Jeremy Gordin asks what unifying call to arms the President can make at a time like this?
Last week readers might have noticed that I evinced a modicum of sympathy for alleged parliamentary arsonist Zandile Christmas Mafe, whom a district surgeon diagnosed as suffering from a type of “schizophrenia” – generally defined as a “mentality or approach characterized by inconsistent or contradictory elements” [i].
The reason for my empathy is that there exists a (mostly) hidden part of me, a part that in moments of weakness and vulnerability plunges me helplessly into embracing inter alia political correctness, virtue signalling, leftist gobbledygook, and – above all – pseudo-intellectuality.
I mention this by way of explaining that, when I am in such a (fugue?) state, I would not, for example, publicly admit to having thoroughly enjoyed an apparently shallow recreational movie such as Thor: Ragnarok, a 2017 American superhero film about Marvel Comics character Thor, produced by Marvel Studios, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
But the real me loved it – especially because of (what real intemellectuals might term) the “leavening humour” of a minor character named Korg – an eight-foot tall Kronan warrior made of stone (as Kronans are [ii]), who is “played” (or “voiced”) by director Taika Waititi [iii].
Waititi had said he “wanted to do something different [in this movie],” and this he did by having the ostensibly menacing Korg being softly spoken and self-deprecating in an accent based, said Waititi, on that (or those) of “Polynesian bouncers”. Apparently, Polynesian males, generally being large albeit kind fellows, often find work playing rugby or being bouncers. So, as those who’ve watched the movie know, scary-looking Korg is quietly spoken and hilarious in what to most of us seems a Kiwi accent.
Who can forget the moment when Thor asks Korg, “How did you end up here [fighting in a gladiatorial arena]?” And Korg explains: “I tried to start a revolution... but I didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum [iv] and her boyfriend, who I hate. As punishment, I was forced to be in here and become a gladiator. Bit of a promotional disaster that one, but I’m actually organizing another revolution. I don’t know if you'd be interested in something like that. Do you reckon you’d be interested?” (Well, maybe you had to be there, so to speak.)
In case I’ve lost you, my point (or one of them) is that the movie is (nominally) about Ragnarök, which is Old Norse for “Doom of the Gods”. In Scandinavian mythology, it is that moment when the world of gods and men will implode and explode. Giants and demons approaching from all points of the compass will attack the gods, who will face them and die.
I.e., it’s classic end of the world stuff – so for people like Waititi, me, and I hope others, there must be some funny stuff. If you think about it, laughing in the face of cataclysmic disaster is one of the few things we humans do well, probably better than any other species.
Now then – sorry (again) I’ve taken so long to get here – on recent mornings, following the publication of RW Johnson’s incisive “South Africa’s very own Reichstag fire”,I have woken up with the word Götterdämmerung in my mind and on the tip of my tongue. As you probably know, Götterdämmerung literally means “twilight of the gods” and it is a direct translation into German of Ragnarök and used to describe situations of world-altering destruction marked by extreme chaos and violence. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
No great mystery, you might say. Even though I seldom dream in German, and never listen to Richard Wagner (the last of his cycle of four music dramas is called “Götterdämmerung”), the word “Reichstag,” which has frightening connotations for me, doubtless led my unconscious to “Götterdämmerung”.
What’s more, although RWJ mentioned that parliament’s sprinkler system didn’t work, that the CCTV system apparently went unmonitored by the police, and that the building’s fire alarms only went off well after the fire brigade had arrived – thus making the fire a characteristically South African tableau – he did not note that what made the fire an even more quintessential Seffrican event was that we had our own Korg (though hardly, it seems, as charming a character) – Zandile Christmas Mafe (see paragraph one above).
And goodness me, today being Thursday, tonight at 7pm, President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to deliver the state of the nation address (SONA), an event “called” by the state president in terms of Section 42(5) of the Constitution. This is a joint sitting of the two houses of parliament and one of the rare occasions on which, as has been written, the “three arms of the state” can be found together under one roof. Which presents, if you think about it, an odd image – of the State as a sadly truncated version of the four-armed Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
And double goodness me, thanks to the alleged activities of Mafe, the roof under which the state’s three arms usually clasp one another, or are supposed to do so, has been ravaged by fire and thus SONA will tonight be presented in the Cape Town city hall [v].
Götterdämmerung Seffrican-style, indeed.
And this is so not just because major parts of the National Assembly and Old Assembly are ash. As RWJ and others have pointed out tirelessly on Politicsweb, the beloved country really is screwed. Even I, in one of my forementioned fugue states, am able to see that.
The unemployment rate, under the expanded definition, which includes discouraged jobseekers, stands at 46,6%, with youth unemployment pegged at about 70%. Our institutions – Eskom, SAA, the railways, the ministry of water affairs, the post office, the land bank, the civil service, the police – all are mere husks, as is the mining sector. And the judiciary and the universities are not looking so lekker either.
You might also have heard of rampant corruption – and incompetence – at various levels of government; cf. the Zondo reports, for what they’re worth in terms of practical application. Talking of which, the so-called governing party is clearly in a mess, as is the government.
The report [vi] by the presidential panel tasked with looking into July 2021’s violent civil unrest (in which at least 354 fellow Seffricans perished) remarked that as to the question of “whether the response by the security services was timeous, appropriate and sufficient”, the answer was “an unequivocal no”.
It added: “Perhaps the most significant input made, which we heard several times, was that what appear[s] to be factional battles in the African National Congress, have become a serious source of instability in the country”.
I shan’t go on. Functus officio is a legal term you might have heard. When used to describe a court, it refers to one whose duty or authority has come to an end: “Once a court has passed a valid sentence after a lawful hearing, it becomes functus officio and cannot reopen the case.” [vii]
Although the ANC’s reign has hardly been lawful, I say it is functus officio; and I say that South Africa and its peoples are fuctus [sic] officio.
Still, being a curious person, I wonder what words of comfort, what unifying call-to-arms, our president can make during this time of Götterdämmerung?
It’s dicey, of course, to make predictions about the content of something before it’s happened. Will the president talk tonight, as the ever-sunny Ferial Haffajee has suggested, about the vaccine drive, his presidential jobs plan, the switch to digital, and the licensing of spectrum?
Or might he even say some things that are faintly meaningful or practically applicable regarding the country’s plight (such as, to begin with, his decision to appoint a completely new cabinet?). Might he even inject some humour, which Waititi, me, and others would like?
One does, after all, want to cut the fellow some slack if only because he’s a fellow frog in slowly boiling water, which is boiling ever faster [viii].
Sam Goldfish (aka Goldwyn) allegedly said about a film script, “I read part of it all the way through”. Well, during the past quarter of a century, I have listened to all or most of all the SONAs part of the way through; and, though I don’t mean to be a party pooper (like the collective UK parliament), I’m not going to be holding my breath, or even listening.
I’d rather watch a movie, any movie. Or work on my nascent script, tentatively titled TheGreat Parliamentary Fire: The Return of Korg[ix].
[i] Personally, I prefer Walt Whitman’s gentler “definition” in Song of Myself:
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
[ii] Kronans are a semi-humanoid race, also known as “the Stone Men of Saturn,” whose orange bodies are silicon-based and 8 feet (2,4m) tall on average, with thick, virtually impenetrable stone-like hides. They are an entirely male species with no female counterpart. As explained, Kronans reproduce by taking another Kronan, or other stone-based sentients, and join hands in a river of lava for three days, after which an infant will grow and develop. This suggests, alas, that Kronans might soon be “cancelled,” certainly in Hollywood.
[iii] A New Zealand filmmaker, actor, and comedian whose birth name was Taika David Cohen. As Bernard Malamud’s Manischewitz remarks to his wife at the end of the short story Angel Levine, “A wonderful thing, Leyka, there are Jews everywhere”.
[iv] See endnote [ii] above – Korg shouldn’t, strictly-speaking, have a “mum”. Maybe some Oedipal issues here or possibly Korg’s “mum” was transgender.
[v] Which could mean, by the way, that for “technological” reasons, those of us not there might (thankfully?) miss much of it.
[vi] Hidden for some months in the president’s bottom drawer ... well, you can’t blame him. “What the eye doesn’t see, the heart shouldn’t grieve over,” as I repeatedly used to mention in my youth to intimate friends of the gender different to mine.
[vii] Which was why, incidentally, the Concourt should never even have entertained Jacob Zuma’s appeal against his 15-month jail term for contempt; the Concourt was strictly speaking functus officio.
[viii] Know that poem, attributed in 1922 to “a young Norwegian in Chicago”?
What a queer bird, the frog are When he sit he stand (almost) When he walk he fly (almost) When he talk he cry (almost) He ain’t got no sense, hardly He ain’t got no tail, neither, hardly He sit on what he ain’t got hardly.
[ix] Readers are welcome to find out about the progress of the script by writing to the editor, who will onpass such requests to me.