May the Vrot be with you

Andrew Donaldson writes on Thabo Mbeki's appearance at the ANC NEC meeting


STRONG with him, the force is. Bring power to Squirrel, he will. Or maybe not. But, yes, indeed Yoda is he. Small and greenish, much like a seasick dwarf, but in much wisdom cloaked be he. Wisdom infused slowly over the eons, cosmic insights gleaned during the dark hours spent poring over the wondrous Google machine. And he made a surprise appearance at last weekend’s ANC National Executive Committee meeting. 

But was there anything of significance in this? After all, former president Thabo Mbeki has not attended an NEC meeting since the carpet was yanked out from under his little feet at the 2007 beano in Polokwane in the upheaval that eventually led to his resignation some nine months later.

Commentators do suggest that, in light of the fact that the ruling party is at war with itself, Yoda was roped in by Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction to support the ANC’s Potemkin president in his epical struggle against the vrot old Zuma hangovers led by the party’s secretary general and purported Pierneef purloiner, Ace Magashule. 

Yoda, in other words, pitted against Yada, Yada, Yada.

The ANC, naturally, insists there is no truth in this whatsoever. They point out that all former ANC presidents are entitled to attend NEC meetings in an ex-officio capacity. Mbeki had attended previous lekgotlas, they said. Fair enough. But not a meeting like this one. 

Thanks to the pandemic, this one was always going to be different. None of the venal excesses in the back of beyond that typified these quinquennial gatherings. No busloads of delegates from the far-flung provinces, no flash cars decked out in looting regalia rolling through dusty streets, no happy meals and T-shirts, no sexually assaulted interns, no stupid songs, and no hangovers. That stuff don’t work too well on Zoom.

But there was more than that. Squirrel did set the cat among the pigeons (no Johnnie Walker, but a menagerie at least!) when, in August, he called on those senior ANC members who were implicated in corruption to step aside. Roughly one half of the party – the half that doesn’t pretend that it’s not rotten to the core, as opposed to the half that does – was a little PO’d at this. Great umbrage was taken, and why not? They’ve taken much of everything else as it is.

Magashule was not going to let a small matter like the score or so of corruption, fraud and money-laundering charges linked to the R255-million Free State asbestos saga get in the way of his principles. He was full of piss and vinegar outside the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court last month, telling supporters that he was a product of the ANC and as such was going nowhere. There was even wild chatter of apartheid agents up to their usual tricks. 

More importantly, Magashule threatened to expose those who had publicly accused him of being corrupt as being corrupt themselves. “I can go to every individual and point out what they have done,” he said. “We’re quiet because we have discipline, that’s how we have been taught. I will give you information of these ones who make noise. You can’t follow a fool because a fool says ‘Ace Magashule is corrupt’. I will show you corruption at the right time.”

I won’t tell on you, if you won’t tell on me? This is discipline? Be that as it may, Magashule will now present himself to the party’s integrity committee this weekend. Squirrel does seem pleased, and welcomed the SG’s decision to do so.

Ramaphosa did, however, express some concern about the behaviour of some of Magashule’s supporters who, he felt, had wittingly or unwittingly damaged attempts to unite the party. As he put it: “We need to desist as leaders of this great movement, the African National Congress, from public statements that are at variance with the decisions of the structure of the ANC and which are likely to fuel divisions amongst us.”

Astute readers will recognise that “variance” is the sort of term that is great favoured by intellectual giants like Mbeki. Is this another indication that Ramaphosa has been drawing on Yoda’s force? 

A mystery thickens

And who is that shadowy master of disguise in Magashule’s corner? Why, our old friend, Carl Niehaus, master of Yada and Man Seemingly Impervious to Reality. It’s not often that we’re grateful to him for anything, but he has provided some much-needed cheer in this otherwise bleak festive season. He didn’t mean to, of course. The national democratic revolution’s Sham Guevara is not at heart a generous person and the sun may yet set to the east of Samarkand before he helps gogos across busy streets without first pinching their social grants.

What happened is this: on the evening of Tuesday, December 1, Niehaus posted on Twitter an image of the front page of the next day’s edition of The Star. This struck the journalist Matthew du Plessis as rather suspicious. He tweeted: “Can someone from Independent explain to me how and why Carl Niehaus was able to post a pdf of the front page of The Star a few minutes after the off-stone deadline, before the paper had even started printing?” (My emphasis.)

There has been no official comment on what appears to be a further lapse in professional standards down at 47 Pixley Seme St. However, many Twitter users believe the image of the front page, downloaded directly from the newspaper’s editorial system, had been leaked to Niehaus by someone in the newsroom. 

Two likely culprits have been suggested. One is editor Sifiso Mahlangu, Independent Media’s former “executive editor for politics” and a man whose Iqbalatrous scribbling usually appears under the byline “Staff Reporter”. The other is group investigations editor Piet Rampedi, who imaginatively describes himself as a “multiple award winning journalist who works hard, pays special attention to details, hates corruption and racism and have a soft spot for ordinary folks”. (sic)

What puzzled us, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), is the haste with which Niehaus posted it on Twitter. Could the MK and military veterans’ spokesman not have waited at least until the newspaper was on the streets? Perhaps he thought he was doing them a favour. It is true that very few readers bother with The Star these days, and the same is probably true of many of Niehaus’s Twitter followers. A shout out in his Twitter feed may have helped boost circulation.

But what had the newspaper reported that so excited Carl? Could it be the fact that ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini had “come down hard” on public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, as The Star put it, and called him an imbecile? 

The disgraced former social development minister had tweeted: “How can the whole country with so mature and struggle veterans ,revolutionaries be plunged into the mud by such an imbecile a rumor mongerer  .The cabal is exposed again and he has weaponised all justice and security apparatus to erase the history of South Africa” (sic)

It is easy to laugh, and really, we did. But we must be gracious and accept that English is not Dlamini’s native tongue. Just as sobriety is not her native state of mind. As they perhaps could tell Dlamini down on the farm: you have no right to speak of smallanyana skeletons.

As for Gordhan, well, he’s not without fault. He is, after all, an ANC member, one who appears to believe that white pilots are the root cause of all the problems at South African Airways. But, on the plus side, he probably has a bit more intact upstairs than the gracious Dlamini. He may wish to draw on that old jibe about the docility of Tory peer Geoffrey Howe and be comforted by the fact that to be savaged by a dead sheep is much the same as being rounded on by one that is dead drunk — or at least one whose brain has supposedly been suiped into an addled soup. 

Spinning heads

Sad news about former England hooker Steve Thompson, who has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Worrying times, too, for the sport’s various international organisations as they are to face legal actions from as many as 70 former players who now suffer from some form of brain damage as a result of traumatic head injuries. Thompson, 42, told the Guardian that he believes his condition is directly related to concussions suffered during his career. “I have no recollection of winning the World Cup in 2003, or of being in Australia for the tournament,” he told the newspaper. “Knowing what I know now, I wish that I had never turned professional.” 

Many South African fans conveniently choose to forget that tournament, given the performance by the Springboks that year. 

But now comes word that the International Olympic Committee is proceeding with plans to make the Games a celebration of the arts. Breakdancing is to be added to the programme for the 2024 Paris Games. This has raised further concern about damaged brains. “Breaking”, as it’s called, was not conceived as a sport but, it says here, as a “form of artistic expression” by dancers in the Bronx at the first hip-hop parties in the late 1970s. Quite what was being expressed by spinning on one’s head is not immediately apparent.

It is true that some athleticism is required to “break” – and perhaps a titanium-plated skull – but, like the event that looks a bit like ballet but with waving ribbons, it certainly doesn’t meet the principal requirements that make an activity a “sport”: there are no teams, there isn’t ball, and the spectator experience is not enhanced by drinking beer and shouting. Perhaps one day the IOC will introduce skanking to the Games, and contestants of a certain age will be judged on the mellow “righteousness” of their moves as they dance to 1970s reggae tunes. Doping tests will be waived.

Bad news from the Far North

Golf, meanwhile, was reintroduced to the Games in 2016 after being absent since 1904. The jury is still out as to whether this business of wearing loud and expensive leisure garments is actually a sport. True, there is a ball, and sometimes teams compete with one another. But does it pass muster in the beer and shouting department? 

Then there are the sort of people who are drawn to golf. Cheats like Donald Trump. In 2007, this Master of the Universe outlined his vision for a £1-billion golf resort at Menie, near Aberdeen: almost seven kilometres of links on the coast against a backdrop of “waves crashing in the great dunes of Scotland, largest dunes in the world”. Plans included the construction of hundreds of luxury homes and a palatial hotel. The course, which opened in 2012, attracted some controversy at the time, as it was built in the middle of a hitherto unspoilt dune system that was regarded a site of special scientific interest. 

This week the resort’s dunes were stripped of that status. According to government agency NatureScot, it is no longer a place of natural wonders, but a sterile tract of “vandalised” land. The hotel and homes have not materialised. As Aberdeenshire councillor Martin Ford told The Times: “It was a mobile dune system but now it’s nine holes of a loss-making golf course.” 

None of this should surprise anyone. Trump’s Menie course has haemorrhaged money ever since it opened. Last year, it was reported that it made a loss of £1 072 831 for 2018, compared to losses of £1 255 836 in 2017, £1 405 308 in 2016, £1 096 108 in 2015, £1 139 513 in 2014, £1.8-million in 2013 and £1.7-million in 2012. Despite this, the Aberdeenshire Council granted permission for a second 18-hole course to be built at the resort. 

As they say in the Highlands, if at first you don’t succeed, then lose again … and again … and again …