Cyril's cabinet conundrum

Andrew Donaldson says President Ramaphosa could clean out his executive, but who'd he bring in?


HERE’S a novel idea, the originality of which suggests readers may want to be seated lest they be swept off their feet by its staggering ingenuity: British author and historian Max Hastings believes modern politicians are rubbish and the public deserves better.

Writing in The Times this week, Hastings weighed in against increasingly poor political leadership and the low calibre of parliamentarians who cravenly serve a “braying populism” rather than their constituencies. 

Granted, he was referring specifically to the present UK government, and Hastings does know a bunch of arse when he sees it. 

As editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph, he was Boris Johnson’s boss in the late 1980s and ’90s and, while Hastings admits he was an entertaining journalist and commentator, he very firmly believes that Johnson is not prime minister material. 

On the eve of the latter’s election as Tory leader in June 2019, Hastings wrote in The Guardian that he was “unfit for national office, because it seems he cares for no interest save his own fame and gratification…” 

The Conservatives, Hastings added, would be blamed for foisting “a tasteless joke upon the British people — who will not find it funny for long”.

But enough of the problems of others. One observation in Hastings’s column should however resonate beyond the shores of the mud island and be of relevance as far as we are concerned.

It’s simply this: as Britain becomes less important in the world (a situation greatly exacerbated by Brexit), the job of running the place becomes “a diminishingly exciting career prospect”. Hastings writes: 

“For two centuries or more, at least a few of each generation’s brightest and best embraced politics as a career. Today, however, clever and ambitious young men and women instead embrace commerce, the media or professions. As the maverick Tory MP George Walden remarked lugubriously: ‘Who’d do it? No privacy, no respect, no money. And no sex.’” [1]

If that’s the rule of thumb, then South Africa’s current global status must be rock bottom given the piss-poor quality of those who claim to serve its citizens. 

Consider the noisy clamour in the aftermath of the Zuma insurrection that Cyril Ramaphosa reshuffle his cabinet. 

From the moment he was elected party leader, commentators began pointing out that Squirrel had inherited a poisoned chalice: one half of the ANC’s leadership were dyed-in-the-wool supporters of Jacob Zuma, the RET faction who are Squirrel’s avowed enemies. Yet the president has consistently refused to act in any decisive manner against his enemies, prompting all manner of commentariat tosh that here was a master strategist playing a long game and what-what. 

As the smoke cleared and the dust of the violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng began to settle, it became embarrassingly obvious that those challenging Squirrel’s authority included his own cabinet colleagues, in particular the security cluster: police minister Cheek Bile, state security minister Ayondo Dlodlo and defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. 

Quite honestly, very few South Africans will mourn their departure. Here is brazen oxygen thievery; utterly useless hangovers from Accused Number One’s corrupt and rotten administration. They should have been fired within moments of Squirrel taking his oath of office. Now, in the wake of the insurrection, commentator Ralph Mathekga argues in a News24 column, it may be too late for the president to do anything

Not that this is surprising. The sun would sooner rise in the west before Squirrel tackles a problem in a remotely urgent manner. He is a champion ditherer. We’ve all seen him dawdle through crises and he does so in a reliably dull and uninspiring manner. Put more simply: not only does he come across as a sock puppet, but the sock is so hideously beige we don’t even want to discuss the matter.

Axing some or all the ministers in the security cluster may rattle the party, Mathekga suggests, and could leave Squirrel in an even more precarious position. Much has happened within the ANC, including the suspension of secretary-general Ace Magashule, and Ramaphosa must now balance his anti-corruption agenda with a “semblance of stability in the party” and thus retains ANC leadership next year.

However, the more pressing issue, which few commentators have raised, is this: who exactly will Squirrel lead? What kind of government will he be able to put together once he’s tossed out the garbage? Presuming, that is, he’s still around. This is not so much a question of loyalty but of capability. Getting rid of the rubbish — and his enemies certainly are rubbish — is one thing, but who will replace them? The talent pool here is bone dry. 

These are issues that must surely trouble Squirrel. Little wonder, then, that he stubbornly refuses to hold media briefings or take questions from reporters. Being a glass half-full kind of guy, I believe he does know the answer to these things, and that’s what terrifies him. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Nazdarovya and Novichok 

Speaking of dead weight, deputy president David “The Cat” Mabuza continues to enjoy a lengthy leave of absence in Russia where he is apparently receiving ongoing medical treatment following an alleged attempted assassination by poisoning. This is a good thing. Not only are the Russians experts when it comes to toxins, but the longer Mabuza is out the country, the more soundly we should all sleep at night.

In August 2018, the New York Times described Mabuza “as one of South Africa’s most dangerous [leaders]. Nearly 20 politicians [in Mpumalanga], most from inside the ANC, were assassinated in the past two decades, some after exposing graft in public works projects”. Readers will recall that, in 2010, some R14-million in cash was reportedly stolen from Mabuza’s home when he was Mpumalanga premier. However, provincial law enforcement authorities insisted that a mere R1 200 was stolen. Mabuza later reported it was R4-million that was taken. 

And we all laughed at Jacob Zuma’s interesting way with numbers.

Bratday greetings

The Economic Freedom Fighters turned eight on Monday. As expected, the occasion was marked by a display of some stupidity by Julius Malema who began the party’s birthday address with this interesting demand: 

“I challenge SABC radio to play more of Swahili music because we want to promote the language, Swahili, so that there can be one common language that can unite the people of Africa. Through one language, Africans will be able to understand each others’ message, and appreciate each others’ existence, and will not see each other as enemies. We see each other as enemies today because we see each other through the lenses of our colonisers…”

This was followed by comments on gender-based violence, expropriation of land without compensation, Squirrel’s 2017 campaign finances and some nonsense about the legitimacy of looting. 

Readers will note that Malema’s speech was delivered in English, a language that enables a great many Africans to understand and appreciate one another. French, of course, is also useful in this regard. But, yes, perhaps the SABC should play more Swahili music. Anything, really, to liven up the airwaves. 

There was fanciful prattle about the EFF being a revolutionary organisation and the country’s fastest-growing political movement “with a clear programme of action”. Given the dubious achievements of the party and those of their supporters [2], one longed for the self-congratulatory back-slapping to be countered with some front-slapping. In the interests of balance.

Trigger warning: here be history

Cecil Rhodes’s controversial afterlife continues. William Beinart, former Rhodes Professor of Race Relations at Oxford, has called for the arch-imperialist’s statue to be removed from its plinth at Oriel College in light of research that reveals the former Cape Colony governor as a “more brutal figure that previously thought”. 

Beinart, a South African, is historical adviser to the commission appointed by the college to determine the fate of the statue. According to The Sunday Times of London, he has discovered that Rhodes’s British South Africa Company “violently annexed much of what is now Zimbabwe using machine guns, dynamite and scorched-earth policies, leading to the 20 000-plus death toll” of his imperial venture.

I’d always thought this common knowledge to anyone with a vague interest in colonial history. But evidently not. 

Beinart claims his research had been “buried” in the report submitted to the Oriel commission. He now wants his work sent to all Oxford’s alumni and a vote on the future of the statue — a course of action that threatens to pit the university directly against the government. 

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick wants to introduce laws that will protect statues from “baying mobs”. But Beinart wants the statue removed and placed in a museum where visitors may read about Rhodes’s “noxious history”. 

This, at least, is a more practical suggestion than a mooted “compromise” that will see it remain in place, 16 metres above street level, on the facade of a college building provided the university erects a statue of the African American philosopher Alain LeRoy Locke. Because of his race, Locke, the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance”, had been denied entry to Oxford but was eventually admitted to Hertford College in 1907 as the first black Rhodes scholar. The Daily Mail reports that Oriel was considering this tribute to Locke as a “concession”.

Our own suggestion, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), is that Oriel put an old cell door [1] in front of the Rhodes statue. This is a relatively cheap procedure and will give traumatised students the impression that the old war pig has been convicted of his terrible crimes and is behind bars.

We may then all move on. 

Which is to the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall, London, and Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow and there behave in an agitated fashion before statues of Lord Roberts, the architect of the Boer War concentration camps. It seems remiss of them that historians should ignore a bloodthirsty brute whose policies claimed the lives of 27 000 Boer women and children and an estimated 20 000 Africans to concentrate instead on the more fashionable villain.


[1] Walden, former journalist and diplomat, was higher education minister from 1985 to 1987 in the Thatcher government. His comments about no sex should be taken with a pinch of salt, given recent disclosures about former health secretary Matt Hancock’s affair with an aide. However, the most profligately promiscuous member of the present administration remains the prime minister’s dog, Dilyn. Only this week, Johnson complained to a police officer: “My dog is endless … on people’s legs.”

[2] Corruption, fraud, sexual exploitation, violence against and intimidation of journalists, defamation, tender irregularities, racism, bigotry, xenophobic thuggery,  bullying, incitement, defamation, arson, vandalism and destruction of property, looting…

[3] The Robben Island Museum may be of some assistance. Now that the prison has fallen into disrepair, there must be a few cell doors lying about the island.