Mafe, Mpofu and Hlophe

Jeremy Gordin writes on the alleged parliamentary arsonist's first appearances in the courts

When it comes to “rugby viewing,” I am going through a deeply frustrating time, a veritable slough of despond.

As we all know, Seffrican rugby has experienced extremely rough times for almost 24 months as a result of Covid and its accompaniments. Some players have had Covid, players and teams have been forced to quarantine, stadiums have been empty, and so on.

Even now, as limited numbers of spectators are allowed back into local stadiums, and as we valiantly keep going with the Currie Cup as well as our participation in the United Rugby Championship (URC), local players and teams – compared to those in the UK and Europe (including Seffricans) – look as though they’re suffering from a species of sleeping sickness.

To add insult to injury, just as the Six Nations competition (in Europe) and the “new” Super Rugby (in the “Pacific region”) are about to kick off, Eskom yesterday announced a week or so of what we euphemistically call stage two loadshedding.

What I know about electricity and its supply is dangerous as a hot wire, but it seems obvious to me that saboteurs are at work and I don’t understand why Eskom’s André de Ruyter doesn’t highlight this more than he does, though I guess he has, sort-of.

It might not be covered in the Constitution, but in my view denying me the right to watch rugby from all over the world via the wonders of modern technology (unless I spend a small fortune on a generator while simultaneously splitting my neighbours’ ear drums) is a serious incursion on my human rights.

If I weren’t so inarticulate with rage and if my osteoarthritis and rugby injuries weren’t acting up again, I’d write to The Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa (IFAISA), the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), Freedom Under Law (FUL), the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), AfriForum, Solidarity, the Democratic Alliance (DA), and maybe even the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) [i].

Now then, I apologise for imposing this rant on Polweb readers, but clearly I feel very strongly about being denied the right to watch rugby. However, I also want to suggest that, given the foregoing, readers will readily appreciate that probably only a front-end loader would be sufficient to tear me away, of a Saturday afternoon and evening, from watching rugby on TV.

Yet I must admit – and I am blushing a little – that last Saturday (January 29) I was so transfixed by the bail application of one Zandile Christmas Mafe in the Cape Town Regional Court that I watched little if any rugby.

Mafe, as you might know, has been held responsible for the devastating fire at the houses of parliament. He has been charged with housebreaking with the intent to commit terrorism (alternatively delivery, placement, discharge, or detonation of an explosive or lethal device) and arson (what my father would have called – forgive me – “arsing around”). ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The bail hearing was riveting viewing, if only because it pitted “senior” NPA prosecutor Mervyn Menigo[ii], a man who could teach my ancestor Job a thing or two about patience, against one of our leading freedom fighters, Dali Mpofu SC, who was surprisingly well-behaved[iii].

Not only could one watch this tussle, if I might call it that, but it’s also common cause that the Cape Judge President Yahya John Mandlakayise Hlophe was keeping an eagle eye on proceedings [iv]. The JP said as much when delivering an earlier judgment declaring it unlawful for the state to have referred Mafe for psychiatric observation at Valkenberg Hospital – because, the JP said, Mafe was not properly questioned or questioned sufficiently before being referred for psychiatric observation.

Now, before continuing, let me point out that the regional magistrate Michelle Adams reserved judgment until tomorrow (Friday, 4 February), when we shall hear whether Mafe gets the bail for which he was applying; and that I come from a tradition of court reporting in terms of which a reporter should desist from commenting on a case and, above all, from suggesting what the outcome might be [v].

No matter. It is some of the evidence led during the bail hearing, not the outcome, that fascinates me. But, before turning to this “evidence,” let me also note three other issues by way of context/background.

First, a number of people, whose identity is unknown to me, but presumably they have a connection to so-called grassroots organisations, including the EFF (hence the presence of Mpofu SC), have said that Mafe is clearly a “scapegoat” and they have “demonstrated” outside court to this effect.

What is unclear to me is whether they mean Mafe is a scapegoat because he is ostensibly a poor, vulnerable, homeless [vi] person per se; or whether he is a scapegoat because the state knows full well that, whether Mafe set the fire or not, the reasons the fire ran out of control were the glaring lack of safeguards (the sprinkler system was apparently not working, etc.) and either the security cameras were not working properly or the cops on duty were snoozing [vii] – in other words, the state is trying to shift the blame onto some poor, benighted fellow to take the focus off its own culpability; or perhaps Mafe’s “supporters” mean both.

I mention this because it seems pretty clear to me that the state/government/etc. are, whatever happens, going to try to lay the blame four-square on Mafe – hence the terrorism charge, which at this point, given what we know, is palpably laughable. It seems this way to me because this is what our government, state, etc. do. Owning up is not in any of the handbooks.

Second, during the bail hearing, magistrate Adams denied the State the use of video footage presented as evidence showing how, when and with what the suspected arsonist allegedly set Parliament alight. As Menigo remarked, the “suspected arsonist” in the video footage, which we never got to see, was wearing the same clothes as Mafe was when arrested and bore a remarkable resemblance to him.

But I think it was a smart decision of the magistrate’s; this was a bail hearing – about whether Mafe should receive bail, had a fixed address, was a flight risk, etc. – it was not set to deal with the charges against him.

Third, it is common cause, as already pointed out, that Mafe was sent to Valkenberg for observation, even if the JP found this to have been unlawfully done – apparently because a district surgeon had diagnosed Mafe with “paranoid schizophrenia”.

Not being a doctor or shrink, I don’t really know what paranoid schizophrenia is. Google tells me it’s a malady “characterized by predominantly positive symptoms of schizophrenia, including delusions and hallucinations. These debilitating symptoms blur the line between what is real and what isn’t, making it difficult for the person to lead a typical [sic] life [my emphases]”.

I must sincerely point out that, as someone who has during the past 45 years observed and interviewed numerous Seffrican politicians, especially those in governing parties, there have been precious few of them without delusions and most have not been at all able to tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t.

As for paranoia, I seem to recall that it was the great poet Delmore Schwartz [viii] who famously said that “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I don’t have enemies” [ix].

Which is a good point to turn at last to some of the things Mafe said – or rather what the state said – during Mafe’s bail hearing (I thank you for your patience).

Speaking via an interpreter, Mafe confirmed his signature and the content of the affidavit handed in by his legal team, his identity, said he grew up in Mahikeng, completed Grade 8, and is fluent in English, Afrikaans, Tswana, and Xhosa.

He also acknowledged that he has a speech impediment. “I stuttered from a very young age at school. I don’t have a problem when I’m reading, only when I’m talking,” he said.

Asked by Mpofu whether this impediment meant there was something mentally wrong with him, Mafe replied: “Me stuttering doesn’t mean that I’m mentally ill.”

He also said, “I’m not guilty and I will not discuss the merit of the case because this is my bail application” and repeatedly said “no comment’ to just about everything Menigo put to him. This was obviously the instruction given to him by Mpofu; my point though is that many who have not been labelled paranoid schizophrenics are unable to carry out simple instructions. Think about your partner or even former president Jacob Zuma (“come to the Zondo commission”).

Now then, according to the state, Mafe, 49, told the policemen who interviewed him after this arrest, the following six things.

Mafe said, (1) “It was the right thing to put the Parliament on fire, as it does not work for people like me who are suffering”. Mafe also remarked that (2) the State of the Nation Address (Sona) should not be held this year; he referred to it as the State of the Nonsense Address. He also said (3) he knew former AWB leader Eugène Terre’Blanche and considered him a friend.

Mafe also allegedly demanded (4) the immediate resignation of President Cyril Ramaphosa on 8 January; (5) the release (on the same day that former President Nelson Mandela was freed from incarceration, 11th February) of Janusz Waluś – Mafe said Waluś did not kill Chris Hani, but blamed Ramaphosa; and (6) a monthly grant of R1 500 for the unemployed.

I don’t have to parse those claims and demands made by Mafe for Politicsweb readers, do I?

Most of us would probably agree with (1), (2), (4) and (6). I would. One or two of us might even own up to (3). As for (5), I also think Waluś should be released. He’s done his time; it’s not rocket science. As for who might have killed Hani, I think it was Waluś and Clive Derby-Lewis, not Ramaphosa – but there are plenty of folks, a few in the government, who insist others were involved in the plot and that this is why Walus can’t be released “until he tells the full truth”.

Whichever way the bail application goes, should Mafe be sent to Valkenberg for observation? ... I think I’ve made my point(s). I rest my case and going into the garden to kick a rugger ball around for a little while.


[i] I could even write to minister of energy and communist party stalwart Samson “Tiger” Gwede Mantashe, but Part Two of the Zondo commission report does suggest that the Tiger might have, or ought to have, other issues on his mind. And, since he seems to be the only world leader able to get anything done, I would even – with the help of the Fishcake Gordin-Kropotkin Parkview Decembrists (FGKPD) – compose a letter to Russian president Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

[ii] I’m not certain if he’s an SC.

[iii] This might be related to Mpofu having charges pending against him after the Legal Practice Council investigated his conduct at the Zondo Commission last year and found it to be pretty poofy. This was after Mpofu rudely demanded that a colleague – and later her client – “shut up” and interrupted Justice Zondo when he attempted to control the proceedings. The LPC concluded that Mpofu interrupted Justice Zondo on numerous occasions and “did not uphold the accepted decorum in court”. It found that his conduct was aggravated by his having been being “contemptuous” towards Justice Zondo and having refused to accept a rebuke from him. And that it was wholly improper for him to demand that his colleague “shut up”. The LPC accordingly recommended that Mpofu be charged with professional misconduct.

Or it might be related to Mpofu feeling he’d be dealt with “properly” in a court under the purview of JP Hlophe; or perhaps Mpofu was feeling somewhat at sea having to deal with the nitty-gritty of a common or garden variety bail application rather than having to spout about the Constitution; Mpofu had to prove “exceptional circumstances” for why the accused should be granted bail. Or maybe he simply decided to behave himself.

[iv] The JP took the opportunity to point out to Mpofu, a few times, that “in the Cape,” the courts are run properly and smartly and there’d be no messing around; he, the JP, would make certain of this.

[v] So, I of course won’t say a word about whether Mafe will get bail tomorrow. If he does, however, I do promise to buy both the JP and Mpofu a lunch of excellent pork potstickers at an outstanding Johannesburg restaurant in Linden.

[vi] Before Mpofu or anyone else jumped on him, Menigo noted that the correct term is “unhoused” not “homeless”. NB!

[vii] Saps has notified four officers of its intention to suspend them, three of whom were responsible for watching security cameras on the day of the fire.

[viii] The heavy bear who goes with me,

A manifold honey to smear his face,

Clumsy and lumbering here and there,

The central ton of every place,

The hungry beating brutish one

In love with candy, anger, and sleep,

Crazy factotum, dishevelling all,

Climbs the building, kicks the football,

Boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city.

from “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me” by Schwartz.

[ix] The saying has also been attributed to Henry Kissinger (about Richard Nixon) – “Even paranoiacs have real enemies.”