The curse of the Grimaldis, and the ANC

Andrew Donaldson writes on Princess Charlene's tarrying in our unlucky country


THOSE of you who take an interest in such things will be aware that this week Princess Charlene grudgingly returned to Monaco with a large attack dog named Khan. It appears to be a ridgeback, or at least the sort of hound capable of bothering lion and buffalo, and it will probably go all direwolf on anyone who gives her grief. 

This obviously includes the father of her children, the glad-eyed Prince Albert II, and let us just say in this regard that there may well be flight attendants and topless models out there who now regret not having such a beast at hand when the world’s wealthiest royal paternity suit respondent came creeping.

But so much for celebrity gossip. I have visited Monaco on a couple of occasions and can well understand Charlene’s reluctance to return. The place is hideous, a dull assemblage of concrete eyesores stuffed with defrocked counts, tax dodgers and money launderers. It is the sort of vulgar community that Elon Musk wishes to set up on Mars, and frankly, the sooner he does so, taking these people with him, the better.

It’s not surprising that little more than a fifth of its 39 500 residents are native-born Monégasques; the rest of the population are all nationals of other countries, jet trash who derive most of their considerable income from activity outside the principality. Monaco has the highest number of millionaires and billionaires per capita in the world — all served by a 48 000-strong workforce who commute into the city-state each day from France and Italy. (Given that real estate is pegged at about $60 000 a square metre, workers obviously cannot afford to live there.) Life expectancy is high, at almost 90 years. It falls dramatically, however, whenever Albert’s sister, Princess Stéphanie, is behind the wheel of a car.

As a rule, residents avoid the tourists. Most visitors spend time at the Monte Carlo Casino, hoping to soak up its so-called 19th century European glamour and — dream on, suckers — break the bank. Opened in the 1850s to reverse the House of Grimaldi’s financial misfortunes, the casino is owned and operated by the Société Anonyme des Bains de Mer et du Cercle des Etrangers à Monaco, or SBM, a public company in which the Monaco government and the Grimaldis have a majority interest. The company also owns the major hotels, sports clubs, restaurants and nightclubs throughout the principality. Incidentally, SBM’s name is roughly translatable as “gang near the beach that fleeces foreigners”, which they do with gusto and sans shame. 

About 20 years ago, I joined a group of South African music industry executives for coffee at a café near the casino. It was fairly early in the day, and the only other person in the place was a woman feeding her wheezing, overweight pug macaroons for elevenses at the table. (Khan is going to have the time of his life with dogs like that as neighbours.) One of the execs graciously picked up the bill. He visibly recoiled when he saw the damages, face frozen in a rictus grin of the sort last seen on Jessie Duarte as she tried to play down the ANC’s dismal showing in the local elections.

The point of all this, I suppose, is that the Grimaldis are royalty. Admittedly not in the same league as the Windsors, but royalty nonetheless. They have that peculiar ability to enfeeble others, like members of the South African media, who happily fawn and dribble on themselves in the presence of such people.

Like so many of their ilk, the Grimaldis are able to justify their extreme privilege through public “works” and gestures of philanthropy. And so it is with Charlene. She nipped back to the old country in March to attend the funeral of the late xenophobe, King Goodwill Zwelithini, but then developed problems with her ears which seemingly, or conveniently, prevented her return to Monaco. 

“Initially I was supposed to be here for 10 to 12 days,” she explained in July. “Unfortunately, I had a problem equalising my ears and I found out through the doctors that I had a sinus infection, and quite a serious one. So, it’s taking time to address this problem that I’m having. I cannot force healing, so I will be grounded in South Africa until the end of October.”

The gossip rags were all over this story like a fox on a crippled chicken, especially after Charlene missed her 10th wedding anniversary and other official engagements, like waving at people from various balconies. That old chestnut that she had wanted to call off the July 2011 wedding was rehashed once more; at the time, France’s L’Express reported that Charlene wanted to flee Monaco after claims surfaced a week before the wedding that Albert had fathered yet another illegitimate child in secret. Such allegations were dismissed by the palace as “ugly rumours” born out of jealousy. 

This did nothing to stop reports of the fabled family curse appearing once more. One popular version of this legend, dating back to the 13th century, is that a Flemish woman, abducted and raped by Prince Rainier I, cursed him and his descendants with the words: “Never will a Grimaldi find happiness in marriage.” Another suggests it was a woman accused of witchcraft who uttered those words before she was burnt at the stake. Either way, a big #MeToo moment.

The “curse” gained major tabloid traction in the years after the death in 1982 of Albert’s mother, former film star Grace Kelly. Perhaps the 20th century’s most famous Grimaldi, Grace died of a brain haemorrhage after her car mysteriously veered off a cliff. At the time, it was claimed that Stéphanie, Prince Rainier III and Grace’s youngest daughter was driving. This was strongly denied by the palace.

Eldest daughter Princess Caroline’s first marriage meanwhile ended in divorce after two years. Her second ended when her husband died in a powerboat accident. She is currently separated from her third husband, Prince Ernst-August of Hanover. Stéphanie, being something of a rebel, has had her fair share of what one society magazine has termed “tumultuous relationships”. These include one brief marriage to a former bodyguard and another to a “Portuguese acrobat”.

With all these and many other skeletons in the closet, it was never going to be easy for Charlene. But Her Serene Highness, as a suitably enthralled TimesLive reporter has referred to her, is a tough cookie and soldiers on in the manner of a Diana Lite. During her “enforced” stay in South Africa she was holed up in “virtual seclusion” in a luxury KwaZulu-Natal game lodge where, according to Paris Match, she was living like “a wounded animal”. Happily, she was on occasion able to involve herself in a bit of wildlife conservation and assist in operations to dart and dehorn endangered white rhino.

More riskily, Charlene offered to mediate in the succession squabble that has beset the Zulu kingdom in the aftermath of Zwelithini’s passing. According to You magazine, she reportedly called on the Zulu royal family to halt their succession battles in the name of peace. “She is not a formal mediator,” the magazine quoted a representative as saying, “she is simply willing to help. She believes she can make a difference in a complicated family matter under the guidance of spiritual leaders.”

I’m not sure what part the spirits or even their leaders would have played here. The curse on the House of the Grimaldi up against the Badwill mojo? Even odds, I’d say. But the mediation would have been tough, if in fact any such process had taken place. When it came to leaving, though, Charlene was seen off at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport by Prince Misuzulu Sinqobile kaZwelithini, so presumably hers was not a wholly unwelcome presence among the infighting Zulu royals.

What a pity that she didn’t stick around to sort out the ANC’s in-house mess. The squabbling here is now going supernova, with Jacob Zuma openly calling on party members to revolt against its leadership. Speaking on Friday at the Bulwer, KZN funeral service of another of his many in-laws, this time the brother of ex-wife Nkosazana “The Clarice” Dlamini-Enforcer-Virodene-Zuma, Accused Number One blamed his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, for the party’s failures at the polls.

Interestingly, he also suggested that he is not the sort of person to keep quiet “when things go wrong in the ANC”. He is correct in that. Rather than keep quiet, he has in the past chortled away rather loudly whenever the party’s many faults were pointed out. And not in a happy or pleasant way either.

Even more oddly, he feels that, were he not out on parole, he would have been able to campaign more vigorously for the party and it would then have done so much better at the polls. As uBaba put it: “If I was not on house arrest, I would have explained to voters why it was important to vote for the ANC despite its shortcoming and would have convinced them to not punish the party but rather to hold leaders accountable.”

Laugh? We nearly died.

One upshot of those “shortcomings”, however, is that eThekwini, one of the metros the ANC lost control of, is now swamped by sewage. This week, in response to images on social media of sewage spilling into the harbour, local officials said the stuff had entered the Durban port after pump stations malfunctioned as a result of ongoing load shedding and vandalism. 

Squirrel meanwhile stumbles on in some sort of delusional fugue state, telling anyone who’ll care to listen that the party did not, in fact, receive a hiding in the elections. He has poured scorn on opposition parties’ avowed refusals to enter into coalitions with the ANC in hung local councils. “Who said ANC wants to get into partnerships with them?” he told a briefing in Soweto. “It’s okay, we are not on our knees and begging and if we have to be in opposition then we will be in opposition. We will not go cap in hand to everybody, we are the ANC.”

Indeed you are. And the Grimaldis have nothing on you when it comes to being cursed. Or rather, when it comes to cursing and blighting the lives of others. Could Her Serene Highness have pulled it off, and solved the problem of this ANC mess? Unlikely, even with darting and dehorning. But, with a good dog by your side, well, anything is possible. 

As we say, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), where others can’t, Khan can.