A FAMOUS GROUSE
THEY spoke a unique form of German in 19th-century Pennsylvania, a feature of which was its curiously specific terms.
As the author Bill Bryson explained, “Notions and situations that other languages require long clauses to convey can often be expressed with a single word in Pennsylvanian German.”
Fedderschei, for example, is the reluctance to write letters, dachdrops is water dripping from a roof, and aagehaar is an eyelash that grows inwardly and irritates the eyeball.
Being of frontier stock, and digging in for Day Zero, the word that most got our attention, here at the Mahogany Ridge, was aarschgnoddle, the matted and clinging dried dung found just at its source of origin.
Writing in his Made in America: An Informal History of American English (1994), Bryson noted, “And, no, I cannot think why they might need such a word.”
Perhaps Bryson has never farmed with sheep. Our Afrikaans friends, however, know what a stubborn beast the gnoddle can be, and have their own, perhaps more romantic-sounding term for such a thing: “katesbessie”.
Quite why we should be concerned with such trivia at a time of momentous political upheaval is anybody’s guess. But on to the wholly unrelated drama at hand, and that is the prising of Accused Number One from office.
It’s been an embarrassing business, but this should not have come as a surprise. The party’s determination that Jacob Zuma’s early exit should not be a humiliating experience was ill-considered and doomed to fail.
For starters, there’s the conundrum of trying to spare the feelings of a sociopath. How possible? They have none.
Here was how ANC deputy secretary general and foremost uBaba groupie Jessie Duarte put it, speaking without invitation on our behalf:
“Our most important consideration is that we don’t believe South Africa should wish for us to embarrass the president of the country in any way whatsoever. That has been and is the intention of the opposition.”
Oh, the manic laughter that followed. Even in the ANC they were falling about in hysterics. But it’s what Cyril Ramaphosa has been telling whoever will listen. He’s done so from the get-go.
“What we don’t want to see is the humiliation of a person who’s a head of state,” Squirrel told the Bloomberg news agency at the World Economic Forum.
“What we don’t want to see is him being treated with disrespect, but in the course of all this we’re winning his cooperation in as far as managing this transition.”
Winning cooperation? Managing transition? But seriously, how has that worked out, Mr Deputy President? Zuma’s going nowhere in a hurry — he’s very good at that, isn’t he? — and you have egg on your face.
We can imagine how it all went down.
Will you resign, Comrade President?
“I have done nothing wrong.”
“No. I am the big cheese. The people still love me.”
Um, pretty, pretty please?
“There are smallnyana skeletons and big ones, too.”
What do you want?
“Well, where do I start…?”*
Immunity for the 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering would likely be high on that list. But alas, such immunity is currently not possible in South African law.
There is nowt that Ramaphosa and the ANC can do to change that. A presidential pardon is possible — but only following a conviction. (And an enormously withering, if entertaining criminal trial.)
Which is possibly why Ramaphosa was able to tell the party’s parliamentary caucus that immunity from prosecution was not part of his “transition” discussions with Zuma.
True, the constitution could be altered to henceforth provide immunity for contemptuous presidents who behave like robber barons and then tear up the constitution for use when getting to grips with their bessies.
But this would require a two-thirds parliamentary majority — something the ANC can never hope of ever again achieving so long as they continue to protect Zuma from the consequences of his criminal behaviour.
It is a fact of political life, as sure as night follows day, that when the tables turn and unfettered power draws to an end, the knives come out and the hyenas run amok. And yes, it gets damned ugly.
Admittedly, it needn’t end the way it did for Mussolini, the Ceausescus, Saddam Hussein or Gaddafi. There are far more interesting and sophisticated fates for the ratbags.
Remember PW Botha’s last television appearance? We should. It was a particularly lurid horror show. He’d had a stroke and was drooling away in a delusional state, railing against the world, a most unloved and pathetic individual.
And, yes, there was humiliation. It will always be there. It’s the gnoddle at the heart of the matter.
* Details of Zuma’s demands finally reached the Mahogany Ridge after the column’s newspaper deadline had passed. He reportedly wants the state to pay his legal fees forevermore. Lawyers are greatly excited. He also wants the state to provide security for his family. Such a courtesy is currently extended to former presidents. However, Accused Number One’s family is an unusually large and fluid group…
A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.