Cyril's mammoth undertaking

Andrew Donaldson on the President's desire to disinter and bring back the ANC's moral authority

NEWS from Harvard. Scientists there are apparently well on their way to bringing back to life the woolly mammoth. Or at least something containing a whole lot of woolly mammoth.

Most of these shaggy ancestors of the elephant died out about 10 000 years ago amid climate change and possibly widespread hunting by man. But isolated populations continued to roam the islands in the Bering Sea and the species finally became extinct about 3 700 years ago. 

Now, it’s reported, Professor George Church and his team of scientists have worked out the genetic sequence of the mammoth using DNA extracted from remains frozen in the permafrost. These bits and pieces are not enough, it seems, to recreate a species — no Jurassic Park nonsense here — so Church is instead editing DNA in the living cells of modern Asian elephants, the mammoth’s closes living relatives.

The aim is to recreate some of the traits that allowed the mammoth to survive extreme cold. These include very thick layers of body fat and dense hair. The end result, provided that a surrogate can be found to carry an embryo to full term, will be a full-sized mammoth — or more precisely an elephant-mammoth hybrid.

Closer to home, Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters are involved in much the same work, although it is not some prehistoric creature they wish to resurrect but rather the long-dead myth of the ANC as some sort of selfless vanguard of the national democratic revolution. 

That ideal is long since dead, trampled and suffocated at the trough where the party had gorged itself into a stupor, but it remains nevertheless perfectly preserved in the peaty filth of the leadership’s making.

Ordinary folk would want nothing to do with this rotten mess, yet here is Squirrel, blithely talking of yet another chance, of picking up the pieces and simply doing better next time. Such naivete. Surely he is aware that defenestration is on the cards for those political leaders who talk in such a manner? Appeals for a fresh start, let alone a crack at decency, after all, serve as admissions of failure with these crooks.

Indeed, Ramaphosa’s closing address at the party’s recent lekgotla, which included alliance partners Cosatu and the SACP, did acknowledge some massive cock-ups — albeit in that strangled, blame-shifting manner these people have. 

There had, for example, been a loss of “moral and ethical principles” within the movement, and this posed a threat to the national democratic revolution. There was a need to address the “toxic legacy of state capture” which left key institutions “weakened, misdirected and hollowed out”. There were economic challenges and the need to address wealth inequality. Thanks to the “counter-revolutionaries” in its midst, the party was suffering an existential crisis. 

Notably, and with no evident trace of irony, he had this to impart: “Our credibility and legitimacy are being undermined by our inability to act.” Or, cynics would add, the way that you have acted.

How the party’s RET faction must have enjoyed that. They may even have looked up while sharpening their knives to wink knowingly and nudge one another in the layers of body fat covering their ribs. 

Squirrel is obviously well aware of the forces massing against him but persists in behaving as if nothing’s amiss. On Tuesday, the second instalment of Acting chief justice Raymond Zondo’s state capture report dropped.

It is especially critical of Jacob Zuma. But all the usual suspects are here, including former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown, her predecessor, the porn star Malusi Gigaba, and their keepers, the racketeering Gupta brothers. None of this should be unduly surprising.

What is noteworthy, however, is Zondo’s recommendation that the “abuse of power” now be made a criminal offence, punishable by a prison term of up to 20 years, a fine of up to R200-million — or both. 

This does appear to be more a punch in the face than a slap on the wrist. But it is, ultimately, only a recommendation — and will probably remain just that. Has there been any attempt to aggressively prosecute any of those implicated in the first instalment of Zondo’s findings? And it’s not as if the authorities haven’t been spoiled or choice here.

The third and final instalment of the findings is due to be released at the end of this month. The full report is due to be presented in parliament by the end of June — four months later. This lengthy and frustrating delay may prove advantageous for those who implicated in its pages. The suggestion that, for all his talk of second chances, Squirrel really has no intention of tackling corruption at all is not without some foundation.

The picture of the ANC that has emerged thus far in Zondo’s findings is the true representation of the party. This corrupt gang is in rude health, in as much as an vermin could be described as healthy, and is evidently in no rush to be hybridised with a bunch of principles about serving the people. This would be futile anyway, and any attempts at such will result in something quite still-born.

On the eastern front ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

A photograph has been leaked of the cheesy pole-dancing and stripper venue inside Russian president Vladimir Putin’s enormous Black Sea palace. There are several  reasons why this should be of interest. For one, it is, as expected, utterly tasteless, awash in Scheherazade-styled tat, like the set of a porn spoof of The Arabian Nights. It also speaks volumes of Putin’s immaturity and mental state; psychologists, for example, may wish to discuss among themselves the subliminal reasons for installing such a room in one’s home — stuff we needn’t go into right now lest there be chatter about overweening mothers and repressed homosexual urges.

The good news, though, is that the photo was leaked by supporters of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. He released a video a year ago that revealed the kitsch details of Putin’s sumptuous residence using computer-generated images based on blueprints and furniture catalogues to give an idea of its interior. At the time, the Kremlin and Russian state media dismissed Navalny’s images as fake. But a new cache of leaked photographs, which include that of the pole-dancing room, prove that the mock-ups were accurate in their depiction of the mansion’s fittings.

More importantly, the emergence of this cache suggests that, although behind bars in Russia’s Penal Colony No 2, Navalny continues to be source of vexation and discomfort to Putin. Another example of this is the exchange of letters Navalny has had with Time magazine over the last few months. His views on the ongoing negotiations around Russian preparations to invade Ukraine are worth noting:

“Time and again the West falls into Putin’s elementary traps. He issues some insane, laughable demands, like these latest ones, about how he and Biden need to sit down in a smoke-filled room and decide the fate of Europe like we’re back in 1944. And if the US doesn’t agree, he’ll ‘pull something’.

“Instead of ignoring this nonsense, the US accepts Putin’s agenda and runs to organise some kind of meetings. Just like a frightened schoolboy who’s been bullied by an upperclassman. Then they declare: ‘If you pull something, then we’ll impose harsh sanctions.’ That’s exactly what Putin needs, because it follows that, if he does not attack Ukraine, then there won’t be any sanctions. There’ll just be the carrot, and no stick.

“With that, the combination is complete: Putin doesn’t need to worry about the sanctions that were nearly imposed on his cronies. The Biden Administration first convinced Congress to shelve them, and now cancels them entirely. Since they promised Putin a carrot, it’s not the time for sanctions. These two-move combinations are elementary and obvious. But it just takes my breath away to watch how Putin pulls this on the American establishment again and again: threaten to escalate — negotiate — pull back; threaten to escalate — negotiate— pull back…”

One reason, it’s now suggested, that sanctions will not hurt is that Russia’s wealth isn’t in Moscow, it’s in Britain. Londongrad, as it’s been dubbed, is after all the money-laundering capital of the world. The ease with which the oligarchs can stash billions of dollars in property and other assets in the city renders threats of economic sanctions as little more than bluster.

Skating on thin ice

The 2022 Winter Olympics get underway on Friday, placing China’s aims of international prestige and status somewhat at odds with its increasingly repressive behaviour. The Beijing gathering, labelled the “Genocide Games” by activists, comes at a time of intense criticism of China over human rights and other abuses, from the mass persecution of the Uyghurs to the clampdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms and the aggression directed at Taiwan. As a result, several western countries, including the US and the UK, have announced a diplomatic boycott of the opening ceremony.

Principled though they may be, these are futile gestures. Some readers will recall that the global torch relay for the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing was dogged by international high-profile protests while the violent quashing of Tibetan dissidence placed Chinese oppression firmly on the news agenda. Back then, leaders were also pressured to shun the opening ceremony. However, once competition began, attention shifted to the athletes — a situation that Beijing hopes will now be repeated.

No South Africans are taking part in the Games. I will instead keep an eye on the 43-year-old Ghanaian alpine skier Carlos Mäder. According to his website, Mäder was born into a poverty-stricken family and put up for adoption when he was three as his mother, a single parent, could no longer feed him. He was taken in by a Swiss family, who introduced him to skiing. Though raised in Switzerland, he has remained in contact with his mother and travels “as much as possible to Cape Coast to visit my big family there”. 

The odds are certainly stacked against him. Had he any realistic medal prospects, he no doubt would be competing as a member of the Swiss team. But the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) are hoping Mäder pulls something off for Ghana, a country that has no mountains and no experience of snow.