Cyril the Cautious, Boris the Brutal

Andrew Donaldson writes on what could have been



A FEW weeks ago, when Britain was perhaps an entirely different country, the Daily Mail asked the favourite in the Tory leadership contest for his favourite movie moment. “The multiple retribution killings at the end of The Godfather,” Boris Johnson replied.

In the montage before the final scenes of the Francis Ford Coppola film, assassins in the employ of the Corleone crime family brutally gun down rival dons and mobsters in scenes that are juxtaposed with an infant’s christening. It is considered a classic cinematic representation of vengeance exacted.

And don’t they know all about that in Westminster. Within hours of entering Downing Street on Wednesday, the new prime minister had fired eleven ministers and another six had resigned in what is now regarded as the most brutal cabinet cull in modern history.

The shock and awful of it all was felt across the land, even here, in a distant shire far from London. A stunned silence had fallen among the expats who gather from time to time in a darkened corner of the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) to discuss affairs of the day. But only momentarily.

There was consensus that this was no mere cabinet reshuffle but a whole new government. In fact, had something like this taken place in Cape Town in February last year, the world and its aunty would have banged on about another coup d'état in a developing country.

Then matters got a bit wistful at the Lamb. Imagine, it was suggested, if Cyril Ramaphosa had, in fact, seized the moment back then, a la shambling berserker Boris, and savagely expunged his new administration entirely of Zuptoid elements. 

Too dangerous by half, if not outright suicidal, according to conventional wisdom and that old saw about keeping your enemies in the tent where they pee on your sleeping bag because, if they go outside, they may relieve themselves on an electric fence.

And it’s no doubt true that getting rid of the Zuma faction would have been a traumatic exercise. Especially for said faction. There would’ve been open rebellion, warnings of divisions and of seismic fissures in the bedrock of the liberation movement. And the ousted would have gathered, a seething mass of resentment and bitterness, to further plot and plan the fulfilment of their delusions.

But, guess what? They do so anyhow. Having kept the crud on board, that’s exactly the sort of political party and government that Squirrel now leads. With his back against the wall. There is much treachery afoot, as this week’s farce about Ace has shown.

On Monday there came fresh #GuptaLeaks revelations concerning the ANC secretary-general, dating back to when the Vrede dairy project was being sucked dry by the Guptas. 

It’s all very Mafia-like, and there could well be a terrific gangster tragicomedy in the making here. A pitch, then:

In a series of flashbacks, we open on a notorious Saxonwold speakeasy where shifty Rajesh “The Tony” Gupta is meeting glamorous former agriculture minister Tina “The Parrot Fish” Joemat-Petterson and suave former agricultural MEC Mosebenzi “The S Class” Zwane. Along with various other hired guns in the Free State provincial administration they plan a sting on a cow farm. 

Elsewhere in the speakeasy, Ace “The Premier” Magashule and Gupta flunky Kamal “The Bactrian” Vasram (so-called because you get humped twice over by this guy) are discussing deals involving a front company dealing in computers.

Cut to the present, and the press are on the story. Magashule looks to deflect the heat. Luckily, EFF commander in chief Julius “The Baby Face” Malema reveals that former tourism minister and ruling party national executive member Derek “The Wedge Driver” Hanekom had secretly plotted with EFF secretary-general Godrich “The Slapper” Gardee to bring about the downfall of Jacob “The Thief in Chief” Zuma.

Magashule now launches an attack on Hanekom, accusing him of being a charlatan and an EFF “sleeper” hellbent on sowing yet more division in the divided ruling party. It works. All eyes are now on Hanekom, the fall guy. No one loves a rat. Especially if he’s a stool pigeon.

The heads of the ANC families call a meeting to decide Hanekom’s fate. Has he violated a blood oath? Will he sleep with the fishes? And what of the capo di tutti i capi, Cyril “The Squirrel” Ramaphosa? When will they be coming for him? Will he wake to find a severed buffalo head in his bed? Time alone will tell. 

Sinister laughter, meanwhile, burbles from a figure on a lounger next to a fire pool in the wilds of far-off KwaZulu-Natal…

Away from such B-grade fantasies, and back to the man some here are calling the Gobfather. There has been speculation as to what Boris Johnson’s premiership entails for Africa, in particular South Africa. It is, of course, far too soon for such things. But we should nevertheless be concerned.

This is understandable, given previous comments by Johnson, including a notorious remark about the Queen loving the Commonwealth, “partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving picaninnies”.

According to Professor Raymond Parsons of the North West University, SA needs to prepare for a “hard” Brexit. Johnson’s move to Downing Street, he told Fin24, would have significant potential for disruption and uncertainty in existing trade relationships and will have a negative ripple effect on the global trading system.

“Both the UK and the EU are major trading partners for SA,” Parsons said. “The possibility of a ‘hard’ Brexit, with the UK ‘crashing out’ of the EU without a deal later this year therefore remains a worst case scenario even for countries like SA, who have a big stake in both the UK and the EU economies.”

As it is, though, no-one here has any idea of Johnson’s policies. It’s all ad-libbed at the moment, trotted out on the reactionary hoof. But we can count on him to make loud blustery noises, talk over everyone, and insist that all it takes to succeed in making Britain once again the greatest country in the world is to have a positive attitude as he drags the country out of Europe, “do or die”, by Halloween.

It’s not going to be easy. The 92 153 Tories who voted Johnson leader of the Conservatives amount to just under 0.2% of the UK electorate. What’s more, this tiny bunch of BoJo supporters are the most ideologically unrepresentative of all British voters: pale, male, comfortably well off in the south of England and all in favour of telling Johnny Foreigner where to get off with his bendy bananas and extra small condoms. 

In the White House, meanwhile, the orange menace is over the moon that Bojo got the job: “We have a really good man who’s going to be the prime minister of the UK now. He’s tough and he’s smart. They’re saying ‘Britain Trump’. They call him ‘Britain Trump’ and people are saying that’s a good thing.”

He’s clearly forgotten the interview Johnson gave as mayor of London when he described Donald Trump as being “quite clearly out of his mind” for wanting to close America’s borders to Muslims and said that he was “betraying a quite stupefying ignorance that makes him frankly unfit to hold the office of president of the United States.”

Trump had justified his plans by saying that immigrants made parts of London “no-go areas” for non-Muslims. To which Johnson responded, “I would invite him to come and see the whole of London and take him round the city, except that I wouldn’t want to expose Londoners to any unnecessary risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

It could well be that Trump’s people have been too scared to remind the president of this particular interview. Or that he’s simply forgotten about it, short attention span and so on. But for now, let’s remind ourselves of that old joke about why narcissists eventually go to war with one another: each disagrees that the other is God.