A FAMOUS GROUSE
WHEN he was released from prison on January 15, 2007, after serving four months of a four-year sentence for fraud, Tony Yengeni had this to say, apropos the growing concern over ANC corruption: “Poverty is South Africa’s biggest problem.”
Columnist Max du Preez noted that at the time Yengeni was wearing a R5 000 suit and a R1 500 pair of sunglasses. He then sped off in a Mercedes CLS, a vehicle that in 2006 came with a price tag of more than R600 000.
News reports later described the unrepentant criminal as being more casually attired at the family home in Gugulethu, where a bull was ritually speared and slaughtered in his honour as part of a homecoming “cleansing” ritual.
It was a bloody business on a sweltering day, and not without some domestic strife. Leslie Yengeni, Tony’s elderly father, was severely reprimanded when he wiped his hands on what he supposed was a pink rag. It was, in fact, a sweaty polo shirt that his son had stripped off before slipping into something fresher.
The lesson here, if I may, is that you don’t touch a struggle hero on his toney togs.
Even today this ANC national executive committee member insists that certain standards be upheld. Earlier this month, for example, he tweeted his delight that in Alexandra the car tyres set aside for Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba’s threatened necklacing were “clean and nicely polished”.
This may seem unnecessarily fastidious, elitist even, but then Yengeni is certainly no slouch when it comes to presenting the cut of his jib, as it were. And none of this should detract from from his statements outside Malmesbury Prison all those years ago.
It is indeed shameful and calamitous, but the great majority of South Africans do remain mired in poverty. Their circumstances will have been especially vexing in recent weeks, for there is no surer sign of an election in the offing than the odium of politicians presently bothering the indigent and unfortunate.
As was the case this week when ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and several hundred supporters dropped in on the embattled residents of Paradise Park, a former holiday resort outside Hermanus.
There is much about this particular episode of soapboxing that is troubling.
When Magashule and his convoy arrived at Paradise Park they reportedly found access had been barred by security guards who had locked the site’s gates. A tense situation developed and, according to some sources, several scuffles broke out. Eventually, after the arrival of the police, the gates were opened.
Magashule was apparently well aware that he and his entourage would be denied access but went ahead with his invasion anyway, declaring to reporters that he and his supporters would not be stopped. Eyewitness News quoted him as saying, “[They said] only 12 people are allowed to go there, and we said there is no such, we have a right to campaign everywhere.”
This is not strictly true. Paradise Park is private property. Unauthorised entry could be considered trespassing. (But, then again, property rights are currently not a big thing with the ruling party anyway.) As it is, though, the current owners of the land regard the present occupants as trespassers of a sort.
According to a statement from the DA-led Overstrand municipality, the 22 hectare plot on which the resort stands was sold in March 2017. “The buyer,” they said, “has not been able to take full possession of the property because there are still people living in the park and concern was raised about their fate.”
These residents, described by some as “mostly poor white families”, were served notices to vacate the property. The new owners, identified as Magna Business Services, then appointed a social worker to “identify permanent residents in need of emergency accommodation”. All told, 25 individual residents were interviewed.
They refused to move, and the matter has gone to the Cape Town High Court where it is set to be heard a couple of days before the country goes to the polls.
The residents at Paradise Park believe they have a strong case. They claim to have long-term lease agreements entitling them to permanent residency. Judging by old comments on Paradise Park’s apparently dormant Facebook page, some of them had holidayed at the resort for decades before being offered the opportunity to buy into a retirement scheme there, which they gladly accepted.
The Overstrand municipality, meanwhile, has acknowledged that it is constitutionally obliged to provide “emergency accommodation” for those who will be left destitute should forced removals become a reality.
The nearby village of Stanford has been identified as a possible relocation site. Overstrand does however tactfully point out that “emergency accommodation” does not mean “formal housing” but merely a plot with “shared services” where a temporary structure can be erected.
To Stanford’s relief perhaps, the Paradise Park people want nothing to do with them.
Stanford is, as far as Stanford is concerned, a community of delicately-balanced Aquarian harmony, a place where the vibe of old Neil Young records, artisanal breads and potters’ wheels converge gracefully with the natural beauty of the surrounding hills and wetlands. Chakras are not only spiritually aligned here but are greased with sanctimony and chardonnay in equal measure.
The rest of us, though, regard it as a trendy feeding trough for vampire estate agents.
But, besides all that, a shanty town remains a shanty town no matter where it is. Better a chalet, then, where it is shabby than a shack in a chi-chi neck of the woods.
All in all, the situation presented itself as an ideal photo opportunity for Magashule, and one that turned out rather better than expected. He’d now ride in to save the umlungu, never mind the fact that just days earlier he’d declared them superfluous to the party’s needs.
As the media looked on, he solemnly held hands with the Paradise Parkers and, speaking in Afrikaans, vowed that the racists would never take their homes. The land, he promised, was theirs.
To seal this covenant, he gave them ANC T-shirts. Some residents wept in gratitude.
It as alarming that such cheap theatrics should still be with us in the 21st century. Even more extraordinary was that no-one seemed to ask the Paradise Parkers if they were expecting Magashule to return anytime soon after May 8.
Say what you like though, the ANC really does give a shirt.
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