparently quite a few studies by supposedly reputable researchers looking into whether nicotine prevents folks from getting Covid (see here.). But NDZ is presumably too busy just now to pay attention to such reports.
Then, we need to bear in mind that the ANC, which fears it has lost touch with the “people,” which it has, is poep scared of the EFF, which the ANC thinks is in touch with the people, which it isn’t. But because the EFF has come out against smoking – lord knows why, Mazzotti connections, virtue-signalling? – NDZ was paying heed to them too.
Above all, though, it’s the Stalinist mindset that holds sway. We are your caring yet strong parental figures. You are our “children” – and we know what’s best for you, how everyone should live his or her life. End of story. Don’t you dare remark that we have shut down Gauteng, one of the allegedly mighty economic powerhouses on the African continent, and yet only eight people, probably all elderly and with major comorbidities, have perished. We know what we’re doing – and that includes telling you not to smoke.
We have also been instructed on when and where to exercise. One may exercise within 5kms of one’s dwelling and only between 6am and 9am. Another winning move from the powers-that-be. It’s cold and dark in the mornings – so women are at risk. Second, why have everyone outside at the same time? Is that sensible or fair? What if I run (well, walk) into, say, Ronnie Kasrils or members of the fourth estate who believe that Ramaphosa is doing a damn fine job?
A friend of mine, gay, vegetarian, single parent, non-smoker, non-drinker, master’s degree from a good university, might even have voted once for the ANC, messaged me: “The smoking ban is absolutely Draconian and crazy”.
Drakon’s laws, all of which except one were later repealed by Solon, were indeed rather Draconian. But they were essentially rational.
Our lockdown regulations? Draconian, Shmaconian – they are simply scrofulous dumbfxckery. And now, in the immortal words of the late freedom fighter, Harold Strachan, “Make a Skyf, Man!”