One pothole, one president

David Bullard on Ramaphosa's famous photo op amidst the unravelling of PhalaPhalaGate


One of the many benefits of having the highest unemployment rate in the world is that it’s never a challenge for the ANC to muster an adoring crowd. Since so many people have nothing better to do with their time and being ever mindful of government handouts, however modest they may be, there’s always a willing audience ready to listen to yet another speech full of empty promises or watch the head of state mend a pothole.

Quite why Pres Frogboiler has decided to don workman’s overalls and start tarring dirty roads is rather puzzling. One would have preferred him to get back to his desk and come up with a plan to reverse South Africa’s economic decline. Maybe clamp down on a bit of corruption even and sack some of the obviously dodgy members of his cabinet.

However, work avoidance is one of the key features of the ANC administration so there he was last week rolling a splodge of wet tar with his trusty Dynapac roller. Dynapac is a Swedish manufacturer so this will no doubt send a strong message to the Scandinavian country that their opposition to apartheid was not in vain.

People were quick to ask why you would fix a pothole or two with tar rather than retar the whole road? But the important thing to understand about service delivery is that if you deliver the whole deal in one go then it raises expectations among the populace. Much better to give them a taste of what might be yet to come if they behave themselves and keep voting ANC.

This photo opportunity is apparently part of the Letsema campaign which is something the ruling party have dreamed up in the hope that it will convince voters that the government is actually doing something at last.

Since we know from bitter experience that the ANC are incapable of running anything (other than into the ground) we shouldn’t be surprised that our President is pretending to bring stability to South Africa one pothole at a time. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Mind you, it probably wasn’t a bad plan to try and distract nosy journalists from the ever unraveling details of the PhalaPhalaGate scandal. Last week News24 revealed that a Sudanese millionaire called Hazim Mustafa paid $580 000 in cash on Christmas Day 2019 for a collection of buffaloes he has yet to have delivered.

The News24 story came with full details of how Mr Mustafa had links to deposed Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, a man accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). So, all in all, just the sort of chap we love to have visit in South Africa. Indeed, he was here back in 2015 and the ICC requested that we detain him so he can be arrested for said crimes. So naturally we let him slip out of the country because you never know when you may need a favour returned.

Mr Mustafa, who appears to have a beer gut even larger than mine, is married to a slim blonde South African called Bianca O’Donoghue who I think we can safely assume didn’t marry Mustafa for his matinee idol looks.

Her chief interest in life is to pose with designer shoes, handbags and clothes next to the family Rolls Royce Cullinan or one of her hubby’s collection of Ferraris and then post pictures on Instagram.

Needless to say they live in Dubai, the new sunny place for shady people.

Of course, I may be jumping to conclusions here by assuming that anybody whose sole purpose in life is to post pictures on social media bragging about their mega wealth is a bit on the vulgar side.

It’s quite possible that Bianca is merely trying to demonstrate that a young lass from KZN with passable good looks doesn’t need to be trapped in that corrupt, collapsing province for life. Or maybe she works tirelessly to improve the lives of the less fortunate in Dubai. Who knows?

But back to the $580 000 buffaloes bought on Christmas Day 2019 for cash. Many people find it odd that a millionaire businessman can’t get access to bank facilities that would prevent him from having to go on shopping trips with wads of dollar bills.

Many people find it equally odd that anybody flogging some rather expensive ungulates would not think it strange that the purchaser wanted to pay in cash. But that is apparently what happened and Pres Frogboiler has now said that he instructed the employee whose tiresome task it was to count out the moolah (on Christmas Day nogal) to remove it from the safe in the main building and move it “to a safer location”.

Most people would regard the safe (the clue surely is in the name) as the most sensible place to keep valuables. That’s why we have them installed. However, the Phala Phala employee decided that a “safer location” would be to stuff the cash into the soft furnishings in the President’s residence on the farm where it remained undisturbed for forty five days when it was stolen.

Here’s where the story starts to fall apart for me. If I had just asked an employee of mine to take the equivalent of R8 million out of the safe and put it somewhere safer, for example a hollowed out tree, surely I might reasonably be expected to follow up the instruction with a question as to where exactly the money had been placed.

Is the Frogboiler really so casual about money matters that he can’t be bothered to follow up and find out where $580 000 has been hidden? For a whole forty-five days? And if he had learned that it was stuffed down the back of the sofa in the TV room might he not have suggested to the employee that this was not quite what he had in mind? Apparently not.

Then there’s the matter of why Mustafa bought buffaloes knowing they wouldn’t be allowed in the overhead stowage on an Emirates flight to Dubai. Maybe it was an impulse purchase and he thought ‘mustafa buffalo for Christmas’. But as the saying almost has it, a buffalo isn’t just for Christmas.

I’ve made a few impulse purchases in my life. One was a pair of python skin cowboy boots I bought from a shoe shop a few doors away from The Moosehead in Rosebank way back when. They were wonderfully comfortable but rather difficult to get off which is why a lot of cowboys apparently sleep in their boots.

My wife eventually objected to having to pull off my python skin cowboy boots and they eventually ended up in the TocH charity shop in Parktown North to be enjoyed by a new owner. I did once wear them to a book festival in the Karoo and they were a huge hit.

My other major impulse purchase was an entire drum kit with cymbals which I bought from Sandton Music after a rather festive lunch with a client. When I got home and slurred to my wife that I’d just bought a drum kit she told me not to be so silly and to go to bed. The next day the drum kit was delivered and she was forced to apologise.

So it is quite possible that Mr Mustafa was suddenly overcome with the urge to buy some buffaloes without really thinking the whole thing through. Maybe he’s planning to have them couriered to Dubai but does he have anywhere to keep them? And Dubai is a notoriously sandy place from what I’ve seen and not really buffalo friendly country.

A story like this invites mockery and disbelief but the grim reality is that the President we once hoped would cleanse the country of sleaze and corruption seems to be no better than certain of his predecessors.

His unwillingness to give an explanation for the Phala Phala affair and the information dribbling out now thanks to some excellent investigative journalism suggests a very dodgy deal that had less to do with selling buffaloes than it did with moving large amounts of hot money in unusual directions.

But as my fellow columnist William Saunderson-Meyer wrote last week-’ ‘South Africa’s Falling Apart’.


Having been born in 1952 I have only ever known one monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. So I was tremendously sad to learn of her death last week and spent the best part of last Saturday morning watching the intricate process of naming her successor, King Charles III.

It was an impressive display of well-choreographed pomp and ceremony starting with a meeting of the Accession Council at St James’s Palace and culminating, after much oath taking, in the proclamation from the balcony above Friars Court of the new monarch complete with a well co-ordinated three cheers.

The same process is then repeated on the steps of the Royal Exchange in the financial district of the City of London. All of this lavish and impeccably timed ceremony with the attendant pikemen, musketeers, guardsmen and trumpeters goes back hundreds of years which is probably why the UK has become rather good at democracy.

It may also explain many of the mean spirited and historically ignorant comments on social media from those who can only look with envy upon a political system that works perfectly. It’s also worth noting that no leopards were harmed in the naming of the new king.