The Fatiguing Five

Jeremy Gordin writes on the C-words currently wearing him down

Lately I’ve been waking up to the F-word – as in F. u. ... and the next two letters – issuing from my mouth with a large expulsion of breath, an exaggerated sigh. This, I have realised, is likely the result of falling out of sleep (and sometimes the bed) feeling very Fatigued, another F-word.

It’s not Covid-19, I believe, because I have none of the other symptoms. My fatigue could be due to diabetes type-2 – result of a dissolute youth and middle-age during which I smoked like a diesel, consumed trenchers of fast food, fizzy drinks and sugar, and worked an inordinate amount of hours every day for newspaper barons who paid bubkes [i].

Now, since I am not a provincial Premier, I needn’t be windy about my diabetes. I can tell you the truth. Generally, I control it. A decade or so ago, a doctor told me I’d peg tout de suite if I didn’t. But every now and then I experience an overpowering lus for chocolate and wine gums; and, as the Americans say, I pig out. But then I reach for the quick-acting insulin pen, and all is okay till the next time.

So, I went down not to the St James infirmary but to the pharmacy to consult a cute acquaintance. “Listen,” I said, “when I wake up in the morning, the whole of the bottom part of my body is stiff as a plank” [ii] – I thought I noticed a knowing glint in her eye when I said that, but she was wearing a mask so I can’t be sure – “I can hardly walk for a few minutes, I mean I’m literally hobbling and almost falling over.”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way. But if it were gout or arthritis, it’d be really, really eina, so it could just be old age. Or maybe it’s your bed.”

I went away to cogitate some more – and at last realized that my fatigue, and perhaps the weariness suffered by others, has nothing to do with F-words, (or heaven forfend) K-words, or even diabetes. The cause is C-words, of which I can easily think of 10. But I’ll limit myself to five. These – not alphabetically but as they occur to my elderly mind – are as follows.

1. Complacency (regarding Covid-19 in particular but it applies to a host of other issues too). I’ve noted, gently, in earlier pieces the disparity between the official Covid-19 death numbers, issued by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and his happy band, and those issued by the SA Medical Research Council. For example, on 17 September, Mkhize reported 15 499 deaths due to Covid-19, while the SAMRC reported that the figure of excess, “natural” deaths from May 6 until September 8 was 44 467.

Now, if you think about our infection rate – ninth in the world – our official death rate is absurdly low. In short, our official death rate is not “maybe” or “possibly” inaccurate. It is clearly inaccurate.

More to the point, consider the present infection rate. Cases went from 725 on Monday 21/9 to 1 346 on Tuesday 22/9 to 1 096 on Wednesday 23/9. Consider too the official death rate – 39 on 21/9, 126 on 22/9, 88 on 23/9.

And yet (almost) everyone is behaving as though Covid-19 is verby. On Sunday evening I walked past Zoo Lake. There was a party going on, hard by two minivans from which “music” was pumping. I estimated that about 150-200 souls were there (and since I’m a former reporter, my margin of error probably wouldn’t exceed, say, 500). But no masks. Not one.

Remain vigilant; Covid-19 ain’t over, folks. Don’t be misled by the weather, lockdown level one, or fatigue. Look at the UK and Israel. Neither gasping for breath in a hospital ward nor dying is a good idea.

2. Cele (as in Bheki). I’m told that the minister of police is “trending” on social media, apparently because he has been insufficiently politically correct about gender-based violence (GBV), human trafficking and farm murders. A few months ago, I thought Cele was getting too much flak simply because he doesn’t speak English very well; and, since I have trouble myself with the language, I don’t like to be critical of folk for that reason. I thought, well, he’s a cop who must enforce all sorts of nonsense; orders are orders and all that.

Then I saw on TV his reaction to the KZN Midlands farmers whom he invited to an indaba about violence and murders. He was unspeakably and unacceptably rude and dismissive – because, one assumes, the farmers had the temerity to speak Afrikaans so close to Heritage Day. I paid attention: they didn’t say anything “worse” than some of the black interlocutors and the point of such a meeting, as I understand it, is to speak openly. In short, Cele really is Palooka in a Chapeau and must go. Talking of which:

3. Crime. This week five men were gunned down in Dawn Park, Boksburg. They were allegedly involved in a cash-in-transit (CIT) [iii] heist. Three points. While about 300 000 people have been charged for surfing and so on, brazen criminality is back. Second, given the recent behaviour of the police and SANDF, we do not know, probably never will, whether the five could have been arrested rather than gunned down. Third, one of the alleged robbers was allegedly a cop. Talking of which:

4. Corruption. I don’t have to dilate on this subject. But one thing I have wondered about. Do you know what’s happened to Gauteng health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku, his wife and City of Joburg official Loyiso Masuku, and her friend Khusela Diko, suspended spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa?

I ask because I don’t know. I’ve googled the subject but the best I could find.

was that “the ANC Gauteng provincial executive committee (PEC) has decided against adopting the report by its integrity commission which, according to insiders [sic], was riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and provided inadequate information” and that “the two-day PEC meeting is said to have argued on factional lines [with some supporting] the report that called for Masuku to voluntarily [sic] step down, while the other group wanted the report, which was scathing of the MEC, to be sent back for review ....”

So much for ANC integrity commissions. As much spine as an octopus. Talking of which:

5. Cyril (as in Ramaphosa). There’s been much debate over recent months and years about whether the president is a true believer in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR [iv]) or trying to wiggle the ANC into joining the 21st century; whether he’s doing the best he can or is largely powerless due to some opposing faction(s); whether he’s the best of a bad bunch or whether he should be rusticated (not that any of us good guys know how to do that); and so on.

He wears a lekker suit; is more articulate than, say, Cele (q.v.); but although he talks the walk, he can’t walk the talk. The economy, notably state-owned enterprises, has long been whacked, due to Cadre deployment, inCompetence, Corruption (q.v.), and theft – and then came Covid-19.

The what-ifs and the maybes, when it comes to Ramaphosa, are therefore irrelevant. The president is the acme of fatigue [v].

What – as VI Lenin famously called a pamphlet of his – “what is to be done” about these C-words and above all this fatigue, as ultimately injurious as metal fatigue on an airplane you’ve just boarded for an 18-hour flight to some promised land?

Lenin, it turns out, plagiarized the title of a novel written by a Narodnik named Nikolai Chernyshevsky, in which the hero, one Rakhmetov, by way of disciplining himself for the forthcoming revolution, adopts a strict, puritanical way of life. He is celibate, teetotal, sleeps on planks and eats only black bread and raw steak.

I can’t recommend any of this. Just potassium, magnesium and turmeric supplements. Also, wear a mask, wash your hands, and maybe buy a new mattress.


[i] I’m not complaining inordinately; I also got to meet outstanding folk such as David Bullard, Andrew Donaldson, John Kane-Berman, Jacob G Zuma, and so on.

[ii] No offence intended to the boere old enough to recall that “plank” is what “we” used to call them when I was in the SADF, circa 1977.

[iii] GBV, CIT, NDR, CST (Colonialism of a Special Type), etc. etc. – don’t you just hate these abbreviations, which actually serve to hide the reality of what’s being written about?

[iv] See preceding endnote.

[v] The other five C-words I have spared readers this fine Heritage Day are Cosatu affiliate, Nehawu; Cadre deployment; Communism; Capitalism; and Cant.