The Nkandla Tea Party coup plotters

Andrew Donaldson writes on Julius Malema's visit to Jacob Zuma


IN the months following the Second World War, the expat Hungarian journalist George Mikes, then with the BBC’s World Service, reflected on his adopted country’s national beverage. “The trouble with tea,” he wrote in How to be an Alien (Andre Deutsch, 1946), “is that originally it was quite a good drink.”

A coffee fanatic, Mikes wondered why “eminent British scientists” had conspired to spoil tea with milk, transforming a refreshing and aromatic drink from the orient into “colourless and tasteless gargling water”. For all this, it became a national institution while “retaining, indeed usurping, the high-sounding title of tea”.

Mikes had little doubt though about the drink’s importance in English society: “There are some occasions when you must not refuse a cup of tea, otherwise you are judged an exotic and barbarous bird without any hope of ever being able to take your place in civilised society.”

Invitations are one thing, but to invite oneself, and on Twitter nogal, as Julius Malema supposedly did when he reached out to his former arch enemy? Was convention turned on its head, as so many things are at Nkandla, and was the EFF leader’s offer of his company over a cuppa too good for Jacob Zuma to refuse? 

More importantly, what kind of bird would uBaba be had he turned down the jaw-jaw with Juju? A dodo is one possibility, a lame duck another. Both seem fit for purpose.

According to City Press, Malema’s helicoptered mission on Friday to Nkandla was to persuade his host to cooperate with the commission of inquiry into state capture as this would bolster the forces massed against Cyril Ramaphosa. This, the newspaper reported, would be a campaign the redshirts “would gladly join”. 

The Thief-in-Chief was advised that boycotting the commission would fuel a “media-led public onslaught” and damage his public reputation. (I know, I know, unthinkable.) But putting in an appearance at the hearing would “help expose committee chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s bias”. 

But, whatever the beak’s bias, it pales into insignificance when compared with Malema and chums’ own animus towards the commission, whose investigators have taken undue interest in the EFF leadership’s bank accounts.

However, and before returning to the cuckoo, coup-coup agenda, some discussion of this public relations exercise’s deeper symbolism is perhaps in order. 

It’s noteworthy that tea, a bulwark of empire, should be thus appropriated by those devoted to the destruction of the colonial legacy. Judging by photographs of a smirking Malema and Zuma, cups raised in a parody of mannered civility, they seem well aware of this irony. 

In some snaps, they also appear, oddly, to be licking the outside of their cups. Hacks in the parliamentary press gallery have long noted this subversion of a cultural ritual among the more dire of Zuma’s cabinet appointments, including former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini and former agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson

It’s a mystery why anyone would attempt to ingest tea by first tonguing away at the porcelain. My well-thumbed copy of JP Donleavy’s The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners (Penguin, 1975) is, alas, unhelpful. But – and further to the Nkandla meeting, where, tea done, participants then tore into a whole roasted lamb – Donleavy offers the following about licking plates:

“This is a satisfying ritual and is not only to be resorted to when one is not able to get a further helping. Although widely ridiculed as bad manners, it is permissible if delicately executed and demonstrates more than anything else your enjoyed appetite as well as your thrift.

“While holding the plate surface vertically in both hands well up to the face, licking should begin from the bottom upwards with long perpendicular strokes and never from side to side. Make sure not to cascade gravy all over the place and it is not done to take bites or allow your teeth to make clashing sounds against the crockery. Also do not attempt to talk to your dinner partner while lapping. Unless you are merely grunting replies to her long discourse on gardening. If your partner however, is wide eyed at your antic don’t panic. Your host and hostess, as formal etiquette requires, will, as the opportunity affords, also lift and lick their plates…”

One assumes formal discussions were over when the lamb was served and a pact duly sealed, with the redshirts now partners in an anti-Squirrel alliance with the ANC’s ultra-parasitic wing led by secretary-general Ace Magashule. 

This faction reportedly comprises all the usual radical economic transformation suspects. There are the gelded spooks, peeved that the State Security Agency’s dirty laundry had been aired in public. There are the generals, furious that Squirrel had “thrown [the army] under the bus”, as City Press put it, over the procurement of the Interferon cancer drug which was seen as a possible immune-booster against Covid-19. And, naturally, there are those flea-bitten rent seekers, the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association. 

The vets’ leadership, including chief fibber Carl Niehaus, are now reportedly also off to Nkandla to demonstrate their support for their patron-in-chief. Carl, in particular, is incensed that the Constitutional Court is compelling Zuma to appear before the Zondo commission. This, he argues, strips uBaba of his right to remain silent and not incriminate himself. 

Such is the fury that tea probably won’t help. But Carl is correct to assert that Zuma is a person of interest where state capture is concerned. He is, after all, facing serious criminal charges.

However, is it possible the great blesser can appear before the Zondo commission and put in a convincing performance as a victim of unjust persecution, as per Malema’s wishes, and yet exercise a right to remain silent? 

One suggestion, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), is that he abandon speech altogether and, when questioned, respond with snorts of disdain and pulling sullen faces. Experience has shown that he is rather good at this behaviour.

There has been chatter that Zuma – a keen chess player – is now launching his endgame, and we are entering the second phase of his “Stalingrad” legal strategy, where defence turns to offence and ultimate victory. The commission, supposedly, can expect yet more doctors’ notes and lawyers’ letters explaining further absences and delays.

The aim here, according to the commentariat, is not to delay the inevitable, but to ensure that when Zondo eventually presents his report into state capture, Ramaphosa will be so politically weak that he won’t be able to do anything about it. This, his enemies hope, will leave Squirrel vulnerable to a motion of no confidence, which the EFF’s parliamentary caucus will support. 

Waiting in the wings, then, is future president Ace Magashule, half-vulture, half-cuckoo. Also loitering offstage is the ruling party’s prodigal son, Juju. 

“It was always only about Malema,” the analyst Nic Borain writes in his blog this week. “I believe his setting up of the EFF was intended to establish a powerful ANC Youth League, that the mothership would be forced to invite back as the crew aged and the glorious history of the struggle settled into the sunset. That strategy would only have worked if the Zuma camp was still in power, which helps explain the shared interests [with the state capture group].”

If this is essence of the great Nkandla tea party plot, it is, as Borain suggests, hopelessly desperate fare, and likely to fail. But we can never be too sure with Juju. 

Incidentally, and this may seem an insult to the species, but the bird he calls to mind is the great tit. Common in Europe and parts of Asia, this little chap has a neat survival tactic: it imitates the warning sounds of other bird species. By sounding the alarm, it scares them away from sources of food. 

This surely is the Malema modus operandi: he has learnt to sound like a revolutionary and a socialist when, in fact, he is a self-serving fraud.

Birds of a feather

In addition to Malema and Zuma, the Nkandla mad hatters included lawyer and former EFF national chair Dali Mpofu, EFF spokesman Vuyani Pambo, Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina and ANC national executive committee member Tony Yengeni. Loons all, presumably.

Commentators point out that, judging by photographs, social distancing measures and face masks were shunned for the occasion. But there may be valid reasons for ignoring pandemic guidelines. They could, for example, have been zinced to the gills and, following a trip to a nearby rural veterinary surgery, suitably dosed with heartworm muti. Or perhaps they don’t even care about infection. Either way, there’s no doubting the smug defiance of these superspreaders. 


Travel restrictions 

When they slipped off to Dubai, that sunny place for shady people (to borrow from Somerset Maugham), we presumed we’d seen the last of the Guptas. But alas not. One of the Saxonwold Shebeen proprietors, Atul Gupta, has now approached the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria in a bid to renew his South African passport.

Back in December 2019, home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that two Gupta family members had applied to renew their documents despite being wanted for corruption. Rather than process their applications, first filed in September 2018, Motsoaledi said he locked them in a safe as “there are still many issues outstanding with the Guptas”. Which is about as low as understatements go.

Atul, who has accused Motsoaledi of violating his constitutional duties, claims that his current SA passport, valid until 2025, is fast running out of blank pages – a vexing problem for those frequent flyers among us.

It is unlikely however that any of the brothers will be arriving at OR Tambo or, indeed, Waterkloof air force base anytime soon. Extradition attempts have come to nothing. According to justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola, the United Arab Emirates have been quite uncooperative in this regard. No surprises there.

Motsoaledi, meanwhile, is opposing Atul’s application. Rather than waste the court’s time, however, home affairs should just renew the creep’s passport – and then instruct Atul to collect it in person from the department’s Braamfontein’s offices. And bring along some form of valid identification.

Back page sizzlers

Further to discussion last month concerning Tito “Six Rounds” Mboweni’s libido, I can report that the finance minister’s eye remains rather glad. On Saturday, he posted photographs of a group of lissome young women on his Facebook page which he captioned: “African beauty! Look how happy they are!” 

Indeed, they did appear happy, clothed as they were in westernised tribal chic (for want of a description) for what may have been a professional fashion shoot. To further show his appreciation, Mboweni, ever hip to social media, added two emojis of applauding hands.

While there was nothing especially disturbing about the pictures, there were some complaints. The fact that the models carried pots on their heads “glamourised” the labour and hardship that many African women endure. More importantly, there was concern that Mboweni should rather be concentrating on weightier matters, like the forthcoming budget – although, given the dreadful horror show that’s going to be, such distractions are perhaps understandable.