MBZ's Eastern Cape safari

Andrew Donaldson writes on the extraordinary hunting expedition of the UAE's royality


EXTRAORDINARY details in the weekend’s fish-wraps about the luxury safari recently enjoyed by United Arab Emirate royalty on the Eastern Cape game farm that now belongs to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE president. 

This was the royals’ first visit to Ezulu, the 24 000 hectare farm between Bedford and Makhanda, since the sheikh, commonly known as MBZ, snapped up the property for a reported R320 million in 2020.

According to Rapport, no expense was spared for the visit. More than R40 million was spent on the visitors’ luxury tented camps. This, coincidentally, was what the Eastern Cape government spent to upgrade Bhisho’s Bulembo airport to enable MBZ and his entourage to land there. Support personnel that flew in included a police unit, dog handlers, UAE soldiers and other servants. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The camps were arranged in hierarchical order: MBZ’a ten closest confidents and friends were housed nearest to him, while wives, children and other guests were accommodate elsewhere in order of importance. 

However, eight kilometres from the royals’ camp — a “safe” distance from the dignitaries’ “significant others”, as City Press coyly put it — was the camp where some 30 “companionship” Russian and Asian women were accommodated.

Described as “some of the most beautiful and best”, these women, it is claimed, are “usually selected like this when there are royal hunting expeditions”. 

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), the regulars are willing to believe there may be an entirely innocent explanation for their presence on a safari. 

For all we know these women are top-notch firearm technicians and professional gun bearers. Rapport did, after all, reveal that the more than 50 hunting rifles purchased from a local arms dealer required some adjustments to their sights and other fiddly work. 

That may be, but I have my reservations. It is a fact that these desert despots do have a thing for sloe-eyed beauties with powerful weapons, the late Muammar Gaddafi and his so-called Amazonian Guard being the obvious example.

That said, it appears that MBZ and his friends did enjoy the bush experience and they plan to return in July. That trip will reportedly be a reduced affair, though. This may or may not be due to the fact that, following the carnage there, with around 1 200 animals canned and shot by the Emiratis, large-scale hunting trips are sadly no longer feasible at  Ezulu. There just isn’t enough wildlife to go round. 

One notable commentator who has weighed in on this obscene business is the healthcare activist, Dr Aslam Dasoo. Although a member of the ANC Stalwarts and Veterans, it is fair to say that Dasoo is not at all pleased with the ruling party’s record. Writing in Daily Maverick, he says:

“After the insults and shock to our collective psyche of years of staggering profligacy by our governors, made worse by the abject inability to arrest the rot, one might have become inured to just another abuse of power.

“But when the UAE caravanserai is coddled in the lap of a government that cannot run a fully functional service in a single department under its remit — but invokes the same defensive, post-factual fiction that followed the Guptas’ Waterkloof misadventure and hurriedly deploying officials from Home Affairs, customs and whatnot in order to invest this boondoggle with a smidgen of legitimacy — the game is up.

“The justifiable default suspicion is that this is a corrupt enterprise. The similarity with the Guptas’ machinations is not coincidental, given the fiasco surrounding their non-extradition by the same lot who decamped to the lovely Eastern Cape.”

The game is up? Powerful words, and certainly true for the wildlife. As for the animals on two legs, well, if only, if only…

Wanted: used goods

The Economic Freedom Fighters mark their tenth anniversary in July and, ahead of that occasion, commander-in-chief Julius Malema has appealed for donations from all “peace-loving South Africans” and “revolutionaries from the African continent and the diaspora” to help with the forthcoming celebrations.

In a video shared on social media, the CIC said, “We need resources to finance this organisation. Without resources, this organisation will never succeed. It depends on genuine donations and contributions …  We call upon all of you to make donations to the EFF because we must finance our own revolution. If we don’t finance our own revolution, counter-revolutionaries will hijack it.”

To keep those counter-revolutionaries at bay, supporters can dash off R10, R20 and R30 amounts with simple texts from their smartphones. “There is no limit to the number of donation SMS,” Malema tweeted in hopeful pidgin. 

In addition to cash donations, the redshirts also need cows, buses, vegetables and T-shirts for the big bash at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium on 29 July. “You can donate in your means to express how over the past 10 years the EFF has touched your life. No donation is too small,” said the party. 

So far, the only donation the fighters appear to have received is the used and unserviceable former ANC hack, Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi. The Jacob G Zuma Foundation spokesman has announced he is quitting the African Transformation Movement to join the EFF. Jimmy had given the matter “careful thought and consideration”, he said, and did not “come to this decision lightly”.

The EFF have gratefully accepted this meagre offering. Malema, never one to look a knackered gift nag in the mouth, was especially effusive. “On behalf of our ground forces,” he said, “I want to take this opportunity to welcome fighter Mzwanele Manyi to his political home. We are honoured to have you as part of our family; remember, we are one people of the African continent. Your credentials speak volumes, and we are more than confident that you will make a massive contribution to the success of the struggle for economic freedom in our lifetime.”

It wasn’t always like this. Back in 2017, when Jimmy snapped up the Guptas’ ANN7 channel and The New Age newspaper, the EFF lambasted him for continuing “the business of fake news”. Malema was particularly scathing about this doomed attempt at press barony: “[There]… is nothing ‘media transformation’ about this deal; to call it this is like thinking the apartheid’s creation of Bantustans was a progressive liberation move for black people. Like Bantustan leaders, Manyi is a stooge representing the entrenchment of Gupta corruption in our country.”

Times do change, though. And hypocrites are notorious flip-floppers. Malema has now called on Jacob Zuma, his former sworn enemy, to join the fighters. “[The EFF] is the only organisation that a black self-caring person and self-respecting person will join,” said Malema. “We hope very soon we will welcome Mr President Zuma into the EFF — it’s a home of rehabilitation. Anyone who wants to come they are more than welcome.”

Many of us believe Accused Number One’s rehabilitation should be a matter for the correctional services. But no matter. When it comes to the revolution, any old tired rubbish will do for the fighters.

Ben Rabinowitz, mensch

I had more or less finished this column when I learnt with great sadness that my friend Ben Rabinowitz had passed away in Cape Town on Tuesday morning, a few months shy of his 90th birthday. A hasty rewrite was therefore in order.

Ben Rabinowitz was one of South Africa’s great liberal philanthropists. But if you’d never heard of him, never mind — he wanted it that way; Ben shunned the limelight but his generosity nevertheless attracted the sort of attention that he found unsettling and discomforting.

Such attention was wholly deserved. Ben was an ardent supporter of a free press and threw money — great wads of it — at the Weekly Mail during its early days, and later Daily Maverick and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Denis Worrall’s Cape Messenger. He was also a dedicated supporter of the Cape Town Press Club. 

He was a driving force behind the Seafront For All initiative, which successfully campaigned to save the Sea Point promenade and Cape Town's Atlantic seaboard from commercial exploitation and preserve it as a recreational facility for all Capetonians. He similarly spearheaded the campaign to keep developers away from pristine Oudekraal, on the Cape Peninsula. 

He supported the Dullah Omar’s family when the lawyer and future justice minister was detained during PW Botha’s state of emergency. He fought for the preservation of historic Muslim graves and kramats on the slopes of the Twelve Apostles. He was a lifelong supporter of the Democratic Alliance and its predecessors. He helped save the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra from bankruptcy. He was an advocate of non-racial sport and financed Cape Town’s first non-racial cricket club.

One project of deeply personal significance was the erection of a memorial outside the Lithuanian town of Biržai to commemorate the murder of the town’s Jews by the Gestapo and their Lithuanian accomplices in August 1941. Ben’s grandfather was born in the town and he’d wanted to commemorate his ancestral roots. The memorial project also supports the creation of a permanent exhibition of Jewish life in the Biržai Museum and promotes the work of a tolerance education centre at a local secondary school. 

There is more. A lot more. I know this because I edited a biography on Ben. In 2017, the writer Marilyn Keegan approached me for help in preparing some 20 years’ worth of notes and interview transcriptions for her book. It was to be a gargantuan task, wading through thousands of pages of family history, anecdotes, reminiscences and frankly scurrilous gossip to produce a single volume that was finally published last year.

I was grateful for the commission. Frankly, I needed the money. But before I got the gig, I had to pass an audition of sorts. In my initial interview with Ben, he wondered if I knew any good political jokes. I repeated one from a travel book on Ireland:

Paddy is in London to compete in the BBC quiz programme, Mastermind. His specialist subject is the Irish War of Independence, 1919 to 1921. The questions come on thick and fast. Who started the Easter Rising? Who assassinated the 14 British operatives on Bloody Sunday? Who was responsible for the Soloheadbeg ambush in January 1919? 

Paddy responds to each question with a shrug and a muttered “Pass!” On and on it goes, not a single question answered. At the end of his 20 questions, a thickly accented Irish voice bellows out from the studio audience: “Good man, Patrick! Tell the bastards nothing!”

Ben found it hilarious. Then he told me his favourite political joke:

In the early days of the Soviet Union, the cultural commissars commission a painting to celebrate Soviet-Polish socialist fraternalism. They specifically want a work showing a triumphant Lenin in Warsaw. However, no artist will take on the commission — principally because Lenin was never in the Poland. Eventually, it is Cohen, languishing in a Siberian camp, who agrees to take on the job.

After a few weeks a great reception is arranged for the unveiling at the Kremlin. There is a shocked silence from the assembled dignitaries as the painting is revealed. It depicts, in pornographic detail, Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda, in bed and hard at it with Leon Trotsky. Eventually one outraged party functionary cries out, “This is a travesty! Where is Lenin?” 

“Lenin?” says Cohen. “Oh, he’s in Warsaw.” 

Many prominent South Africans will, in the days to come, be paying tribute to Ben. Albeit in a more solemn manner. But I will miss the irreverence, his broadsides at the pompous and self-important and, most of all, the enormous enthusiasm he had for life itself. Trust me, he didn’t waste a single moment of it. Heartfelt condolences to his daughters, Lesley and Susan, and his close friend, Marilyn.

My Word!

(An occasional series on neologisms inspired by current affairs.)

Imputinynoun: exemption from reproach or freedom from the harmful consequences of supporting the illegal invasion of Ukraine. 

Government members insist with imputiny that Pretoria’s position on Russia’s war and the Kremlin’s crimes against humanity is one of neutrality.” “Russian aircraft continued to land with imputiny at Waterkloof air force base.