Another lunch with R.W. Johnson

Dominique Herman talks to the leading commentator, following his 11 week stint in hospital

Its been a year since my last lunch interview with Bill Johnson. Since then, hes had to learn to walk again for the second time in his adult life, having recently endured an eleven-week stint in hospital.

In 2009, Johnsons left leg was amputated at the knee after he cut his foot while swimming in a lagoon in KwaZulu-Natal. It became infected to the extent that he almost died. That was a landmark in my life,” he says.

I wonder how he found dealing with that experience psychologically? Its a strange moment when you wake up for the first time and say, whats happened? And they say: you only have one leg, the other ones been amputated. You look down the bed and you realise that theres a missing shape where your leg would have been under the covers. Thats quite a moment.

But I absorbed that and thought, well, its going to be difficult. And then not long after that a friend who is a psychotherapist came to visit me and said, you must be very depressed. So I said, no, and she said, its inevitable if you lose a limb, then you will suffer from depression; its just a sort of given. And I said, well, Im not. We almost had an argument about it. I said, look, you know, Im alive; I might not have survived this. As far as Im concerned, Im lucky. Thats how I felt from the word go and I was determined to feel that too.”

He discovered afterwards that his chance of survival had been 11 percent. When you face life suddenly with only one leg and you realise how difficult its going to be, you realise that having a positive attitude is going to be essential. You simply cannot cope with what lies ahead if youre in a state of depression. And therefore being cheerful and positive is the right attitude in every sense – also for everybody else around you. I am naturally a fairly cheerful person so I just continued to be.”

I find this comment amusing considering that reading Johnsons intellectual output can make one decidedly uncheerful. He considers this. I dont find that dealing with a situation that is a hard, bad situation – or whatever – it doesnt make me depressed or sad. I mean, its just another part of life.”

But take South Africa, for example, and the innumerable problems we have. Surely it gets him down a bit considering hes so in it, as one of the countrys foremost political analysts? No, it doesnt really. I dont think so,” he says.

How does it not? Look, I could see from a long way back that our present situation was likely to happen, so Im not disappointed or disillusioned. What sometimes annoys me is that theres a lot of stupidity.

“I did expect the situation to be roughly the way it is and one of the reasons was that when I had known and talked and mixed with the ANC in exile, I could see how far from the mark they were and how poorly they understood the situation. There was simply a lack of education, a lack of intelligence, a lack of planning, a lack of all the things that you would need if you were really going to govern a complicated country like this. There was also a lot of ideological baggage that was going to get in their way as well.

“And that often blinded even the smarter ones. I suppose Frene Ginwala (the first speaker of the National Assembly in post-apartheid SA) was as smart as anyone else in the ANC’s upper echelons, but I remember meeting with her not long before 1990 and being utterly shocked by the extent to which ideology had led her into sheer nonsense. She tried to convince me that mines and mining wouldn’t matter in ANC South Africa because, apparently, some stupid ANC committee had said so.”

It’s time we ordered drinks and Johnson scans the menu for a chenin blanc spritzer but finds only a chardonnay one. That’s alright, I can manage with chardonnay.” Shortly after it arrives, a gentleman from the neighbouring table comes over to ask what he’s drinking. That’s interesting,” Johnson says, after taking a sip. I don’t know what they put in it but it’s quite nice.”

Despite his projections of post-1994 life in South Africa, I ask Johnson whether he reckoned at this juncture that wed be lurching from one catastrophe to the next quite to this extent. After all, nothing seems to be going right.

Well, the private sector struggles along in a resilient way,” he answers.

Yes, I reply, but it does that in spite of the government. I meant, is anything going well that the government has to do with that one could potentially be positive about?

No, I cant think of anything,” he says. Although the interesting thing is that in many ways the ANC are worse than you might expect. If you take a country like Kenya, theres lots of corruption, of course, but it grows at a regular five or six percent per annum and its a go-ahead country in which theres more and more young hi-tech entrepreneurs. And its an enterprising population.

So it’s not the case that the ANC are just the same as African nationalists elsewhere. They’re actually much worse than their opposite numbers in Kenya, for example.”

Why are we not a go-ahead country? I reply. What do Kenyans have that we dont?

Well, one thing is that theyre not obsessed by their past. I was rather surprised when I was last there. I asked if there was a museum of Mau Mau. They were quite shocked at the question and said no, certainly not. They saw that as a painful and rather shameful period of their past, not something to spend time or effort on, and the government certainly wouldnt encourage that.

Or again, shortly after independence, Kenyatta made a speech praising the British-trained Kikuyu loyalist farmers who had fought with Britain against Mau Mau, saying, theyre doing a great job. They work really hard and they will be successful and others should be like them.

“During the Emergency, the British had recruited the Loyalists by promising them land if they fought against Mau Mau. They were as good as their word and, crucially, also put in agricultural extension officers who showed the Loyalists how to be successful farmers. And very successful they became.

“Now, that was quite amazing given that Mau Mau had been the main resistance movement of the Kikuyu people and Kenyatta was the leading Kikuyu politician. Yet he turned to those who had fought for Mau Mau and said to them, be like the Loyalists now. It didn’t matter what the past had been. The point was that if Kenya was to succeed as an independent country, it needed a lot more hard-working peasant farmers. It was future-orientated. Kenyatta said, these people are very entrepreneurial, they work hard, they save, they do all the right things. And you know that was the attitude from the word go – at independence – and I think that’s gone into the national bloodstream in Kenya.”

Whereas, in South Africa, I say, a sense of victimhood has gone into the national bloodstream.

“Yes, and the thing that really is so bad here is that you can see it even now, that when things go wrong like that building burning down in Jo’burg, we are told that it was the ‘fault of apartheid’. We’ve had 30 years of ANC rule now, but they’re still not willing to take responsibility for anything. Is there anything that has happened that they think was their fault, their responsibility? No. This is a hopeless attitude.”

When is the statute of limitations reached on blaming apartheid for things that go wrong? Is it forever, as far as the ANC is concerned? How many years have to pass? “Well, they won’t even answer that question, I don’t think,” he says.

Does he think the general population accepts that apartheid is to blame for everything?

No, I don’t. The man or woman in the street is much more down to earth. They’re certainly willing to blame the government for all sorts of failings. They won’t accept these refusals to take responsibility.”

Looking at the mobile blackboard menu, Johnson asks the waitress whether the mussels come with chips – he hopes it might be moules-frites. She says, no, it comes with bread. So he orders the linefish instead, Cape salmon today.

Johnson references the departure of former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule to start something new along with the more recent departure of former president Jacob Zuma to do the same, coupled with ANC veteran Mavuso Msimangs recent slagging-off of the current ANC leadership, to indicate that its clear the ANC is not nearly as solid as it was. There are people looking around saying maybe this bus doesnt go much further, maybe I have to hitch a ride on something else. And I think that that attitude will grow. So to that extent things are bound to change.”

He doesnt expect the ANC not to continue to govern after the elections this year but adds that if the DA coalition manages to get more than 40 percent of the vote, it will change the whole political atmosphere in the country, there is no doubt.”

Does he reckon the ANC is using the National Health Insurance (NHI) plan merely as a vote-getting exercise and will abandon it after the election, or does he think the party might run with this disastrous endeavour till everything is destroyed in our medical care system?

Theyve rushed it through in a half-baked way without any way of funding it. Its a mess. It wasnt proper legislation at all. It was a completely irresponsible way to behave.” Finance minister Enoch Godongwana didnt even mention it in his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement in October – something that represents the real Treasury attitude”, Johnson says.

At the moment Ramaphosa hasnt signed the bill. He may hold off more or less indefinitely, I dont know. From the point of view of the ANC, getting it as far as they have is enough for them to wave it around at election time, which is what its for at the moment.”

But do you think, I press, that after that theyll let it slowly and quietly slip off the radar because they realise that its unfeasible? Well, Im quite sure the Treasury will say we cant afford it. To which theres no real answer, especially when youve got people still pushing for a basic income grant and all sorts of other spending proposals.”

In addition, he says, there are all sorts of legal problems and its quite clear that the minute that the ANC tries to turn it into proper law, there will be endless court cases. Its also been made clear to them that constitutionally you cant take away from people that which they have a vested interest in. So removing private medical care from a large chunk of the population is basically unconstitutional. There are so many obstacles in the way of NHI that I think even if they decide to press ahead, itll take years and years.”

Finally our food arrives. My melanzane, which comes with salad, is absolutely delicious. Its disconcertingly small, though, while being very high in price by South African restaurant standards. Rather puzzled, I ask the waitress whether this is a starter portion. They only do main portions of this dish, she replies, and offers to bring me something in addition to make up for it. That something in addition winds up being another generous portion of salad, which I offer to share with Johnson but he doesnt want any. This suits me because the salad is also absolutely delicious.

This year is a big one for elections not only in South Africa but also obviously in the US and the UK. Johnson thinks Labour is likely to win in the UK. He describes Labour leader Keir Starmer as not being terribly interesting”. Its difficult to tell if thats more or less flattering than his description of prime minister Rishi Sunak: theres no sense of personality there and thats a problem.

I think (Starmers) a reasonably able, competent man. What concerns me more is that their front bench looks rather weak. I dont see very much talent there.”

The effect of untrammelled immigration to European countries and the seemingly failed experiment of multiculturalism in certain of those places makes for an intriguing situation to follow. Since I spend stretches of time in Germany, what’s happening there on that front is of particular interest to me. But before I have a chance to ask, Johnson mentions Germany as a country in particular need of migrants as the birth rate is so low. Germany “would be much better off with Ukrainian immigrants”, he remarks, implying that as fellow Europeans they are culturally similar. Former German chancellor Angela Merkel letting in one million migrants, mostly from the Middle East, was a decisive factor for Brexit, he adds.

Its of course politically unsayable, but the main problem is with Muslims. Had you allowed in to Britain or France the same number of Hindus or Buddhists, you wouldnt have had a problem.” Im not so sure whether its politically unsayable anymore, I venture. More and more people seem to be saying just that. Well, its true,” he says.

It’s been said that France will be a Muslim country by 2050. Does he agree with that? “Well, I don’t know if it’ll be that quick but there’ll be a political reaction long before then. It looks like Le Pen may well win the next presidential election, which is no longer necessarily a disaster because she has moderated her position quite a long way, which was clever politically but also, I think, genuine. I don’t think she really has her father’s views.”

Italys leader, Meloni, hasnt managed to stop the migrant wave and she has admitted that, he says. She promised to do it so shed better do something,” he adds. I dont know what Le Pen would do. The whole Israel situation now has brought it to the fore.”

I want to chat to him about that but before we come to that, I’m keen to get his take on why Muslim immigrants on the whole as a group just don’t seem to integrate like other groups. Is there no desire to do so, I ask. “There’s no desire. And indeed you’ll find that foreign Muslim leaders like Erdoğan will tell them, you mustn’t. Integration is bad. You must remain true Muslims. You are part of the Ummah, which is the world Muslim community. That is your community.”

So, I follow up, its a case of their coming to European countries to benefit from the benefits: things like welfare but also the opportunities democracies offer – and then perversely being against a lot that democracies stand for?

“It’s exactly what the French are so annoyed about. They say, we don’t want a parallel society. If we now go into parts of Paris – the banlieues, outer suburbs – then it’s like going to a foreign country. And that for the French is a hideous thing to say; they never want that to be true. The British are far more easygoing about these things.”

It seems like a totally obvious question and I have my own answer, but why do these migrants come to places like France, the UK, Scandinavia, etc., if they have only the desire to set up a parallel society? Are they there expressly to take advantage of what those societies can give them, all the while trying to turn them into the very countries theyve come from? What is the point of that? Why are they leaving where they come from if they dont want to embrace a different way of life, a more prosperous way of life? I just dont understand it, I say, probably naively.

Its like ANC voters from the Eastern Cape moving to Khayelitsha, saying you dont expect me to vote DA, do you? It used to drive Helen Zille mad. She would say, youre refugees from the Eastern Cape because the ANC made sure nothing works and if you keep on voting for them, nothing will work here either.

They come to Europe because theres work. You get a better standard of living and it has to be said, many Muslim countries have experienced violence of one sort or another. What Huntington said about Islam, that its a religion of the sword, is true, and the incidence of violence in those societies is very high. So they want to get away from the violence. The trouble is, they bring it with them to some extent.

“But I think things like family allowances and unemployment pay – for them this is unbelievable, and wonderful. If you’ve got a large Muslim family with nine kids and you’re not sure how on earth to manage, suddenly you’ve got nine lots of family allowance: ‘fantastic; that’s what we like’.

That was an enormous pull and of course its one of the reasons now that you find the French are legislating to say that immigrants shouldnt be allowed to get the full range of social benefits until theyve been there for a certain number of years.”

He mentions the Muslim headscarf rules in France versus in Britain where religious gear is more accepted, such as the example of a Sikh bus conductor being permitted to wear his turban instead of a conductors cap. French Muslims are more marginalised, theyre more alienated, theyre more embittered than in Britain. In Britain they are considerably more integrated; theyve got more to lose.”

How does one balance that, I ask: respecting peoples religious way of living with making sure they understand theyre part of a society where they have to toe the line?

My daughter-in-law who is from Martinique, so shes black and French, is full of praise for British multiculturalism. The thing that really struck her when she started living in London is that when you ring the Greater London Council, you get an automated message asking which language would you like to use and then theyll give you a dozen options. In France that would be unthinkable.”

If executed well, I suggest, multiculturalism is clearly terrific, but the problem is that it seems in most instances you dont have a situation where people are retaining their customs all the while having allegiance to the mores of the country theyre in.

I think its an open question. During the last few months you had these huge Palestine Solidarity Committee demonstrations which are often quite threatening. Certainly Jewish people I know in London are quite alarmed by them and stay well out of their way. They do feel that a large number of Muslims and other radicals supporting them are a threatening presence. British tolerance is at stake here. Saying multiculturalism is nice is one thing, but where do you draw the line and how do you make sure people behave in a nice, tolerant way?”

Its very difficult, I agree. How do you do that? You have to crack the whip. Simple as that,” he says.

Moving now onto Israel/Gaza/Hamas, has he been at all surprised by the reaction to the war, or not – more specifically, how so many people have come down on Israel like a ton of bricks. Does he think that response is warranted?

I dont feel the same myself but its difficult because I dont trust Netanyahu an inch. I think hes a crook and hes really got his country into this mess. I think hes the man most to blame for this situation.”

Why do you say that? I ask. “Well, he has quietly ignored Hamas for a long time because it suited him to be able to say, they’re impossible, they’re terrorists, and how could we possibly have a two state solution with terrorists? That has successfully defeated the two state solution. I think he allowed Hamas to grow and become a more and more threatening presence and he’s allowed a situation over a long period where Israel has now got a huge bunch of homicidal lunatics on the northern border and another bunch of homicidal lunatics down in the south.

But, sure, some of the Jewish settlers on the West Bank are behaving dreadfully too. And some of those people in the Israeli cabinet are absolute shockers. The whole situation is very messy. If you had a Palestinian state on the West Bank, I dont doubt that pretty soon theyd be firing rockets into Israel and that is intolerable. Nobody can be expected to agree to a settlement whose result is that.

The current situation with Hamas is in a way extraordinary: they keep saying, we wont talk about hostages unless you stop fighting altogether, but do they say that they will stop fighting Israel? No, not at all. And, in fact, if they get a chance, they launch more rockets. So theyre not offering peace actually. Theyre saying, you must stop fighting but we will continue to fight you.”

Its become quite fashionable to phrase it in this way, I say, but does he think Israel has prosecuted this war in the wrong way? Does he think theyve gone about doing what theyve done incorrectly? Well, you know, it was so predictable that if someone commits an atrocity like that, of October 7, its like 9/11 in America. Theres an immediate reflex to retaliate.”

But what could Israel have done differently? I press. Does he think they should have done something else in response?

I think its not possible to imagine them not taking such steps against Hamas after that. If they come and they kill, torture, rape, etc. etc., 1200 of your citizens, in any country there will be a huge popular demand that you go and get em. And not just for revenge purposes but to make us safe. But what Israel is attempting is not really feasible. You will end up with a situation where they bash the Palestinians in Gaza a lot and where Hamas will still have lots of sympathisers and adherents – many of them quite new. Hamas will doubtless be militarily weakened and many of their tunnels will have gone. So they will pay a price. But the combination of having a disaffected population and a well-embedded organisation which has been there a long time – supported from abroad by Iran – means its going to continue.”

If they manage to destroy the tunnel network inasmuch that its not usable anymore, does he think that could spell the end of Hamas in Gaza because they rely on that infrastructure so much to do what they do. I mean, without that infrastructure, is Hamas still able to operate there? Im sure theyll start building tunnels again. I dont think itll go away,” he says.

And in terms of the thinking that the tunnels were built with aid from the West, does he think the West now will start thinking seriously about how they give aid in future? No, not really.” He reckons that when things simmer down” again, European and American aid shipments will resume as before.

And then he launches into an anecdote that is pure joy from an interviewer’s point of view, in that few people in the public eye are as blessedly uncensored as Johnson: “I found myself day before yesterday sitting at lunch with Mamphela Ramphele at a friend’s house. She interrupted everybody all the time. She would just announce her opinions and there was no argument, no discussion. And so when the question of Israel came up, which it did, she immediately started saying it was a genocide. So I said, no, that’s not really right, is it? And she said, no, it is! So I said, look, a genocide, by definition, has to include intentionality.

Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews and he made quite a good shot at it. He must have killed over half of all European Jewry, maybe 60 percent or more. Now there are 2.2 million people in Gaza. According even to Hamas, 22 000 are dead. Thats one percent. If your aim was really to kill lots of Palestinians, surely by now you should have killed 10 or 20 percent? But that clearly isnt the aim. This is collateral damage. Eliminating Palestinians as a group is not the objective – and theres a huge difference between these two things.

And I said, apart from anything else, in the figures that Ive seen, and theyre now 10 days old, Israel was saying that theyd killed something like 8 000 Hamas fighters. Well, that would mean of the 22 000, 8 000 were military enemies. So youre actually talking about 14 000 civilians maybe. So I said, if we actually stick to definitions of what genocide is, this is not genocide.”

So, what did she say? I ask.

She kept insisting that it was.”

So she wouldnt listen to what you were saying?

She wouldnt listen, no.”

Its very scary: people who cant be swayed by facts and substantive arguments. Its a worrying thing, I say.

I just stopped arguing.There was no point.”

How did the rest of the people at the table react?

Well, they were further away so it wasnt in their face as much as it was mine.”

But equally, you know, a discussion came up about UCT and how theyd taken this position on Israel/Gaza, and I said I dont understand this. Will they now vote for a resolution on Chinese treatment of the Uighurs? Or the French attitude to Muslim headgear? I mean, will UCT have a foreign policy now on everything? Why not just say we are an educational institution, were not a foreign policy outfit? Mamphela then said, but theyve got lots of Muslim students. I said, but that doesnt mean you have to do what they want.”

And the only issue that involves Muslims that theyre concerned with also happens to involve Israel, I add. There are lots of other Muslim-on-Muslim conflicts that dont generate any attention whatsoever from UCT.

“It’s crazy stuff,” he answers. “I don’t see why the university doesn’t just say, ‘we don’t get into that’. Mamphela replied, ‘that would mean you’re going back to apartheid’. I couldn’t see the logic of that.”

Staying in the Middle East, I ask him why America doesn’t take on Iran, widely considered to be the world’s troublemaker. “Well, because they’ve got other things to do.” But isn’t that quite an important thing to do? I ask. Even before Obama, American presidents had been trying to reposition policy, saying Asia is now the centre of the world’s manufacturing, it’s the centre of the world’s economy. That has to be the centre of America’s attention and effort.

Thats why it was ridiculous to get into a war in Iraq or Afghanistan. While the US does that, the Chinese simply consolidate their position. The US also recognises that the Middle East has consumed far too much of its time and energy. Now theyve got fracking, they dont need Middle Eastern oil so their dependence on the Middle East is much less than it was. So they dont need to get involved in wars in the Middle East. And yet what happens is they keep getting dragged back into situations which they dont want to be in.

They keep trying to reorient towards Asia, which is clearly the right thing. So the last thing they want is to start some peripheral war with Iran. It would be a huge war with a Muslim country which would have all sorts of anti-American results around the world in other Muslim countries. And Iran can go nuclear very quickly.”

But they just have the materials. They dont actually have the bomb, I answer. They dont, as far as we know, but theyre very close to it. They clearly could do it quite quickly. And theyve got help from Russia.”

In terms of the US wanting to reorient towards Asia, what is he referring to specifically: Chinas plans for Taiwan? What would the US feel they would need to focus on when it comes to that region?

Trying to guarantee freedom of navigation; not allow the Chinese to simply say the South China Sea is our lake, you cant come here. And part of that is to protect Taiwan but also to bolster up the alliance structure of Australia/Korea/Japan and other sympathetic countries – the Philippines, and so on. Ever since 1942, America has been the dominant power in the Pacific. Thats whats at stake. That really matters to them. Thats a key national interest; what happens with Iran is not. Its a key interest for Israel, but not America.

Thats why Biden got out of Afghanistan the way he did. They know it was a mess, but he felt they had just got to cut and go. You then got this absurd situation where people say, you cant go because if you do then the Taliban will be horrible to Afghan women. To which the answer is, yes, but we did not go to war for the sake of womens rights in Afghanistan. Were very sorry that this happens but that is not our national interest.”

Does he think the US would ever have that attitude about Israel or does he think the Israel lobby is too strong in the States to ever make them say weve just got to cut our ties now, we cant anymore.

“It depends on the strength of US isolationism. An isolationist like Trump would cut America’s obligations everywhere, even at the cost of NATO.”

He wants out of NATO, doesnt he? I ask.

“I don’t know that he would actually get out of it but he would weaken it a great deal. If Russia attacked the Baltics or Poland, would Trump risk a nuclear war to protect them? I can’t see that.”

But wouldn’t the US be obligated to do so as part of NATO?

“Trump would not live up to that. I think in practice he would say that no longer applies.”

So what happens then if you dont abide by the very rules youve signed up for? Does anything happen, otherwise whats the point of it all?

“All treaties have a life. De Gaulle used to say that treaties are like pretty girls. A girl may be very pretty for a few years. But looks fade. Treaties are just like that. You sign a treaty because you need it then and there and then you carry it out for a while, but then it gradually loses relevance.”

Does Johnson find it at all farcical that it looks as if Trump may very well be the American president again? Does he not find that a bizarre idea?

Well, it was bizarre first time around.”

Yes, I say, but even more bizarre now the second time around. What then happens for America and the world? Will it have a marked impact on how things start playing out in general?

If Trump wins again? Oh, yeah. Itll have a huge effect on everything. Itll be much worse than last time, sure.”

In what way worse?

He didnt know what he was doing last time – he really didnt. He was a stranger in Washington. He didnt know how the system worked. He didnt know the right people. And he didnt have people who believed in what he believed in. He kept on appointing people who tried to restrain him.

It would be completely the opposite the next time. If he gets in, hes got a whole team of people now who are loyal Trumpites who will support his views from day one, and who are all prepared to carry out Trumpite ideas. Theyre much better organised than they were the first time.”

And what does he suppose Trump will do right off the bat?

Shut the border: thatll be number one, and go ahead with building a wall. Thatll be quite popular. Some sort of ban on Muslim immigration is likely again. In foreign policy, dont forget that Trump was trying to bully Zelensky into giving him the dirt on (Hunter) Biden and Zelensky wouldnt play ball. So from Trumps point of view, Zelensky is the enemy. So pulling the rug out from under Zelensky will be one of the first things hell want to do.”

And hes a fan of Putin, isnt he? Yes, exactly. Im sure he would basically hand Ukraine over to Putin and say, weve solved that. I think hed be tough on China. He says hed put a 10 percent surcharge on all imports, which would be very tough not only on China but on Europe. It would drive a coach and horses through all the commercial arrangements theyve got now.”

If Trump does go that way vis-à-vis Ukraine and Russia, it’ll be as Johnson puts it “one of the worst things” in that it’ll mean the loss of American and NATO credibility and it’ll encourage Putin. “And Putin won’t stop. He’ll grab Moldova. And then he’ll be after the Baltics. He won’t stop. I don’t think he’s that interested in western Ukraine. It’s Kyiv and the east of Ukraine and the Crimea: that’s what most concerns him.

Putin has made it clear that he regards the break-up of the Soviet Union as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and therefore putting it back together – the Soviet empire – is what he most wants to do. Thats how Russia has always behaved. Its the worlds largest imperial state. And yet they always want more.”

But if Putin goes, won’t you just get another megalomaniac in his place?

You might well but its unclear. Itll be a bit like the death of Stalin. You might get someone wanting a friendly understanding with America of the sort that say, Brezhnev, had. It was a civilised relationship. And I think a lot of people would be much happier with that.”

Does he think the West not continuing to support Ukraine till the very end is potentially a big problem for the West in general?

Oh, yes, certainly. They promised. If the West reneges the loss of credibility would be huge. That would be an enormous Western defeat. And it would mean China could grab Taiwan, Venezuela could grab Guiana and so on. No one would have any confidence in Western promises again.”

By now, the deafening restaurant has defeated us. Johnson wears a hearing aid so noisy environments are challenging for him apart from being purely unpleasant. So we wind up lunch, he heads to his car and I head to the flower garden on the estate. After that conversation, stopping to smell the roses both literally and figuratively seems an apposite postprandial antidote.

Chardonnay Deli at Uitsig

Chardonnay spritzer R65

Glass of Constantia Uitsig sauvignon blanc R60

Linefish R235

Melanzane R198

Two x Constantia Uitsig car entrance fee R40

Total including tip: R650

This article first appeared in Decidedly Hot