Jeremy Gordin on the possible upside to Arthur Fraser's public hit on the President
Can I view thee panting, lying On thy stomach, without sighing! Can I unmoved see thee dying On a log, Expiring frog!
–‘Ode to an Expiring Frog,’ ThePickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, 1836.
Even if you’ve not done so yourself, surely you must have heard of a person who’s suddenly embarked on an extra-marital “affair”? [i]
And this person has done so, even though s/he’s apparently lived for decades as a charming member of the bourgeoisie [ii]; and has, moreover, been known by all during this time as someone who’s “happily married” [iii].
However, if one of the married persons is manacled, for whatever reason [iv], to his/her marital state, he or she finds him- or herself in an appalling bind. S/he doesn’t want the spouse to know; but nor does s/he want to give up the adventure.
Personally I know very little about such matters, but I’m told that being in such a bind leads to the most excruciating knots in the sufferer’s gut; and I’d be willing to bet that not less than 45 percent of the people “in” psychotherapy the world over are inter alia busy trying to find a way to untie those kinds of knots.
Nothing seems potentially worse to this sufferer – not even, say, the Russian invasion of Ukraine – than that his/her spouse might discover what is going on; s/he feels that, if the spouse found out, the heavens would collapse.
You know what then happens. Some virtue- or publicity-seeking dork or dorkette inevitably leaks the story[v].
But – and this is the important thing for our purposes – seven times out of 10, the horror of the revelation is accompanied simultaneously by a massive feeling of relief. At least, the truth is out! “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The boil has been lanced! The lying is over! And the heavens do not fall.
Now then, I have been entertaining the above thoughts, not because I find these doings and wooings of the rich and famous or even the poor and obscure particularly fascinating (I’m far too old) – but because I have been cogitating, like every red-blooded Seffrican, about the president of the beloved country having allegedly stashed millions of US dollars in a couch in the lounge of his Limpopo dacha, Phala Phala.
Have a feeling we shall never know the so-called truth about a great many things relating to this peculiar business[vi], including whether the amount was anything close to four million US dollars (even in $100 denominations, it seems quite a lot to hide under or inside the cushions), or why Cyril Ramaphosa (or a close relative or comrade) should choose to do such an outlandish thing, or whether perhaps the whole thing was a set-up engineered by rogue agents, a sort of false-flag operation[vii].
According to Sunday World on June 20, an audio clip has “emerged”[viii] in which the [alleged] “mastermind” of the heist, Imanuwela David, is heard saying that the [alleged] thieves shared $800 000 (R12-million) among the four of them, including the president’s domestic worker, and not four million US dollars (some R63-million), as stated by former chief spook Arthur Fraser – our own Emile Zola who is screaming J’Accuse in court papers.
Although this article does not mention whether Mr David felt hard done by, it does note en passant the existence of a $200 note in the stash. Now, according to my information, denominations of US currency greater than $100 were halted by the US Treasury in 1969. I think therefore that the presence of a $200 dollar note could have a significant bearing on the court case relating to this matter if there ever is one[ix].
If, for example, the notes date from, say 1971, the year in which Ramaphosa matriculated from Mphaphuli High School in Sibasa, Venda, where he was elected head of the Student Christian Movement, this money could very well have been given to him (by, for example, the CIA) as part of the Struggle (in which Christian movements were also involved) – and being Struggle money it would therefore obviously be (so to speak) “clean”.
Alternatively – given the fact that notes can (and do) remain in circulation for quite some time – this money might have been part of a payoff made to Ramaphosa in 1982, when he was “first secretary” of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) by, say, Anglo American. I note too that in March 1986 Ramaphosa was part of the Cosatu delegation which met the ANC in Lusaka; and he might well have been delegated to return to SA with funds for the forthcoming revolution. (Customs officials at Jan Smuts airport wouldn’t have dared to go anywhere near the baggage of such a delegation.)
But I have digressed.
The point I wish to accentuate is that massive feeling of relief experienced by a perpetrator when the truth finally emerges. And in connection with this, let me draw your attention to the headline on William Saunderson-Meyer’s June 17 article, “Ramaphosa: Less corrupt than compromised” [my emphasis].
Am I not correct in thinking that for years the one big issue bothering Ramaphosa friends and even foes has been this: Why has Ramaphosa been such a lame duck (or should we say “lame froggie”) of a president?
Being the president carries a great deal of power – and there are surely things you can do, if only to cover your own posterior[x].
And yet Ramaphosa has clearly seemed as frozen as a rabbit, duck or frogin the headlights of many events, including internecine aggression and malice, party corruption, and also the sheer incompetence and knuckle-headedness of most who comprise the “leadership” of the ANC and government[xi].
Here, for example, is Andrew Donaldson’s recent comment on Ramaphosa’s failure to fire Fraser following the damning (and frightening) report of a high-level inquiry into the State Security Agency’s activities during Fraser’s watch: “It was a startlingly timid decision [by Ramaphosa], one that has backfired in spectacular fashion”. Indeed.
“Well, duh, catch a wake-up, Gordin!” I said to myself. “Not one of the presidents from our so-called democratic era, and probably none of the presidents and prime ministers from the era before that – with the possible exceptions of Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk[xii] – has been without ‘smallanyana skeletons’ in their respective cupboards. Actually, dear fellow, it would appear that just about everyone in the government and ANC is compromised.”
But to call these skeletons “smallanyana” is to downplay, as only a facetious fool such as I might do, their seriousness. Bottom line: almost all of our presidents have been compromised[xiii], as have so many others; it seems that somebody somewhere in that claustrophobic and disabled kaffeeklatsch called the ANC (past and present) – and even outside the party – has a file (or facsimile thereof) on you, whomever you are, or knows where you buried the bodies, sometimes literally.
This is why, by the way, if I might divert once more from my main path, this is why the ANC’s head honchos came to an “understanding” with the former government’s head honchos to let bygones be bygones regarding many of the crimes committed from the late 1970s to 1994, some of which were (but some of which were not) uncovered by the Truth Commission.
And it’s common cause that many of the former regime’s security apparatchiks own – or claim they own – documentation that could embarrass all sorts of important people in the ANC[xiv]. And now that there are folk fighting to have all the dirty laundry exhumed and to have former cops and suchlike charged for pre-1996 crimes, it remains to be seen how the “old white guard” are going to handle it – but also how the ANC main manne are going to play it. Will they allow “the bodies” to be disinterred? We live, as they say, in interesting times.
Back to lame duck or frog Ramaphosa.
He might well turn out to be as corrupt as many of his confrères. But for the moment what Ramaphosa clearly is – is compromised. Thank you, Mr Fraser, for the practical demonstration and proof thereof. And this is precisely why Ramaphosa’s been such a lame duck. Quod erat demonstrandum.
So now we ask ourselves: If this is about the worst that Fraser and the boychicks can produce – and the heavens haven’t, after all, toppled – is Ramaphosa not only deeply relieved, but can’t he now just get on with the plethora of things he desperately needs to do (or that we desperately need him to do)?
Here’s just a few of them. Fire 97 percent of his cabinet and the public service; privatize Eskom and SAA (properly); ban cadre deployment; get former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte to help sort out the police force and NPA[xv]; get the trains and stations running again (unfortunately Benito Mussolini’s no longer available to be a consultant[xvi]); put the DA’s Christopher Pappas in charge of all municipalities; and cut (no, burn) all red tape hampering businesses.
In addition, Ramaphosa, having taken away their cellphones, needs to dispatch Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Arthur Fraser, Ace Magashule, Zweli Mkhize and Lindiwe Sisulu (to name but a few) to some island; make Helen Zille speaker of the National Assembly; arrange for Jacob Zuma not to go to jail but to do 10 years’ community service mopping floors at the Constitutional Court; and put David Bullard in charge of the Government Communication and Information Service (GCIS).
If he indeed does the above, or tries to do so, what are his enemies going to do? Tell us that Ramaphosa stashed cash in his couch; well, so what, we know that now ...
Still, I must sadly say that while I am one of those human beings in whose breast hope springs eternal, I am not going to be holding my breath. I fear that a life of being compromised becomes, alas, a way of life from under which it is difficult to wriggle. It’s like being trapped under a wet mattress on top of which sit five human beings, each of whom has a fine “ANC tummy”.
Finally, a (I’m afraid) sombre and cautionary note. Just about everybody one encounters these days – in the kitchen, on the street, in the shops, in newspapers, blogs, news sites, radio and TV programmes, you name it – just about everyone is gatvol with the government; and so, even among Ramaphosa’s former praise singers in the so-called media, there’s now a powerful inclination, especially given DollarGate, to catch President Frogboiler with a rabbit punch at any and every opportunity.
Members of the fourth estate, be careful. This state of affairs automatically makes you prey to the fake news peddlers, especially those floating in the bilgy Radical Economic Transformation dinghy. You’re ripe for being played and spun; do you want to go the same way as those who brought us the tales about the rogue SARS unit and KZN police death squads?
For the rest of us humble citizens, we too need to think hard about these things. Heaven knows, I personally have little time for the Union Buildings’ present incumbent. But before one joins a multitude to do evil, one had better also wonder about who we’d get if Ramaphosa were shunted aside.
As the great Joseph Brodsky once remarked (1988) in a speech to the graduating class at the University of Michigan: “This solution is not likely to please angels, but, then again, it’s bound to hurt demons, and for the moment that’s all that really matters.”
[i] The most unlikely people do this sort of thing – in which they are joined by equally unlikely others. Consider the cases of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mildred Baena or Jeff Bezos and Lauren Sánchez. Or if you prefer a more intemellectual example, think of Karl Marx and the family housekeeper, Helene Demuth. (Sorry but I simply can’t help reproducing a comment made in a newspaper interview by Irish novelist John Banville: “To write about sex is almost impossible because the physical act seems so disconnected to what the people engaged in the act feel ... Here are two heavenly angels grappling; but looked at ... well, it looks like two mad plumbers going at it.”)
[iii] Besides being an obvious oxymoron, an absurd concept.
[iv] Pre-nup, ante-nup, pity (cf.Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, 1939), guilt, the existence of children; also be careful if your hitherto uninformed spouse has been known to behave in certain situations like the late Lazar Kaganovich.
[v] See for example the lives (according to Wikipedia) of Bezos and Sánchez.
[vi] “There are no true stories; there are only facts, and the stories we tell ourselves about those facts.” – We Keep the Dead Close, Becky Cooper, 2020.
[vii]People are always saying we Seffricans are second-raters; but c’mon, be fair: not even Joel and Ethan Coen, with whom I attended cheder for a short time in the early 60s, could come up with such a fine plot.
[viii] Presumably like those small, dirty-white mushrooms from the stump of a tree in my garden?
[ix] This “anomaly” was apparently not noted by either the reporters or the subs; geez, the hired help these days!
(For a mere R150 000/day, btw, I would be happy to make myself available as a consultant to Ramaphosa’s legal team.)
[x] One theory I have heard bruited about regarding the stashed money is that it was required to pay off certain people i.e. to offer patronage – which, as we know, is an integral ingredient of our democracy (and probably democracies elsewhere too).
[xi] I read recently that last Sunday Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula, Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and Police Minister Bheki Cele met in Pretoria to sort out issues related to the troubled trucking industry. Imagine: in one room together – Mbalula, Nxesi, Motsoaledi, and Cele. The mind boggles. Knuckleheads R Us.
[xii] It’s common cause that if Madiba needed funds for whatever reason, he merely had to ask – and he received.
As for FW, might I preface my comment with a brief (but true) “family” anecdote? A Pretoria rabbi, a friend of my father’s, went in the late 1930s/early 40s on a high holy day, or perhaps the day after, to visit the Jewish prisoners held in Pretoria Central (if that’s what it was called then). The “spokesperson” for the five or six prisoners said to him, “Rabbi, to begin with, we want something to be absolutely clear. None of us is here for theft, rape, murder, or anything like that. We are all here for business reasons only.”
Point of the story is this. Given the first seven paras of my article (in particular), I would doubtless be taken to task if I failed to mention FW’s well-known ‘smallanyana skeleton’ – his extra-marital relationship with Elita Georgiades (later his second wife). But this was clearly not for financial or corrupt gain; it was merely, so to speak, just business.
This is why I don’t think FW was compromised in the sense under discussion; actually, he has always struck me as one of those annoyingly squeaky-clean types who wouldn’t touch ill-gotten financial gains.
As for having cheated on his former wife, Marike (and on his children too, I suppose), what can I say? Leonard Cohen said there ain’t no cure for love (or, presumably, sex). I say that humans can be bizarrely complicated; despite being married (later), political philosopher and “holocaust survivor” Hannah Arendt remained “attached” for years to Martin Heidegger, Nazi-party member and convicted “follower” (Mitläufer) of Nazism.
[xiii] Had we but world enough and time, I could give you chapter and verse ... Why do you think Thabo Mbeki went so quietly?
[xiv] Erstwhile Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock, who was hardly ever a bullduster, once told me that the biggest mistake he’d ever made – when it came to protecting himself – was to have destroyed a trommel full of such “documents” before his trial.
[xv] I appreciate that one is not supposed to make “jokes” of this nature, but a colleague of mine used to say he always thought that Eugene de Kock would make a necessary and effective head of Human Resources in certain governmental agencies. (De Kock has, by the way, served his time.)
[xvi] Though many, including Gore Vidal, say the claim that Mussolini made the trains run on time is fake news.