Jeremy Gordin's Pork Potsticker Awards

Our judges, journos and politicians compete for the most prestigious prize of them all

The following is the draft text of the remarks I intend to make at the biannual Pork Potsticker Awards, comments I shall be forced to make on Zoom, much as I (a certified oldster) dislike using such insentient devices.

Dear Friends and Enemies, Ab initio let me make it clear that I am not insensitive to the possibility that those who subscribe to kashrut or Islamic dietary laws might feel alienated by and deeply uncomfortable with the name of this award, not to mention the prizes given.

I apologize unreservedly for this but, as I trust will be later demonstrated, sometimes one is required to make certain necessary compromises in the interests of furthering a democratic South Africa.

These awards, as you might know, have been arranged as a sort of adjunct to the Taco Kuiper and similar journalism awards. However, in the furtherance of a non-sexist, equitable and democratic South Africa, the Pork Potsticker Awards are also open to politicians, jurists, and many, many others.

The awards are in fact aimed at people who, in the normal course of events, would probably never receive one. A colleague remarked to me once that I had as much chance of winning a certain award as being bitten to death by a donkey. Well, let me state unequivocally that these awards are for all those people who have experienced moments of disconsolately looking around for a rabid donkey – and which of us has not?

There are 10 awards, which I shall enumerate and describe – in order of ascending importance. The value or rather the “volume” of the prizes will be in terms of the award level. I.e., the winner or winners of the first award mentioned will get one bonus pork potsticker as well as one fried egg (sunny side up) to rub all over his/her or their faces, and so on, with the top winner or winners each receiving 10 potstickers and fried eggs. 

The first is the Headlines Not Quite on the Money Merit Certificate. And the winner is .... the unknown sub-editor or editor on news24.com for the following headline on April 6: “Corruption-accused Zuma questions post-apartheid SA’s ‘constitutional democracy’”.

Gedleyihlekisa Z wasn’t doing any such petit-bourgeois or intemellectual thing. What he was doing was telling the Concourt and everyone else to get knotted. Viva! Matla! For this reason, you or you-plural are indeed the rightful winner/s.

Second is the Foot Put in Big Mouth Rosette. And the winner is ... the even-tempered and admirable deputy ANC SG, Jessie Duarte, for stating semi-publicly on or about April 13 that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was her “greatest disappointment” because he “behaves as if he has no understanding of the constitution ...”

It is also understood that Ms Duarte does not have a BA LLB; this serves to make her contribution to jurisprudential and constitutional discussions even more praiseworthy [1].

The third is the Look in Mirror before Opening Your Big Mouth Badge. And the winner is ... Field Marshal, Admiral, and First Sea Lord Julius Malema, who, as a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), accused one of the Constitutional Court candidates, Judge Dhaya Pillay, of being “nothing but a political activist”.

Who said the EFF generalissimo has no sense-of-humour?

The fourth and fifth awards have on this occasion been combined; they are the Somewhat Out Over Your Skis and the Sheer Historical & Other Ignorance Participation Trophy. And the winners are ... Judy Favish, Usuf Chikte, and Roshan Dadoo of the SA BDS Coalition.

In their letter of 12 April, in which they objected to the possibility of Judge David Unterhalter being considered for a position in the ConCourt, they stated inter alia that the SA Jewish Board of Deputies “had a sordid [sic] history of hurling allegations of antisemitism against people in South Africa who advocate for Palestinian rights” and that the SAJBD was “akin to the Broederbond”.

“Oy,” said a former SAJBD member to me, “if only the board were as exciting or effective as the Broederbond allegedly was. Those three beauties should be forced to sit through a board meeting. That’ll not only learn them but give them tender tuchises as well.”

Above all, however, the three win this award not only for having issued their missive after Unterhalter had already resigned from the SAJBD (of which more later) but also for even thinking that the good judge had a snowball’s hope in hell of being short-listed in the first place. Worthy winners indeed [2].

The sixth award is the Foolishness Without Borders Cup. And the winners (on two counts) are ... the various commissioners and judges at the JSC – i.e., those responsible for vetting potential Concourt judges – who this week asked the forementioned Unterhalter whether he had sufficient expertise to be on the Concourt.

Having made discreet enquiries, I find it is common cause among SA law people that Unterhalter is one of the cleverest and most learned judges around (not that he’d have too much competition in the ConCourt).

One leading silk said: “... it’d be tragic if Unterhalter is shunted aside ... he’s the only one with an intellectual gravitas matching [Edwin] Cameron’s ...”. Meanwhile, advocate Mark Oppenheimer said in this week’s Jewish Report that Unterhalter was “internationally regarded as a jurist of the highest calibre”.

The second count (or reason) why these commissioners and judges have won is that they acquitted themselves brilliantly in their merciless asking of moronic and humiliating questions that no civilised human being, let alone a judge with an impeccable record, should be publicly required to answer.

The seventh award is the Chief Justice's Nuttiness Nuttiness Medal. And the winner is ... remarkably (or not) ... Mogoeng Mogoeng himself.  He receives the award for suddenly recalling, during this week’s JSC proceedings, that Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan popped by five years ago for no apparent reason other than to ask how Gordhan’s comrade, Judge Dhaya Pillay, was faring in her 2016 (unsuccessful) attempt to get into the ConCourt (q.v. the third award above and Malema).

As a result, the EFF’s Floyd “Pretty Boy” Shivambu immediately announced his intent to bustle off and open a criminal case against Gordhan for improperly trying to influence the CJ.

The CJ had his sudden memory infarction with such savoir faire and elegance that he easily won this award against some stiff competition [3]. However, I feel it incumbent on me to note that some objections to the CJ’s win have already been tabled [4], which the judges’ panel will investigate following a soon-to-be-arranged commission of inquiry.

The eighth award is the much-coveted Geoffrey Dawson Prize for SA journalism. This has been won hands down by Chris Roper for his piece of April 15, “How the media broke the news”.

In this remarkable piece of wide-ranging investigative journalism, Mr Roper showed that “much of the breathless reporting of UCT lecturer Lwazi Lushaba’s now-infamous political science lecture was foolishly based on 12 seconds of a 55-minute video” – and that context is, after all, everything.

In the view of the judges, Roper clearly proved that equating the holocaust with still horrific but factually smaller crimes is by no means a diminishment or diminution of the former. How could it be?

Roper also clearly demonstrated that Dr Lushaba’s apparent belief that Europeans never killed each other in large numbers until the holocaust, and consequently did not notice such things until the holocaust, does not of course disqualify Lushaba from being an academic at a world-class university; how could it?

Additionally, that Dr Lushaba failed to note that the German atrocities against the Herero were painstakingly documented by the Union of South Africa government in 1918, which is one reason why we know about them, is obviously irrelevant. Roper is another worthy winner [5].

The ninth award, The Maimonides Prize, unfortunately requires some detailed background. But, in the interests of brevity, I shall put my background remarks in an endnote below [6], only picking up my last few endnote sentences here.

Maimonides was among other things an extremely clever (and doubtless prescient) person who – one doesn’t need much imagination to realize – was a champion at manoeuvring adeptly and elegantly when it came to debate. He needed to be if he wanted to hold onto his life.

Now, even before the forementioned love-letter had been dispatched to the JSC by the SA BDS Coalition (q.v. fourth and fifth awards above), Judge David Unterhalter had resigned from the SA Jewish Board of Deputies – for an ostensibly good reason. He said the SAJBD had sometimes engaged in litigation against hate speech concerning antisemitism and on occasion, matters had gone to the Constitutional Court.

“It did seem to me that in those circumstances,” Unterhalter said, “if I was going to offer myself as a candidate for judicial office in the Constitutional Court it would be appropriate to step away from [the SAJBD] because it does have this role [engaging in litigation against hate speech].”

Adept and elegant. And yet the Pork Potsticker judges couldn’t help pondering the words of Professor Milton Shain. In the Jewish Report, he said – vis-à-vis the BDS darlings, mind you – “Identifying as harmful to career prospects involvement in a legitimate Jewish organisation which serves a specific minority that enjoys full constitutional rights reeks of antisemitism.”

Indeed. And so, the Pork Potsticker judges said to themselves: surely, what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander – why would Unterhalter feel it necessary to quit the SAJBD of his own volition? Did he, so to speak, have to “convert” (like Maimonides) – or should he have simply stood up for his heritage? (He wouldn’t have lost his head.) What price the Concourt?

It’s one thing to go through three years of high court hell – the pretty boring cases, the inelegant (and on one occasion dangerous) accommodations, the less than outstanding colleagues, the crummy salary (relative to what he’s used to earning) – in the hope of achieving a prized goal. But still, doesn’t one have to draw the line somewhere? In the end, sadly, the good judge didn’t get what he wanted anyway.

Well, you judge for yourselves, as a certain somewhat self-righteous judge has been heard to say. We, the Pork Potsticker judges, have awarded Unterhalter The Maimonides prize.

The tenth award is the Demographic Representivity For Me But Not For Thee Shield.  And the winners are ... again! ... all those on the JSC, the various commissioners and judges, especially those responsible for vetting potential ConCourt judges, and all those responsible for the JSC (President Ramaphosa, hmm).

For years JSC members have enjoyed taunting white candidates for judicial office by asking them how their appointment would promote “transformation", and then deftly blocking them on the basis that the Constitution had decreed that “The need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of SA must be considered when judicial officers are appointed.”

Underhalter’s candidacy presented something of a googly however as there are no whites left on the ConCourt and the “representivity” principle would, in theory, now work in his favour.

Alas and alack, Unterhalter apparently lacked the necessary experience. Only three years on the high court? Never served on the ConCourt? Oh dear. Can’t have unqualified judges on our highest court now, can we?

Well played, chaps. Some will say that it’s politically stupid to make the Concourt an all-black domain. Pay no attention to them.

You have restored the faith of all the Pork Potsticker judges and others. We had doubts – but now know that the impetus of racial nationalism (whatever the colour) of the majoritarian type is a snowball that can never be stopped. Viva!

Thank you & good night.


[1] If I might be permitted a personal note: Ms Duarte, you are one of my greatest personal disappointments, which makes your work all the more laudable.

[2] At this point, I regretfully find it necessary to mention – to protect the Pork Potsticker Awards from any later embarrassment, as unfortunately happened to another major journalism award – that if it is discovered that Favish et al were assisted in any way in their letter-writing by anyone else (e.g., BDS stalwart Ronnie Kasrils or Professor Doctor Steven Friedman), they will lose the award and be asked to return their potstickers and eggs.

[3] Both former president Jacob G Zuma and Gordhan were both strong contenders for this award – Zuma for his 11th hour letter to the Concourt on Wednesday, explaining (sort of) why he would not be filing an affidavit and would “[f]or the cause of constitutional rights ... walk in [into?] jail as the first prisoner of the Constitutional Court”; and Gordhan for quickly writing to the JSC to explain what had really happened at his meeting with the CJ in April 2016. (Of all people, Gordhan ought to know by now that truth and accuracy don’t cut any mustard in this democracy.) Unfortunately, both these letters were disqualified because neither was timeously received. 

[4] It has been suggested anonymously that the CJ had his sudden onset of memory very consciously. I.e., that he had been tipped off, possibly by Judge Dhaya, that Malema was going to ask about Gordhan’s 2016 visit – and he therefore sought to throw water on little Julie’s planned bonfire and in a way take a bullet for both Dhaya and Gordhan. (Better coming from the CJ, who has broad shoulders and is generally impervious, than from Malema.) If this is shown to be so, then, regretfully, the CJ will have to return his eponymous award. Likewise, but au contraire, if it is proven that the CJ did this to curry (as it were) favour with Zuma et al, he shall also have to return his award.

[5] The judges would like to thank eminent journalist Richard Poplak for his assistance in persuading us to choose Roper for this award. Poplak tweeted that “South Africa should probably read this piece by Chris Roper very carefully”.

[6] Moses ben Maimon was a medieval Sephardic (Spanish) Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, a preeminent astronomer and physician, and (later) a prominent philosopher and polymath in both the Jewish and Islamic worlds. Unfortunately for him, roughly his first 30 years were blighted by the invasion of southern Spain (his home) and by other areas in North Africa by a Berber dynasty, the Almohads.

The Almohads were clear and to the point: Jewish and Christian communities could choose between conversion to Islam, death, or exile. No commissions of inquiry, no Concourt. Needless to say, conversion was completely unthinkable to Maimonides and his family (his father was also a rabbi and religious judge, dayan). His family therefore chose exile.

However, it has been cogently argued by a number of modern, eminent (and sympathetic) scholars that, before fleeing, Maimonides did convert, or feigned conversion – or he would have been killed. Whatever the case, Maimonides himself never (for obvious reasons) mentioned his “conversion” (feigned or otherwise) and, for the last 36 or so years of his life, he settled “happily” in Egypt where the Fatimid Caliphate was (relatively) kinder to Jews and where Maimonides became the personal physician (and apparently friend) of the then governor, Grand Vizier al-Qadi al Fadil.

Then unexpectedly, after he’d been living for some years in Egypt, a rival “thinker” arrived in town and raised the issue of Maimonides’ conversion – remember that to convert to Islam, to give your oath, and then renege on that conversion was a capital crime tout court. (Incidentally, the documentation relating to this incident does alas suggest that Maimonides had indeed converted or feigned conversion.) This unexpected occurrence was something like, for example, the CJ suddenly remembering in the middle of the JSC procedure that Pravin Gordhan had tried to “influence” him five years previously (q.v. seventh award and endnotes above).

You can imagine how Maimonides felt – as bad as Judge Dhaya, but worse – since Maimonides could have lost his head, literally. However, as noted, Maimonides was the physician to and friend of the local vizier and chief religious judge, who found that a “forced conversion” was, in terms of Islamic law, obviously invalid. It is not always what you know but who you know. And it also does not do any harm if you are extremely clever and a full-on champion of adept and elegant verbal maneuvering.