Andrew Donaldson asks whether we should be worried about another Zuma in the Union Buildings
A FAMOUS GROUSE
ALARMING news from the savage feudal kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal, home of the restless and those of dynastic bent. Duduzane Zuma, Accused Number One’s number one favoured son, has declared that it’s very much still all systems go regarding his plans to challenge Cyril Ramaphosa for party leadership.
Speaking to reporters outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Monday after yet another bizarre attempt by his father to delay the inevitable, Dudz warned that his presidency bid would be coming faster than expected. “The plans are on,” the Sowetan quoted him as saying, “We are going in and we are going in thick and fast. Keep an eye on it, this may be an interesting journey.”
Thick and fast? This is worrying.
There was that previous occasion when Dudz was in a mad rush to get somewhere and taxi passengers Phumzile Dube and Jeanette Mashaba died as a result. However, and provided someone else is at the wheel of his powerful high-end sports car and there are no other vehicles on the road, further deaths due to negligence may, fingers crossed, be avoided.
“Fast”, therefore, shouldn’t be a problem per se. It’s the “thick” that concerns. Any minute now, it’s going to be raining dimbulbs and dunces. A deluge of stupid is on its way, an idiot tsunami.
It stands as testimony to our Vibrant Democracy™ that anyone can be elected to lead the country. And, dear Christ suffering on Calvary, in that regard do we not scrape the bottom of the barrel until our fingernails bleed?
If Zuma père, larcenous by reputation and aliterate to boot, can do it, well, why not Zuma fils?
Dudz certainly has “old school” revolutionary credentials. There’s a smear of Guptafiable corruption about the boy, some messy business with the Chinese involving the derailment of the passenger rail services, not to mention the milking of the Vrede Dairy Project. What’s more, he’s spent the last five years wallowing among the filth in Dubai, a sunny place (to borrow yet again from Somerset Maugham) for shady people.___STEADY_PAYWALL___
At the same time, he is a perfect example of the “new wave” Instagram charlatan.
Social media now affords the shifty and shallow a perverse profundity. Policy, such as it may be, is trumped by the pulling power of the self-portrait. As it is, a hasty internet search reveals far more interest from hacks in the married Dudz’s alleged adultery than his political aspirations. He has been romantically linked to Thuli Phongolo, an actress and socialite who is often photographed in her underwear. Dudz denies even knowing her but, you know, the sins of the father, etc.
When he declared in March that he was going after Squirrel’s job at the next ANC elective conference, Dudz told Rapport: “It’s time to move forward, and I believe there is now an opportunity to get involved. I believe I have a lot to offer [as president of the party] and I’m willing to stick my neck out for the ideals that are not being realised.”
These unrealised “ideals” include the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and the expropriation of land without compensation, all the wet dream stuff that so excites the ANC’s RET faction.
However, it must be stressed that Dudz has no hope of realising any of this. It’s the family, see? They’re cursed. The Zuma brand is not so much dead in the water as rotting in a ditch.
Broad support for Msholozi is waning, and this is indicated by the increased desperation and silliness in the behaviour of hardcore fellow travellers like Ace Magashule. Supra Mahumapelo, Carl Niehaus and others.
The busloads of Zumanauts from the woollier interior provinces who booed the party’s KZN leadership outside the court on Monday, accusing them of treachery and betraying uBaba, may have attracted headlines. But such displays are ultimately signs of a growing weakness.
Finally, it is tempting to suggest that Accused Number One’s bizarre bid to have prosecutor Billy Downer removed from his trial must surely be the absolute final delaying tactic in this 18-year-long saga, and that the postponement is the last of this nonsense.
But I’m not putting money on it. In fact, I may not believe it even when the first witness is called to the stand on Wednesday.
To the Zondo commission, where former speaker Baleka Mbete has been suggesting, in all seriousness, that Parliament did not protect Accused Number One and his owners, the Guptas, from any formal inquiry into state capture allegations.
Neither, she added, was Parliament ever going to act on “rumours” about any arms deal irregularities.
These arms deal “rumours” were in the form of documents that were slid under her door. But, as she pointed out, they were anonymous. “That document,” she told the commission, “had no signature, had no author, but it contained scary things. I had to apply my mind for hours and I took a decision.”
The wrong one, it seems.
But whatever Mbete’s decision, Patricia de Lille, then a Pan-Africanist Congress MP, made quite sure that everyone knew about that corruption memo — because she told the House all about it in September 1999. Some not very smallanyana skeletons duly tumbled from various closets. ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni went to prison as a result. So did Schabir “Zombie” Shaik. (Albeit briefly in both cases.) Accused Number One will eventually be tried on fraud and corruption charges — a matter (we hope) that will shortly be concluded.
All this, according to Mbete, was nothing more than mere “rumours”, “noise” and “nothing concrete”. Certainly not serious enough to trouble the House. “Parliament is very busy,” she was how she put it.
I may be out of line here, but this is not very convincing testimony, is it? There have been accounts of low-flying pink elephants and talking daffodils from patients in state care that are more verisimilitudinous. A reckoning of sorts is surely on the cards.
The great moral panic
In Scotland, where I took a bit of drink at the weekend, there is a campaign for a publicly funded museum to commemorate the “satanic plague” trials carried out between the 16th and 18th centuries. Almost 4 000 people were tried under the Witchcraft Act during several waves of hysteria between 1563 and 1736.
Not all of them were women, incidentally. About 15 per cent were men. Witch-hunters, being a prurient lot, were rather keen to hear from women who had slept with the devil or his agents. They demanded detailed accounts of their cloven-hoofed paramours. Given that the overwhelming number of women who were tortured to confess had only ever had sex with their husbands, they unfortunately offered up descriptions of their spouses.
About 2 500 people were executed — roughly five times more than in any other European country. By comparison, only 14 women and five men from colonial Massachusetts, were hanged following the Salem witch trials, which took place between February 1692 and May 1693. Yet the Americans get all the publicity — and they have a renowned witchcraft museum. So let’s get cracking already, Scotland!
That said, there came some contemplation, between belters of Auld Craggie’s aged sporran sap, on our current moral panic.
How will the culture wars be remembered by future generations? Will there be museums devoted, if I may, to “wokecraft”, and the villains and victims of this conflict of cranks?
It’s common knowledge, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), that the term “woke” is one I find annoying. To my mind, it’s been rendered meaningless through overuse by yahoos and the resolutely incurious who shrilly declare that this is what they most emphatically are not. Even if they have no idea what it is.
Rather than engage with ideas, these are people who enjoy shouting at them.
In that sense, they are like old-fashioned witch-hunters. No-one believes more fiercely in the destructive power of “woke” than those who would hunt the woke.
They terrify the children, these moral guardians, with their rants that the politically correct will destroy civilisation with their peculiar notions that black lives do perhaps matter, that global warming is catastrophic, that colonialism was a bad thing, and that the corporations and super-wealthy should be heavily taxed.
But such noise from the anti-woke is getting results. The drive to tackle cancel culture at universities, for instance, has gained traction here in the UK, and government is proposing legislation that will promote and protect free speech on English campuses.
However, free speech campaigners — including such “woke” organisations as Index on Censorship and English PEN — now suggest that such legislation will, in fact, harm freedom of expression.
Take the threat of self-censorship. People watch what they say these days and tend to keep their thoughts to themselves simply because they fear reprisals; it has never been easier to report them to the authorities should anyone find their utterances offensive.
Or worse, in our case. One monkey T-shirt or harmless shampoo display advert and you’ve got a redshirt mob on the rampage through the mall and trashing stores.
The more of such botheration, whether as a result of a formal complaint to the SA Human Rights Commission or a tweet directed at the local branch of the EFF, the less free speech.
Legislation merely ups the Stasi factor with the result that what happened to Adam Habib at the School of Oriental and African Studies becomes the norm and not the exception. As Daniel Finkelstein warned in The Times: “Student groups and rival academics will start accusing each other of infringing their free speech. And they will be gathering petitions seeking fines or disciplinary action against their adversaries.”
The simple fact is that cancel culture cannot be “cancelled”. It must be beaten by reasoned argument. That’s how they eventually dealt with superstitions about witches.
But, being a glass half-full of Auld Craggie kind-of-guy, I believe we may yet conclude that it is not a crime or illegal to say stupid things.
How does it feel?
The man who at 22 years of age once informed his parent’s generation that their sons and daughters were beyond their command is probably finding the same could be said of his own grandchildren. Bob Dylan celebrates his 80th birthday on Monday. There will be those for whom this milestone means nothing, but then, I will argue, they have not heard a thing, and they are truly lost. It’s a big deal, take it from me.
I bought my first Dylan album, Blood on the Tracks, in 1975 when I was 15. I still have that copy. It’s been played to death, and I’ve bought it again on at least eight other occasions over the years. It remains as good an introduction to an extraordinary body of work as any.
That said, I cannot name a particular favourite album, but I can narrow my preferences down to several, including Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, The Basement Tapes and, for sentimental reasons, the aforementioned Blood on the Tracks. Simply put, they have been with me for decades and I now cannot imagine my life without them.
There are others that come close, and you may have your own favourites, but particular mention should be made of Rough and Rowdy Ways, an album produced during the global lockdown. It contains what many critics consider to be last year’s most defining song, Murder Most Foul, a 17-minute account of John F Kennedy’s assassination unpacked in the context of American post-war political and cultural history.
Then again, given the breadth and depth of its ambitions, describing it as a song about JFK’s murder is like saying Moby-Dick is a book about fishing…
Finally, if there is one overarching lesson I have learnt from a Dylan song, it is this simple injunction from 1965’s Subterranean Homesick Blues: “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.” Can’t argue with that.