South Africans really are gatvol

Jeremy Gordin says the country don't trust the ANC any further than they can throw it

If you don’t object – and provided you’ve digested your breakfast (we don’t want any choking) – I’d like to ask you to picture me puttering off of a late afternoon in my car to get my over-priced medication [i] at the local pharmacy.

Now, “my” actual car, the real one, isn’t too shabby – because it’s my gorgeous wife’s. But if you want to get into the spirit of this article and of my mind, I’d like you to think of me as being at the wheel of one of those classic motors from the roaring 1920s, a 1924 Chrysler Model B-70 for example – its only anachronism, besides me, being a radio.

The point is that it must be a vehicle that sits up high and that, because it’s 98-years-old and hasn’t been looked after by me, is a real skorokoro, a tranter, a wreck – and sort of bobbles around in the air as if not properly connected to its frame and suspension. Tarum-tarum-tarum. Tarum-tarum-tarum, boeps-a-daisy! You get the picture, yes?

Okay – just a little bit more work on your part. I’d also ask you please to try to remember those phrases which we used to hear or read quite a lot: “the tide of public opinion has turned”; “public sentiment has shifted”; “there’s been a major public opinion change”; “a seismic switch in public opinion”.

I ask you to “try to remember them” because it’s my impression that I haven’t heard them in Seffrica for quite a long time.

So then, try to imagine me, a grizzled old duffer, mostly bewildered by the modern (and the ancient) world, trundling along, and up and down, in his skedonk, thinking mainly not about other people or politics but about, say, William Empson – in other words, paying scant attention to Twitter, news reports, Instagram, TikTok, gossip, or the media in general, and listening to the radio only because it happens to be there.

I should also add that I’m not a chap who’s sensitive to shifts in public sentiment – or shifts in anything, it seems. Did you know, for example, that I was present, so to speak, during the San Francisco earthquake of 1989? [ii]

Standing in Mill Valley (just across the Golden Gate Bridge from SF), I had just inserted my debit card into a bank machine, when the whole structure, housing both the bank machine and the bank, literally started jumping up and down. I, however, thought that this was because my card was overdrawn again.

Let me ask you then: can you imagine a duffer such as I, bumbling along in his (imagined) 1924 Chrysler Model B-70, becoming aware of a seismic shift in Seffrican public opinion? Not very likely, is it?

And yet. And yet listening a day ago to a snippet on Radio 702 during which the ever-courteous and politically correct John “Pearlperson” Perlman was talking to Mthunzi Mhaga, the head or one of the chiefs of the special tribunal looking into all the corruption matters related to Covid tenders and contracts, and taking calls from listeners, something hit me with the force of a ball-peen hammer on the noggin.

Hundreds if not thousands of Seffricans are seriously pxssed off with their money – or with taxpayers’ money anyway – being stolen.

Calls to radio stations, countless tweets, letters to newspapers, etc. [iii] have turned into a veritable tsunami (as Zwelinzima Vavi might have said) of complaint, warning and anger. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating.

Let me give you some context, as they say. About five-six days after horrid floods had devastated KwaZulu-Natal – flooding, landslides, collapsed buildings and rivers bursting their banks were reported all along the south of Durban, with the hardest-hit areas being Umlazi, eManzimtoti, Chatsworth, Malvern, Queensburgh, and Virginia airport – at which point some 350 people were already declared dead – President Cyril Ramaphosa roused himself and his colleagues from, so to speak, their warm pot of gently boiling water and declared that the treasury would make a billion rands immediately available to help victims with food, clothing and shelter, and to start rebuilding everything that had been destroyed.

The Gifts for the Givers Foundation, and churches, and other so-called grassroots organisations had already been hard at work for days, trying to alleviate suffering. But no matter – that the government got together the billion rands was good.

What was remarkable, however, is that three days ago KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala had to make an official statement promising that government officials would not take advantage of disaster relief funds.

And, if may interpolate for a moment, Zikalala was at the same time forced to defend himself publicly against allegations that he’d “abused his powers”. He’d summoned a water tanker to deliver water to his home in the La Mercy area [iv], while thousands of residents were – and are – without water following the flood damage to water infrastructure. But, listen, we Seffricans are a good-humoured lot – and I understand that all over the country water tankers are now generally referred to as “zikalalas”.

Similarly, on Tuesday, two days ago, Ramaphosa said pointedly that corruption, mismanagement and fraud would “have no place” in the allocation and distribution of flood relief funds. In fact, he found it necessary to emphasize that funds for around 40 000 displaced people and infrastructure repairs would not be stolen.

Why, we wonder, do the two gents seem to protest too much? A stupid question since there’s no one who doesn’t know the answer.

The Special Tribunal, which has a statutory mandate to recover public funds siphoned from the fiscus through corruption, fraud and illicit money flows, has investigated countless tenders and contracts – to discover that literally billions of rands were “stolen” from those funds and monies earmarked to help those left bereft, unemployed and/or hungry by Covid lockdowns, as well as for providing PPEs, for sanitizing schools and other “public” buildings, and for countless other good works.

Goodness, even our erstwhile minister of health, Zweli Mkhize, a former ANC treasurer-general, who seemed a stand-up sort of chap, helped himself and his family to the loot – as we now know.

This week, three disparate organisations – the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the University of Johannesburg, and Woolworths – announced that their respective donations towards alleviating the flood ravages would be made to the Gift of the Givers – not the government.

Smart folk. Point is that there has been a palpable breakdown of trust between this government and its citizens – whatever their ages, colours, sizes, political affiliations, or religions are. Palpable enough even for an old duffer to register. Do you think Ramaphosa or anyone else in government, including in provincial governments and municipalities, is aware of this – or cares?

Hard to tell. Interesting story – as told by Ferial Haffajee of the Daily Maverick: At the Virginia Airport in Durban North a group of rescuers is deployed to look for missing people and assist those who are displaced or marooned. They retrieve bodies and bring them back to the airport, where they are loaded into mortuary vans.

A group of volunteers rallied to arrange care packs for these rescuers and for flood victims who are often cold and hungry, said DA councillor Shontel de Boer.

On Monday, however, volunteers were surprised when vehicles with eThekwini council markings, driven by three officials, arrived and started loading the care packs into their vehicles.

“At one stage during the day, one or more council staff were [also] seen opening and eating from the prepared bags,” said De Boer.

But when a full-on council truck arrived and began loading up the care packs, the volunteers called Vanessa Knight who, together with De Boer, had originally organised the aid effort. Knight arrived and blocked the path of the council officials. A video of this confrontation went viral on social media, sparking outrage in Durban and across the country.

Knight kicked up a rumpus and called the cops and everyone else she knew. The trucks were subsequently forced to turn around and return the goods they had attempted to remove.

Oh well, I guess some things remain more or less the same – even when there are seismic shifts, not to mention killer floods.


[i] Most of the best stuff is not covered by the medical aid, of course.

[ii] Google will now tell you that the Richter Scale measurement was 6,9 but I remembered it being said that it was 7,2 – can’t trust this Google thing. It was apparently “caused by a slip along the San Andreas Fault,” which can sometimes be a whole lot worse than, say, a Freudian slip.

[iii] My gorgeous wife keeps me well informed and up to date.

[iv] Zikalala blamed his wife – well, what else is one supposed to do?