Frogs thinking outside of the box

Jeremy Gordin says the country is suddenly awash in a mass of clever, clever plans

Following my column last week, I received a number of solicitous enquiries about my health or rather state-of-mind. A heartfelt thank-you to all who communicated their concern. Today, I am feeling much jollier.

This is not solely because I’m skittish and contradictory and because, like Walt Whitman (Song of Myself 51), “I am large, I contain multitudes”. More specifically, I am today feeling swept away, not by the leak in the toilet cistern but by the resilience and strength of the human spirit.

It seems to me there is suddenly a veritable renaissance, if I might use such a freighted word, of fresh ideas – new and clever ‘strategies,’ some moderns might term them – being suggested by people worldwide but especially in Seffrica. 

There are so many clever thoughts and plans that have raised their heads in the last few days, like seedlings poking their heads out of the earth – despite Joburg’s water usage being constrained for the usual reasons – that even I, seldom lost for words, am unsure how to choose from the embarrassment of riches surrounding us [i]

This morning for example, I found myself singing to my gorgeous wife that fine old ditty, “Tie a yellow ribbon ‘round this old oke’s tree/ this old oke’s tree/ It’s been three long days, don’t you still want me?”

The song popped into my head because I had read that in a compassionate and smart move the Welsh Rugby Union has just ordered that another lovely song of the past, the 1968 Tom Jones hit ‘Delilah’, which we old-timers well recall, must immediately be expunged from the choirs’ song list of Principality Stadium [ii].

The WRU has realised, on the eve of the 2023 Six Nations (rugby tournament), that the song’s lyrics might well promote violence against the fairer gender – and so it has to go.

On a different note (ha ha), but closer to home and still with sport, most readers will know of the plan for SA Tourism (SAT) to sponsor the English football team Tottenham Hotspur to the tune of just under a billion rand. The idea, as I understand it, is that local tourism will benefit from the publicity and so on that Seffrica will garner because of such sponsorship.

It reminds me mutatis mutandis of the sort of strategies that one of the great media marketing gurus of our country’s earlier history, one Eschel Rhoodie, was wont to entertain and even implement. Which is why I don’t understand why the media are drubbing our minister of tourism Lindiwe Sisulu for being connected to, and for allegedly championing, the plan. If you don’t try out creative ideas, how are you going to know what the return on investment (ROI) might be?

But since most readers know about this planned SAT strategy, let me turn to a lesser known but equally brilliant one. Very few people or organisations – other than the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a radical and militant economic emancipation movement – seem to have noticed that Transnet[iii], our magnificent rail, port and pipeline company, has come up with a turnaround strategy of genius for its vital Jhb to Dbn container line service.

Transnet seems to be suggesting that the line to Durbs was a profitable line, but that “we are not capable of running it. On the contrary, we ran it into the ground. Ergo, the new strategy.” And how this will operate, if I might cut to the chase and summarise, is as follows.

Transnet will ‘rent out’ its ‘service’ to a private sector person with perhaps more latkes than sense (PSPWL). The PSPWL must reinstate the Kaserne container terminal and the equivalent terminal in Durban. The PSPWL must also repair the railway line, the signals, etc., and must provide security to stop all the Transnet accoutrements from being stolen again. Additionally, the PSPWL must take over Transnet’s 3,573 staff members (some real, some ghosts).

But here is the real beauty of the strategy. Having repaired the lines and the signals, reinstated the terminals, slimmed down the bloated workforce, and started to turn a penny, the PSPWL must, after 20 years, hand the then pristine service back to Transnet, so that Transnet can f--- it up all over again.

I know diddley squat about business strategies, I admit. Still, one thing I don’t grasp is this. If you have the PSPWL and his/her folk running the operation for 20 years, why would there be any need whatsoever for Transnet to exist? What will its management cadres be doing all this time? Collecting a sort of royalty for “monitoring” things? Couldn’t they all go and work for Eskom?

At any rate, the proposed strategy seems to me be very fecund (if that is the correct word). For example, why shouldn’t the ANC create its own business school, along the lines of, say, the finely named Gordon school of business (GIBS)? Thus we could have this course: “ANC Business School: Business Strategy 101: if you can’t do the business, give it to someone else. The business model is to watch the someone/s else doing it.” Neat, don’t you think?

And as I am writing, by the way, the highest echelons of government are also applying their minds and trying to think outside of the proverbial box [iv]. For example, our leaders are gravely weighing up whether to declare a state of national disaster. In fact, the government – so it tells us – has referred the matter to lawyers to tell us whether we are indeed experiencing a national disaster. This suggests to me that the government doesn’t really want to have such a state declared. Want to kill something stone dead? Put it in the hands of the lawyers. It never fails.

But if the lawyers do tell us that we are in a such a state, the government will declare it as such and make regulations telling the turbines – those lekker big things at Eskom – that they must start turning or face the full might of the law. I could tell the government for nothing and for free that the turbines are not a national disaster. The national disaster is the ANC. But no one is asking me.

Now then, there are so many more innovative ideas surfacing in different corners of this country that I could tell you about. But space is running out and while Andrew Marvell might in 1649 CE have been worried about Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near, I must in 2023 CE be concerned about Mzansi’s wingèd and vershtunkende loadshedding.

So, let me say that not all clever stratagems need be new. We Seffricans have some fine ones that we tend to forget about. For example, former president Jacob G Zuma doesn’t get a very good press these days.

Yet it was he – albeit in consultation with some of his lawyers, such as the late Kemp J Kemp and the ever-smiling Michael “hully-gully” Hulley – who was the originator of the Stalingrad strategy. And what we have to concede – whether you like the erstwhile Prez or not – is that the Stalingrad strategy has worked better for him than it worked all those years ago in Stalingrad.

For, lest you don’t know, I must tell you that – as I suggested in October he would do ­– Judge Piet Koen has ­recused himself from Zuma’s arms deal corruption trial. Or as they used to say in the old days, “he fled the scene of the crime”.

I would further suggest ­– now, in February 2023 – that Judge Koen’s recusal will probably mark the end of the whole sorry saga. Yes, I know that another judge is supposed to don the harness and soldier on. But I’d say it’s game over now. Other than among Polweb readers and a few others, there’s no appetite left for pursuing Zuma any longer. For one thing, dealing with him and his acolytes, such as Mzwanele Jimmy Manyi, is tedious beyond the telling of it.

It seems unfortunate and not really accurate to call Judge Koen “the last great white hope”, but in a way he was. He made considered judgments, he seemed to know the law, he treated everyone equally, he never lost his cool, even when faced by beauts such Dali Mpofu SC. But, as was obvious in October, Judge Koen wanted out. He’d had enough.

I’d have hoped that Judge Koen might have done something similar to what Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma did in the parliamentary debate about Phala Phala – that is, gone unexpectedly against the grain. She did so, you might recall, by publicly disobeying the party strictures and voting that President Gommagomma did have a case to answer. Judge Koen could have come into court and said ‘this is a crock of sh-t, I’m outta here’. But I guess judges don’t do that sort of thing, especially not when they still have their pensions to collect.

Instead, Judge Koen issued one of the oddest judgments I have ever read. It’s about 19 000 words long but, because of my undying sense of duty to Polweb readers, I actually read the whole thing. (You can read it too – here). Actually, so perplexed was I, I read it three times.

Because it is perplexing. Judge Koen goes on and on, pointing out at length just how precise and fair his interlocutory judgments were, but then decides that he needs to recuse himself anyway. It’s in his para [82] if you’re interested: “In the light of past litigation, the issue of my independence and whether I should recuse myself, is an issue which will be contested, if not now, then certainly in the future”. In other words, he’s quitting because of something that will probably happen in the future.

Well, yeah, hello, it certainly would happen in the future. That, Judge Koen, is how the Stalingrad Defence works – and your job was to stymie it, and you were doing it pretty well too.

But so it goes. The whole thing reminds me, probably inappropriately, of 30 or 40 years ago when I was attempting to get a cisgendered member of the female gender into bed – and she said no. (Well, two or three or maybe even four did say no.) Whaddya gonna do? If she didn’t want to, she didn’t want to. End of story. Same with Judge Koen, I guess. If he doesn’t want to deal with Zuma et al, he doesn’t have to do so, I suppose. Though maybe he could have been a little briefer.

Still, viva the Stalingrad defence – a truly Seffrican innovation.


[i] Talking of which, I wonder what’s happened to that fine writer Simon Schama, author of The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. Haven’t seen anything by him for quite a while. He’s also, he claims (or claimed), a Tottenham Hotspur (football club) supporter – which club I might have need to mention soon.

[ii] This is the former Cardiff rugby ground and, as we old timers also know, if you’ve not played (or watched) rugby in Cardiff in front of a Welsh crowd singing open-throatedly, you haven’t really lived.

[iii] Remember that Transnet is headed by Portia Derby, former wife (if I have this right) of one of SA’s most innovative and passionate business leaders, Brian “Bunny” Molefe. One cannot of course either praise or blame a person for the behaviour of her/his former spouse. Still, surely some of Molefe’s cleverness must have rubbed off on the former Mrs Molefe? Or am I being unpleasantly sexist?

[iv] Though thinking outside of the box is not advice that you should give your cat.