Cyril's death by a thousand cuts

Andrew Donaldson says that our President appears to have given up


THE Chinese word is 凌遲, or lingchi. We of course know it as “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, a form of torture and public execution used in China for centuries until it was outlawed in the early 1900s. 

The punishment was reserved for especially heinous crimes such as treason, mass murder, the killing of one’s parents or one’s master or employer. It was particularly gruesome business: a knife was used to methodically remove portions of flesh from the condemned over an extended and agonising period of time, eventually resulting in death. Even then, the disfigurement of the corpse would continue to ensure the victim would not be “whole” in a spiritual afterlife. 

The phrase “death by a thousand cuts” lives on, though, as a metaphor for the way a calamitous reversal of fortune can be regarded as normal and acceptable if it is brought about slowly through small, seemingly unnoticeable increments of change. One version of this “creeping normality” would be Ernest Hemingway’s description of going bankrupt: “Gradually, then suddenly.” 

Another, perhaps more familiar to PW readers, would be the “boiling frogs” example — especially as noted by the late IFP MP Dr Mario Oriani-Ambrosini. In his memoir,  The Prince And I: A South African Institutional Odyssey (David Krut, 2017), this former key adviser to Mangosuthu Buthelezi offers an intriguing insight to Cyril Ramaphosa’s character.  ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The former trade union leader, he said, “stood head and shoulders above his [ANC] colleagues” in the bilateral and multi-party negotiations to end apartheid in the early 1990s; he was a “born leader” and a “straight shooter”, a man who did not lie or “misrepresent anything”. 

Then Oriani-Ambrosini revealed the following:

“In his brutal honesty, Ramaphosa told me of the ANC’s 25-year strategy to deal with the whites: it would be like boiling a frog alive, which is done by raising the temperature very slowly. Being cold-blooded, the frog does not notice the slow temperature increase, but if the temperature is raised suddenly, the frog will jump out of the water. He meant that the black majority would pass laws transferring wealth, land, and economic power from white to black slowly and incrementally, until the whites lost all they had gained in South Africa, but without taking too much from them at any given time to cause them to rebel or fight.”

Now, two small points if I may.

Firstly, this boiling of frogs is all bogus. It can’t be done. Biologists will tell you that frogs have a natural thermoregulation system which is necessary for their survival. In other words, put a frog in a pot of water, slowly raise the temperature and, at some point, the frog will jump out. It’s as simple as that. By the same token, if a frog is suddenly immersed in extremely hot or boiling water, it will not jump out. It will die. So much for that theory.

Secondly, it does appear that it is Squirrel who is being boiled alive or dying by a thousand cuts. Rather than dwell on the perverse irony of all this, let’s just say that in recent weeks there has been no sign of the straight-shooting, non-misrepresenting anything and born unto leadership form that so impressed the commentariat all those years ago. None whatsoever.

Instead, in its place, there is this cowed and greyish mouse of an individual who is so obviously being bullied and tortured by his mates. And I don’t mean the naff flicking of the wet towel on the buttocks in the changing room after rugger stuff. I mean the full board, heavy-duty, knuckles and knout workout: punched in the face, walloped about the ears, kicked in the ribs, kneed in the groin. And possibly even worse. And it continues until he does the party’s bidding. Parasitic centralism, after all.

Or is it blackmail and mental torture? Could that be the reason for the bloated beached whale that was his cabinet reshuffle? Not only is it overly stuffed, but it remains a stuff-up. All the rubbish is still there: Among them, Gwede “The Goblin” Mantashe, Pravin “The Eunuch” Gordhan, Angie “30 Per Cent” Motshekga, Nkosazana “The Clarice” Virodene Dlalamini Proxy Zuma. And of course, that vicious parody of a police minister, Cheek Bile…

Squirrel knows these people have failed, time and again. He is aware that we know that he knows they have consistently failed. What’s more, these ministers know full well that Squirrel knows that we know that he knows that they have consistently failed. And yet … there they remain, more entrenched than ensconced, pigging away. They must have a terrible hold over their boss. Perhaps the threat of more Gommagomma disclosures? More dark doings down at Phala Phala and what-what?

Either way, whether it’s physical or mental torture, Squirrel’s pathetic response to widespread dismay and anger that, rather than deal with any of the many, many challenges the country faces he has merely enlarged his wastrel government really does suggest he has been pressured or coerced or otherwise persuaded into being bloody stupid. Managers in his position could not naturally be that dof, could they? His arm must still be severely twisted behind his back, his nethers in the crushing grip of those who wish to remain snouting in the trough. What else could it be?

His claim that the “devastating and enduring legacy of apartheid” means a supersized government is most necessary is particularly laughable. Apartheid’s “legacy” is way past its sell-by date; it’s now enfeebled and toothless through overuse; dusting it off in discourse is a sure sign of a massive fail.

And yes, there is a need to tackle pressing issues like the energy crisis, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, illiteracy, crime and God knows what else. But it won’t happen without an acknowledgment that this really now is the ANC’s devastating and enduring legacy. That particular baton, we may safely say, has well and truly changed hands. And so it is that yet more ANC ministers take their places alongside their comrades behind the security fences of their luxury housing estates.

Squirrel states that much of the “discussion” on his reshuffle “misses the point”. He is sorely mistaken. It’s very much on point. Hitting that point, in fact, like a construction worker’s hydraulic jackhammer. 

And, what's, it’s hitting that point to the extent that it’s cracking headlines in major UK newspapers. Much has been made here of DA leader John Steenhuisen’s accusation in the National Assembly last week in that Squirrel and his team were living it up “like rock stars”. This from The Times:

“The creation of two new ministries by Ramaphosa in a cabinet reshuffle last week reignited anger about the running costs of an increasingly unpopular government of 30 ministers and 36 deputies, all benefiting from generous perks. The president denied having a ‘bloated’ cabinet, saying its size was ‘basically in line with others’.

“Britain has a cabinet of 23. India’s is closer to South Africa in size, but it has a population of 1.4 billion compared with South Africa’s 60 million.”

The newspaper went on to describe the luxurious Bryntirion Estate in Pretoria, “where cabinet members are housed in detached homes with newly installed generators to insulate them from blackouts that last up to 12 hours every day”. The 265-acre gated compound has a helipad, a nine-hole golf course, 15 tennis courts and is protected by hundreds of cameras and electrified fences. 

Britain’s newspaper put it this way

The mansions are allegedly protected from rolling blackouts, known as load shedding, which has been enforced across the country in a bid to save energy. Citizens and businesses are sometimes left with nearly half a day of no electricity, with reports the blackouts are causing car crashes, driving up food prices and further burdening household budgets in a cost of living crisis.”

The also reported on the “rock star” exchange between the leader of the opposition and the president in the National Assembly: 

“DA leader John Steenhuisen asked: ‘Given the fact that we’ve got all these ministers living like rock stars, 97 mansions, free generators, free electricity, luxury vehicles… Do you think its fair that South Africans who are suffering under this cost of living crisis should exist with these ministers living like rock stars?’

“Mr Ramaphosa responded: ‘Well, I don’t know about rock stars … I can understand on your side you say it’s bloated, (but) we are not the biggest cabinet in the world, by any means.’”

Ah, but reading between the lines? Pound for pound, surely one of the world’s most useless?

In closing, the newspaper said the ANC is set to face its toughest election yet next year and is facing the “prospect of losing its parliamentary majority for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994”. 

As Hemingway may have said, you lose power gradually and then suddenly. Those thousand cuts. 

Root canal work

The regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) have been following the upheavals at the University of the Witwatersrand with some interest. Of particular concern is the fate of dental student and students’ representative council member Lisa Sibaca. Along with several of her rowdy colleagues, she is facing possible suspension and perhaps expulsion for allegedly destroying municipal property

However, after viewing clips of this redoubtable student leader in action, attacking and then flattening a Braamfontein bus stop, there is some opinion that Sibaca perhaps be spared sanction to continue with her studies.

Considering the ease with which she “pushed over a pole”, as the community safety activist Ian Cameron has noted, she will almost certainly make short work of difficult wisdom teeth extractions. Provided she doesn’t yank the heads clean off her patients in the process, she will be in a position to repay her student loan in no time at all.

On a more encouraging note, Wits SRC president Aphiwe Mnyamana, who has indeed been suspended for his role in the riots, has announced that he is now being advised by Dali Mpofu, the advocate’s advocate. We are watching this space with much anticipation.


To Hollywood, and the shrieking triumph of diversity over cinema that was the Oscars. There is something insanely up its own warped fundamental that a gem like Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, nominated for nine awards (best director, best motion picture, best original screenplay, best film editing, best actor, best supporting actress, two best supporting actors and best original score) should, in the rich language of its script, walk away with feckall on the night.

It probably stood no chance anyway, given the culture’s present preoccupation with inclusivity. What hope for a very black comedy about two very white men and the tragedy that follows as one of them decides to end their friendship? Besides which, an allegory about the Irish civil war? Probably too bleak and foreign for California…

None of this, of course, is to suggest that those who were awarded statuettes on Sunday evening did not put in a decent day at the office. But I would not be surprised if The Banshees entered the home viewing arena with the shout-out plastered on the DVD box: “Too good for the Academy!” 

As an aside, it’s somewhat quaint that, in this streaming era, we still have “video shops”. One such store, an internet search reveals, is Cape Town’s Tamboerskloof Video, where I was a regular customer in the 1980s. Back then its staff swore blind they were dedicated movie buffs. They once described Casablanca to me as an “old movie, filmed in black and white”. The cult classic Withnail & I was summed up thus: “These two poofs argue about washing the dishes.” (I like to think these people now have careers in motion picture development.)

Elsewhere, a stink has been stunk concerning Zulu, the 1964 epic depicting the battle of Rorke’s Drift. This much-loved film, which featured Michael Caine in his first major role, has now been cited in the UK as a cultural work that incites far-right extremism.

It is not the only film on the list drawn up by Prevent, a taxpayer-funded programme aimed at stopping the recruitment of the vulnerable by terror groups. Others include The Dam BustersBridge Over the River Kwai and The Great Escape. But it is Zulu’s inclusion that appears to have sparked the most outrage.

The historian and author Ben Macintyre is one of many who have leapt to its defence. Writing in The Times, he argues that the film falls disappointingly short of being suitable white supremacist fare:

“The makers of Zulu would have been horrified by the suggestion it could encourage the racist far-right: the screenwriter John Prebble was a former member of the Communist Party who had volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War; the director Cy Endfield fled Hollywood in the early 1950s after being named as a Communist during the McCarthy witch-hunts; Stanley Baker, the film’s main star and co-producer, was a lifelong supporter of the Labour Party.”

Macintyre continues that, despite being filmed in South Africa at the “height of apartheid”, black and white performers mingled happily on the set. Perhaps too happily for the authorities, it seems, for the British cast members and crew were apparently warned “they might be deported, imprisoned or even whipped if they had sexual relations with black Africans”. 

The film is rather unique in that it resolutely avoided the racial stereotypes and jingoism typical of other war movies of the day, and it neither glorified nor condemned Britain’s imperialism. The battle was not portrayed as a military triumph, but rather a bloody and brutal slog. Of course, were it made today, Zulu would probably be a far different work. There is no properly developed African character in the film — and, as a result, the cultural sensitivity sheriffs would be all over the script like ravening hyenas demanding rewrites.

Perhaps the last word on the charge that Zulu is cultural cat-nip for the far right should go to Michael Caine, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Tuesday. When the Spectator broke the news to him, he simply responded: “That is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard.”