A FAMOUS GROUSE
A RECURRING contradiction can be found in the history of witchcraft: a desire to dismiss those who allegedly dabble in the practice as foolish and deluded, while punishing them severely for the harm they allegedly inflict on others with their dark arts.
So writes Marina Warner, contributing editor at the London Review of Books, in a slim anthology on the subject. It is a “cruel paradox”, she states, “that the most dedicated believers in witchcraft were not the witches and their clients, but their persecutors”.
Down the ages, witches have been cast as poor, uneducated and often delusional women, and yet they instilled dread in learned men in the courts and synods, council chambers and the academies.
Warner writes: “Fear of witches, suspicion of the practice of witchcraft, and the suggestibility of the human mind must count among the most appalling dangers to civil peace and social unity, and the patterns and consequences repeat, as we know, through other malignant episodes.”
The interests of civil peace and suchlike are however trumped when proof of witchcraft is absolutely and utterly incontrovertible. It is at such times that we are luckily able to draw on the services of the country’s most seasoned witch hunter, the public intellectual Eusebius McKaiser.
Here indeed is a self-proclaimed expert and witches trifle with him at their peril. Outwardly benign in appearance and civil in manner, he evinces none of the salacious glee or bloodthirstiness characteristic of the baying mob; the ceremonial flicking of the Bic come pyre time, for instance, is way beneath his stature and dignity.
No, that sort of thing is best left to Fraud Shivambu and other low, showy types who seek to lead the pitchforked rabble with noisy slogans and exhortations to violence.
McKaiser instead approaches his responsibilities with the same measured rationale that on many an occasion saw him lift the world heavyweight debating championship belt during his time at Oxford. So be warned: that placid Buddha-like exterior masks a zealous guile unmatched since the time of Torquemada. Our very own grand inquisitor can seemingly peer into the souls of all humankind. Eye contact is therefore best avoided in his presence.
The latest in a long line of wretches to have come before him is of course eNCA reporter Lindsay Dentlinger, accused of selective sorcery and seeking to strip certain parliamentarians of their humanity by directing them wear face masks during interviews.
McKaiser took to Instagram to declare that the presumption of witchcraft levelled against the journalist is justified. As a pasella, he offered tips on how to “read evidence” of apparent witchcraft and a few thoughts about “unconscious” wizardry.
It was an occasion marked by piety, forbearance and gratuitous italics in which McKaiser addressed the accused directly, and it went a bit like this:
“But you cannot embark on a journey of self-examination unless you actually acknowledge, for better or worse, that you have magic powers that you were not aware of. Not being aware that you are a witch is not an excuse or mitigation. You must recognise it as a failure about yourself. That you are friends with one or two non-witches at the office doesn’t let you off the hook. Because we can be witches in certain areas of our life, and even if the group we are accused of bewitching consists of individual members that we sometimes greet in the morning … well, it’s simply just not good enough to say that some of my best friends are not witches. It simply does not work like that…”
It therefore fell upon Dentlinger herself to prove she is not a witch. Previous experience reveals a number of possible methods. Among the surest is a simple leap from the nearest ivory tower. If she falls to her death, she’s innocent. But should she actually soar above the rooftops? Then for her sake, she’d better keep on flying to some far off place where she will be safe from the orcs.
And the orcs are certainly massing. One principal among them, ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, has written to eNCA on behalf of her party, demanding that the broadcaster’s management “say or do something practical that will demonstrate genuine remorse on its part” for Dentlinger’s behaviour.
Not content with this, Duarte later trundled off to lead a picket outside eNCA’s Johannesburg offices and there, greatly shuddered of jowl, demand that those of cloven hoof be ejected from the building.
She and her supporters were suitably turned out for the occasion, once again confirming suspicions that, these days, the ruling party is little more than a Winnie Mandela T-shirt franchise. Social distancing was strictly enforced as there was a very real possibility that Duarte would explode with self-righteousness and leave bystanders drenched in the bile of her indignation.
The Economic Freedom Fighters have been just as huffy. Their deputy president, the aforementioned Shivambu, has demanded that Dentlinger now be barred from the parliamentary precinct.
In a letter to speaker Thandi Modise, Shivambu points out that, in terms of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliaments and Provincial Legislatures Act, she is duty bound to ensure that MPs are at all times protected from witches in their place of work. This, it should be pointed out, from a man who is due to appear in court in June for allegedly assaulting a journalist.
The press have been utterly uncritical in their reaction to this shameful episode. But then they are a supine bunch at the best of times, gutless and led it seems only by the baying chihuahuas of black Twitter.
Little attention is paid to the parliamentarians who have come to the defence of Dentlinger. They include, among others, FF Plus chief whip Corné Mulder, shadow justice minister Natasha Mazzone and shadow finance minister Geordin Hill-Lewis.
These MPs have all stated that, when interviewed by Dentlinger, they too were requested to wear face masks. Hill-Lewis further claims that footage of him doing the rounds on social media in which he appears unmasked was filmed in October last year — and not after the state of the national address and debates. A number of black MPs were filmed unmasked at the same time. It was nevertheless included in a “montage” of clips to demonstrate Dentlinger’s dark arts.
Any suggestion of manipulation has been ignored here. The reason for this obvious. This outrage, it is claimed, is about racism. Without which, of course, said outrage would wither and die and our national obsession would evaporate.
But this is not about racism. This is about bullying.
It’s about the powerful finding scapegoats, paradoxically, for their own sense of worthlessness. Witch hunts compensate for the self-loathing and sense of inferiority. The more trivial the slight, the greater the confected rage. It’s how the “liberated” cry over spilt milk. Loudly, annoyingly, stupidly. This is the inferno upon which their hapless victims are cast.
Perhaps we still need to burn witches. I don’t know. But I’d welcome a reversal of the tables here. How wonderful it would be if our chief witch hunter was accused of being a witch himself. Let him then prove his innocence when he is bundled into a sack and thrown off the pier at the docks.
Will he struggle and drown as his many past victims pelt him with rocks? Or will he magically transform himself a mermaid and emerge Lorelei-like to coyly gull passing sea scouts and cabin boys to a watery grave with his siren song of reef knots and tots of rum? We must wait and see.
Until then, McKaiser and the rest of this gang should apologise to Dentlinger. This madness must stop.
More big knobs and broomsticks
But the madness will not stop. Even as I write, there is talk that Jessie Duarte is squeezing herself into a green and gold swimsuit as she prepares to march on M-Net to deal with yet another case of witchcraft — or an “embarrassing lack of diversity”, as the fish wraps are calling it.
Try as she might, though, it’s unlikely the producers will find a place for her on Love Island SA, the reality TV show where narcissists deepen their romantic commitments to themselves with the aid of bikini waxes and big mirrors. This is a pity. She’s quite a catch, is our Jess. Hobbies and interests include kittens, sunset walks on the beach and shouting at people.
Meanwhile, it appears a mystery is deepening — as mysteries certainly do — as to the whereabouts of Jacob Zuma. The former president apparently nipped out of the country at the weekend to visit Eswatini ratbag King Mswati III and Zambian president Edward Lungu.
This, mind you, despite earnest pleas from former Johannesburg mayor and ActionSA president Herman Mashaba that authorities withhold Accused Number One’s passport lest he flee to Dubai rather than attend his corruption trial in May. He is also due in court later this month to explain why he refused to comply with a Constitutional Court order that he appear before the Zondo commission.
Could it be that Msholozi will now also turn up on Love Island SA? This certainly is one way to escape the annoying gadfly Carl Niehaus and the interminable hangers-on dropping in for tea at Nkandla, although I’m not sure the courts will accept participation in a TV show as a valid excuse for not turning up. Speaking of which, and given the minimum dress code required of contestants, will we have the stomach for the Thief-in-Chief’s turn as the Thief-in-Briefs?
Much interest among readers, I gather, in the micturating Dilyn following last week’s Grouse. Animal lovers may be pleased to now learn the Downing Street rescue dog is to feature in a new chapter author Tom Bower is preparing for the paperback edition of his 2020 biography, Boris Johnson: The Gambler.
According to The Times, Bower’s update will place Dilyn at the centre of certain power struggles at No 10. Press briefings on the Jack Russell-cross’s “lack of discipline” are regarded by some as an attack on Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, and some staff are wary of criticising the dog lest they earn the wrath of its mistress.
There is a suggestion, however, that Dilyn’s slashing may have been prompted by Larry, the ageing Downing Street mouser. One source told the newspaper: “It’s well known Larry leaks. If only to mark his territory.”
The newspaper also reported that Johnson exercises Dilyn in the grounds at nearby Buckingham Palace. But the PM, it’s claimed, “isn’t good at remembering to clean up after his slack-bowelled friend”, leaving palace gardeners to deal with the mess. As one staffer put it: “It’s still not as bad as the corgis used to be.”
Meanwhile, glossy society magazine Tatler reveals that Symonds is redecorating the Downing Street flat in a bid to remove all traces of previous resident Theresa May’s department store “furniture nightmare”. In its place will be decor “inspired” by celebrated eco-interior designer Lulu Lytle, who makes furniture “based on traditional crafts, including blacksmiths”. Dilyn, presumably, can’t wait to start on that posh stuff.
The Daily Mail claims Johnson is struggling to fund this makeover. He has complained costs are “totally out of control” and is in the process of setting up a charity to help pay for the project. It is a matter of some urgency; the couple are to marry as soon as Covid restrictions on big weddings are lifted.
Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) we wonder whether Symonds’s plans also include the installation of a fire pool.