National Sickie Day

Andrew Donaldson on our new public holiday declared in honour of our absent Minister of Home Affairs


EVERY year, the first Monday in February is National Sickie Day in the UK. It’s the day in which Britons’ gatvol factor peaks, enthusiasm for toil hits rock bottom and an estimated 375 000 malingerers stay at home rather than put in a day at the office.

True, some of them may be genuinely ill. Given their recent weather, it’s surprising the whole country isn’t half-dead with pneumonia. But the vast majority are simply skiving off work. 

Employers routinely count the cost of the absenteeism and newspapers dutifully inform their readers of the sickness culture’s rude health, setting aside much column space for debate on the ethics and etiquette of pulling a sickie. 

Some years back, The Scotsman reported that although texting was a socially acceptable method of announcing one’s absence to a line manager, a lot depended on the timing and contents of the SMS. “Got hmmred, still puking” sent from the pub the night before was obviously not going to cut it.

“Neither is spending your sick day on Facebook,” the newspaper said, “as Australian call centre worker Kyle Doyle found out to his cost, when his updated status ‘not going to work. F*** it, still trashed, sickie, woo,’ was spotted by someone in the human resources department.”

Closer to home, the first Wednesday every March shall henceforth be our National Sickie Day. This is largely to honour Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s eleventh-hour manoeuvre to avoid a grilling in a ministerial Q&A session in Parliament this week.

It wasn’t the only sickie pulled on Wednesday. Earlier, the former SAA board chair, Dudu Myeni, told Parliament’s State Capture inquiry that her doctor had forbidden her to fly, hence her absence. It was Myeni’s second no-show before the inquiry in a fortnight.

Such a cavalier disregard for the responsibilities of office may be deeply ingrained in our politicians. In October 2016, you may recall, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu announced plans to install a “performance evaluation mechanism” for its MPs to “curb absenteeism and discourage laziness”.

As he told reporters, “The public deserves representatives that take their parliamentary tasks seriously and demonstrate commitment to serve.” 

Gigaba, however, is no mere backbencher, and he pulled his gyppo move with a deftness that spoke volumes of his deep contempt for the citizenry. That morning, he was reportedly seen in the parliamentary precinct, greeting various officials, before lunching at the V&A Waterfront. Then he failed to pitch up for the Q&A session.

“Where is Minister Gigaba?” DA chief whip John Steenhuisen demanded. “We know he is in terrible difficulty at the moment. I’d like us to please ask, tell us where is he hiding?”

Speaker Baleka Mbete said she hadn’t received a request for absence from Gigaba, as was protocol. Then, after some hoo-hah in which EFF MPs Floyd Shivambu and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi were ordered from the chamber, Mbete announced that she had just received a note from Gigaba’s chief-of-staff.

“He is not feeling well,” she said. “Minister did not sign the letter because he had to rush to the doctor.”

Mbete added that she could not confirm the veracity of the letter’s contents.

According to a Daily Maverick report, Gigaba had a “foot ailment” — which prompted a great deal of banter, here at the Mahogany Ridge, about the sort of injuries incurred when one persists in lying with one’s foot firmly in one’s mouth. 

Social media was quick to get in on the act, too, and memes about Gigaba’s strange ailment were soon everywhere, with tasteless quips from the Twitterati about “Lie-steriosis” and eating “state-owned Enterprise” products.

It’s worth noting that both Gigaba and Myeni have been described in reports as “Gupta-cursed”. There will probably be others, as inquiries into the corruption and sleaze in the state entities continue and we shall in due course be exposed to further contagious disorders hitherto unknown to science. 

Tender-nitis, Estina dairy cow disease, low moral character, greasy fingers, gravy stains. They’ll all be there, all manner of malady and Guptafiable condition that we may wish to revisit when we all pull our national sickie on March 6 next year. 

Meanwhile, it was good to see the man who gave us all this and so much more, Accused Number One, stumblebum his way back into the limelight on Thursday evening.

In his first major public appearance since his resignation, Jacob Zuma told the National Funeral Parlour Association that calls to expropriate land without compensation did not automatically mean, as Eyewitness News put it, “the chasing away of descendants of white settlers”.

Perhaps the unease would pass if he could explain exactly what it did mean.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.