Goodbye to a low, dishonest decade

Andrew Donaldson reviews South Africa's terrible 2010s


THERE goes the decade. Ten years of famously grousing, mostly at the Mahogany Ridge, a fisherfolk dive in the far southern Cape Peninsula that is now an upmarket convenience store selling vegetables in plastic packaging. Then more recently at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), a dank ditch of a pub in a home county bog that no-one wants to touch. At least not until they clean the walls.

It is the festive season everywhere. There is hearty cheer and goodwill to all mankind, the shopping malls are decked with boughs of tinsel and tat and, back in the old country, the migration to the coast is underway while in this one the annual whinging about railway timetables has all but drowned out the excited pip-pipping from the so-called New Face Tories.

Nevertheless, and before I’m hauled off this stool and forced to have fun, duty suggests that a reflection of the 2010s is in order. It is a milestone, I suppose, having scraped through these past ten years without losing too many body parts. There have been some highs. These were largely illegal. But then the Constitutional Court confirmed the landmark Western Cape high court ruling in 2017 by Judge Dennis Davis concerning the use of dagga in the home. Civilisation did not collapse as a result. That would have been down to other things.

Mostly, though, there were the lows. There were so many that it was a spoilt-for-choice situation out there. Back in 2010, I was hounded out the Sunday Times for belittling my colleagues with the sheer audacity of my jib and my overly harsh jokes about their fondness for too-tight clothing and ugly shoes. I worried that banishment from the establishment press and forced exile from the newswires would drive me into honest employ. 

But there was no escaping the awful realities of our public life. The bad news was relentless in its pursuit of my attention. Wherever I turned, there it was, rising like the gorge, the sheer gat, hurling itself at me. I had no choice but to return to scribbling, and was soon happily fretting away unnecessarily about almost everything. This was my contribution to society, insulting people, and I was back. 

And boy, there was so much low-hanging fruit.


An early target, I recall, was Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s Western Cape provincial secretary, who was greatly bothered that the City of Cape Town was using bicycles in a racist manner to oppress the masses. Another was the journalist and former ambassador to Uganda, Jon Qwelane, who was eventually found guilty of hate speech after the SA Human Rights Commission took exception to his views on homosexuality.

There was Angie Motshekga, who was appointed minister of basic education in May 2009. She boldly declared, in January 2010: “We must acknowledge that there is poor teaching in many of our schools. Management in our schools is often weak and lacks leadership and commitment. Our systems are also often inefficient.” 

A lot of water, if I may, has passed since then. These days, it’s not bicycles the masses on the Cape Flats need, but armoured cars, as the gang wars spiral out of control. The SAHRC, meanwhile, has progressed to more serious matters, like bothering Springbok lock Eben Ebetzebeth who, in the words of Buang Jones, the HRC’s acting legal head, apparently “got away with murder” in August following an incident outside a West Coast pub which may or may not have involved a racist slur. As for Motshekga, well … only last week a high court judge ruled that her department’s cruel and pathetic two-year battle to keep the children of undocumented immigrants — “fraudulent learners” — out of school was unconstitutional. Like many, many others, Motshekga, amazingly, still has her job. 

It’s been grim. Unemployment continues to spiral out of control. The economy’s punch drunk on its knees. Eskom is an ongoing disaster. The airline’s practically junked. The railways are a train smash. The schools are crap. The police are useless. The health services are a sick joke. The municipalities don’t work. And so much more besides. Ultimately, it was all due to the efforts of one man…


The decade was his for the taking. All seemed peaches back in 2010. He married a fifth wife. He also fathered a daughter with the daughter of a friend, soccer boss Irvin Khoza. The careers of other family members took off dramatically. The president’s enormous nephew, Khulubuse, a taxi owner, benefitted from lucrative oil deals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His son, Duduzane, copped a cool R1 billion in some dodgy business with steel giant AccelorMittal. 

Other children would not fare as well. The alleged cigarette smuggler Edward, for example, born out of wedlock, became his father’s fiercest defender in a bid to be showered with the sort of largesse that had been bestowed on his siblings. And then there was the hapless Zimbabwean “illegal” who’d strolled into a Westville police station, claiming to be another of Zuma’s many love children. “He was very tired,” a police officer said, “and he kept on asking us to take him to Nkandla so he could meet his ‘relatives’. I don’t know whether he is or isn’t Zuma’s child, but he sure does look like him.”

More prestigiously, there came an invitation to Buckingham Palace. Not all Britons were pleased. “Jacob Zuma is a sex-obsessed bigot with four wives and 35 children,” columnist Stephen Robinson wrote in March 2010. “So why is Britain fawning over this vile buffoon?” The trip to see the Queen, I would argue, probably offered Zuma his first real insights into unfettered entitlement. And, no doubt, some ideas about was due to him. His own court of acolytes and supporters would swell over the years to include: 

King Goodwill Zwelithini, scourge of foreign shop owners and big cheese in the virginity testing game;

Hlaudi Motsoeneng, idiot praise singer who crippled the SABC; 

Dudu Miyeni, the “special friend” who all but grounded SAA; 

Julius Malema, who as president of the ANC Youth League had once vowed to “kill for his president” but would fall from grace to become his sworn enemy and launch the Economic Freedom Fighters, the country’s first true fascist movement since the Ossewa Brandwag, after a failed career as a cabbage farmer; 

Ace Magashule, former Free State premier with an unusual regard for art that doesn’t belong to him and who, as ANC secretary-general, continues to bat for Accused Number One in a manner that must surely trouble Cyril Ramaphosa;

Fikile Mbalula, a smallish person who has made biggish noises to no great effect during spells as sports minister and police minister — his advice to both the Springboks and the cops was interchangeable: “Moer them!” — and who, as current transport minister, now believes the country needs more ships it can sink;

Malusi Gigaba, who started his ministerial career in charge of the home affairs portfolio, then moved on to public enterprises, then finance, before being moved back to home affairs so he could screw that up all over again and, speaking of which, did have time to fit in a rather messy public adulterous affair as well;

Baleka Mbete, who as Speaker, did much to deflect criticism from Zuma during all those motions of no confidence debates;

Lindiwe Zulu, minister of small business development, a not altogether demanding portfolio considering the lack of small business to develop, and who otherwise would gladly have others take a punch for her president; and

David “The Cat” Mabuza, the deputy president and a man described by the New York Times in 2018 as “one of South African’s most dangerous [leaders]. Nearly 20 politicians, most from inside the ANC, were assassinated in the past two decades, some after exposing graft in public works projects” in Mpumalanga during his premiership. Mabuza, coincidentally, had an unfortunate start to the decade when a large sum of cash, allegedly R14 million, was stolen from his home. Provincial crime authorities, however, insisted that it was only R1 200. Mabuza later reported that “only” R4 million was missing.

Zuma would end the decade with another flight, this time to Cuba, where it was reported that he was seeking treatment to recover from an alleged poisoning by wife number two, the estranged Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma. At the time, 2014, there were dark rumours of an affair with a bodyguard who had mysteriously disappeared. The trip to Havana coincidentally meant that Zuma was not able to make a scheduled appearance before the Zondo state capture inquiry. The treatment there seems to have been successful; uBaba was photographed on a return Air France flight and he seemed in fine fettle, full of that Schabir Shaik mojo.


It was first reported in November 2010 that Ajay, Atul and Rajesh were using the Zoo Lake grounds as a personal helipad. The City of Johannesburg’s parks department had specifically denied them permission to do so in 2007 but the brothers, emboldened by their burgeoning relationship with the Zuma administration, brazenly ramped up the landings in 2010, with passengers ferried to and from the Gupta’s Saxonwold compound in blue light convoys.

They denied all wrongdoing, with spokesman Gary Naidoo saying, “The family is committed to being good corporate citizens and as such they will never act outside of any of this country’s laws or regulations.” It later transpired that the “shadow government” flew and landed where they pleased. It was their last flights, however, that were the most controversial, the ones they took out the country, along with our money.


Cape Town artist Brett Murray inadvertently launched a movement with The Spear, his portrait of Jacob Zuma. The painting, styled after a propaganda poster of Lenin, but with the president’s mshini poking out his trousers, was the least coruscating, least subtle and least effective of the works in Murray’s May 2012 exhibition, Hail to the Thief II, a show that heaped scorn upon the ruling party’s elite. But it was The Spear the ANC marched against, vowing to have it removed from the Johannesburg gallery where it was well hung. There was even dark talk of a plot “to dismember the symbols and the representative of the ANC, chief amongst them, the President of the ANC”. The painting was eventually vandalised, which greatly elevated its status as conceptual art. 

The glans celebre that followed inspired another artist, Ayanda Mabulu, to turn out several paintings of Accused Number One and his not-so-little chap. These were extremely graphic and would no doubt have startled even the most widely travelled of horses. Despite the headlines, critics weren’t that impressed. Mabulu continues to follow his muse.


State capture. Load-shedding. Blesser. Expropriation without compensation. Saxonwold shebeen. White monopoly capital. Fake news. Social justice warrior. Snowflake. Fire-pool. Cockroach. Inter-sectional oppression. Eleventy. Rhodes must fall. Social justice warrior. Vowelence. 


Well, the way Julius Malema pronounces the word, and he uses it often, is an assault on the ears.


In January 2010, professional UCT politics student Chumani Maxwele flipped the middle finger to Jacob Zuma’s blue light convoy while out jogging on what was then Rhodes Drive. As a result, he was unceremoniously handcuffed and hooded, then bundled into a police VIP protection vehicle and held in custody for 24 hours where he was interrogated by “intelligence” agents. 

Five years later, Maxwele was flinging chemically-treated faeces from a porta-loo at the statue of Cecil John Rhodes at the foot UCT’s Jameson Steps. “As black students,” he declared, “we are disgusted by the fact that this statue still stands here today as it is a symbol of white supremacy. How we can be living in a time of transformation when this statue still stands and our hall is named after (Leander Starr) Jameson, who was a brutal lieutenant under Rhodes. This poo that we are throwing on the statue represents the shame of black people. By throwing it on the statue we are throwing our shame to whites’ affluence. As black students here we have to change our ways just to fit in, and we have to keep quiet for almost three years before we can speak in the classrooms. It is time for all of that to change.”

The Rhodes Must Fall movement had started, and just look at all the kak that followed.


Despite all the symptoms, this has yet to be considered a form of mental illness.


He had the good Grace to finally die. Kept alive for years by “vampire” doctors in Singapore, the Zimbabwean leader passed away in September, allegedly after being IV’d a pint of his own blood in a transfusion mishap. There was no truth in the rumour that this “clinical error” was related to his ouster as president in November 2017 and that he no longer had access to public funds to pay for his treatments. There was some controversy surrounding his funeral, and for several days his coffin made impromptu appearances at various locations in and around Harare, leading to fears that he could, in fact, still be alive. Mugabe was 157.


Vuvuzelas? Whose bloody stupid idea was that? Despite the cacophony, the event was a success — even though this was the first ever tournament in which the host nation had been knocked out in the first round. The ugliness started soon after the final whistle (Spain 1, Netherlands 0) and everyone had buggered off home. There was grumbling about all the white elephant stadiums that Fifa boss Sepp Blatter had insisted on. A 2015 investigation into widespread corruption and bribery among top executives with football’s governing body, it was reported that votes were “deliberately miscounted” to give the tournament to South Africa and deny ballot-winners Morocco the opportunity. 

In light of the scandal, Safa boss Danny Jordaan, looking more and more like a hessian sack of potatoes with each passing year, would admit that he paid $10 million to a Caribbean football body, but glibly denied this had been a bribe to host the tournament. He would later shrug off allegations that he had raped the singer and fellow ANC member Jennifer Ferguson. In fact, the only time Jordaan appeared vaguely troubled in the decade was when the party made him mayor of Port Elizabeth. They may be unaware of such things in football, but in rugby circles this is what is known as a hospital pass. Earlier this month, Jordaan withdrew South Africa’s bid to host the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup.


Her decade began by having a cow at her former husband. “Mandela let us down,” she complained to the London Evening Standard in March 2010. “He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks. Economically, we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who have gave their life in the struggle had died unrewarded.”

Nelson Mandela would make his last public appearance at the closing ceremony of the 2010 Fifa World Cup. When he died, in December 2013, Winnie was reportedly by his side — and not his wife, Graca Machel. So began the long and unseemly squabbling in the family over the Madiba legacy. When Winnie died, in April 2018, the EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema publicly vowed that he would name every airport, every city and every mountain in the country after his adopted “mother of the nation”.


Just before she boarded a December 2013 flight from London to Cape Town, 30-year-old Justine Sacco, a South African-born corporate communications executive with a New York-based internet firm, tweeted what she considered a parody of an ignorant racist’s views to her 170 followers: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!”

Landing in Cape Town 11 hours later, Sacco switched on her phone to discover to her horror that she had been fired from her job mid-flight and was the number one Twitter topic worldwide with celebrities and activist bloggers denouncing her and expressing delight at the loss of her career. Social media’s true potential as an instrument of woke tyranny and a means to bully, shame and vilify targets had been realised.  

In South Africa, outraged outbursts on social media, wether fake or real, claimed several scalps, most notably that of former KwaZulu-Natal South Coast estate agent Penny Sparrow, an elderly woman whose hare-brained comments about “monkeys” and their litter following a 2016 New Year’s beach party would result in her becoming the first person to be convicted of crimen injuria for a racist slur in post-apartheid South Africa. She was fined R5 000 by the Scottburgh Magistrate’s Court after pleading guilty. Before that the Umzinto Equality Court had ordered her to pay R150 000 to the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation.

In a June 2016 interview Sparrow told News24 that she was threatened with rape and that her house would be bombed when her post went viral. Asked how she felt about being labelled “SA’s number one racist”, she replied: “I’m saddened to hear that. I’m so saddened to hear that because I am not. I have never used the K-word. It doesn’t even live in my vocabulary… They are human beings to me and I have accepted the change and it is wonderful… I am not a racist, let alone number one, definitely not. I’m really not.” Sparrow died after a battle with colon cancer in July this year. But it could be argued that she was hounded to death, the victim of a toxic self-righteousness. 

On the plus side, former Western Cape premier Helen Zille continues in her crusade to make Twitter a safe place for rational debate and is taking the fight to the mobs and haters. Until then, it’s worth recalling Nietzsche’s advice that it’s best to be wary of those in whom the urge to punish is strong. Especially on social media.


Oh dear, but it’s Carl Niehaus, famous Zumanatic. His decade was, uh, otherwise. In February 2009, following a spectacular public meltdown on talk radio in which he admitted maladministration of his own finances, extensive borrowing from political contacts and fraud, this famous warrior poet and all-round liar resigned in disgrace as ANC spokesman. 

Among the revelations to have emerged was that in 2004 Niehaus claimed his sister had died and he needed the money to fly to London to arrange her funeral. At the time he was working as a consultant with law firm AL Mostert who paid him about R100 000 a month. They granted Niehaus a loan and he duly flew off to the UK with his wife, Linda Thango, who was also employed by AL Mostert. Shortly before their return, staff at the firm had arranged flowers for the couple. When Thango saw them, first day back at work, she asked what they were for and was told they were a gesture from the staff in sympathy for the death of her sister-in-law. “When did that happen?” Thango reportedly said. “We were with her yesterday!” Niehaus, who was outside parking his car, was fired immediately.

The ruling party was perhaps more sympathetic in its treatment of Niehaus and kindly suggested he seek counselling and “rebuild and reconstruct his life”. He didn’t try very hard. When he next surfaced, in May 2012, it transpired that Niehaus was still running up massive debts and had cadged money from Andries Nel, currently cooperative governance and traditional affairs deputy minister, to cover funeral expenses for his father. Unfortunately Nel tried to attend the funeral — only to discover that Niehaus’s father was then still very much alive.

That year, an East London travel agent, Cheryl Clus, told The Star that Niehaus had bummed a R100 000 Mauritian family holiday from her company saying he “was ill with leukaemia”. She thought he would pay her back, but he disappeared after paying her R25 000. When she finally caught up with him, he was working for Rhema Church — go figure — and insisted that he owed her nothing.

In December 2017 it was reported that Niehaus had now “killed off” his mother, Magrietha Niehaus, in an eloborate hoax to avoid paying a R4.3-million debt, which he owed to a former landlord for the rental of two luxury Sandton apartments, as well as damage to expensive furnishings and artwork‚ unpaid concierge charges and interest. To avoid legal action, he claimed that his mother had died and he was due a generous inheritance‚ which would settle his debt. Other members of his family reported that Magrietha, then 88, was alive and well, living in a home for the elderly in Johannesburg.

Despite such shameful behaviour, Niehaus continues to show his face in public, and turns out in combat fatigues whenever there is a photo opportunity. Patient journalists are sometimes rewarded with impromptu revolutionary songs and jerky dancing displays.


“I didn’t see you at this morning’s MK veterans’ camouflage course, Comrade Carl.”

“Thank you, Comrade Kebbie.”


In 2010, one US dollar cost about seven rand. Now it's more than R14.


The EFF has declared that it is going to war against the financial sector and Cyril Ramaphosa’s government. Should we worry? Maybe, given what has happened to VBS Mutual Bank. But we shall see… 

Until then, take it easy over the festive season.