Threescore years and ten, and Cyril

Jeremy Gordin writes on soon turning seventy years old, as will the President in November

Aha, September 1 – the first day of Spring! Ja, I know that this year in the southern hemisphere the vernal (spring) equinox will not occur until 11.03am on September 23.

But please don’t bother me with pesky, technical details. So maybe there were four million greenbacks badly hidden in my sofa, so what? There’s no specific law against stashing greenbacks in your sofa, is there?

Similarly, as far as I’m concerned, and whatever astronomers might say, today is Spring day, and I’m going to celebrate it. I’m also going to celebrate Nowruz, which is the Persian-language term for the day of the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year, and the day of the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere. This means it falls on or around 21 March on the Gregorian calendar, but Gregory, shmegory, I say.

My reason for celebrating Nowruz is that it was in Babylon, hard by today’s Baghdad, that one of my ancestors was involved in putting together the Talmud in about 500 CE. If you examine the very fine print of the oldest extant full manuscript of the Talmud (1342 CE), known as the Munich Talmud, you’ll see that a Gordin, then called Ben-Malkiel, was on the production team.

But I digress. The main reason I am so excited about September is that within a few days I shall be celebrating my 70th birthday. Three score and ten. As the Book of Psalms (90:10), largely attributed to another scribbling ancestor, (King) David, puts it: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away”. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Well, if I must fly off in 10 years’ time, or whenever, I’m not going to take SAA until it’s given a clean technical bill of health, and I’m certainly going to avoid labour and sorrow, as I have energetically tried to do all my days.

But I digress again. The important thing about turning 70 in 2022 (albeit as per the Gregorian Calendar) is that so many more important people are also turning 70 this year. My friend, the clever actuary Jonny Bagg, has recently celebrated his 70th. Don’t giggle at his name; he’s doubtless a descendant of Rabbi Ben Bag-Bag, who also took part in putting the Talmud together.

Another dear friend, a beaucoup learned SC, will also soon be honouring his 70th, as will (or have already done) my learned friends David Bullard and Amarnath Singh. However, notwithstanding all these celebrations having happened or soon to happen, there is one person about whom I am concerned.

This is Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa who, according to my records, is set to celebrate his 70th on 17 November 2022. We all know that “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” (King Henry IV/2, III. i.); but reflect for a moment on the example of the forementioned King David.

David was a wily – probably (reading between the lines) a deeply devious – sort of fellow; and though in his youth he offed Goliath without any trouble, he had an extremely rough time later on, and then, when he’d finally attained the kingship, he messed it all up for the sake of bedding Bathsheba.

You remember when David danced in front of the ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6)? “And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.” Now, all manner of apologists, explainers and scholars will tell you that the so-called linen ephod covered his bottom sufficiently.

But you and I know, because we can tell from his wife Michal’s reaction, what really happened. “And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!”

But David didn’t give a damn. “And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.”

My point is that David – whose plots and maneuverings, as you can read, make ANC operators look relatively tame – seems to have been fully intent on having a ball. And, even when he had to knock off his own children, which he did via proxies, David did have a fine time. As I say, read the record.

Ramaphosa, however, looks really dismal, especially these days. Even in the days of yore when he wasn’t being hammered over the Phala Phala snafu, what he looked like was a faintly embarrassed teletubby – and he behaved like one too. He’d say, “Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po,” and that’s all he’d say. He never showed any backbone – never evinced any bottle, as we old-timers used to say.

But about four weeks after Ramaphosa’s birthday on 17 November is the ANC’s 55th national conference to elect new party leaders (December 16-20), and what would be a finer birthday present for the 70-year-old than another term as ANC president?

For that to happen, however, the seriously disheveled and apparently shellshocked ANC has to vote him back in as its president. Will it?

I might have mentioned previously that I don’t listen much to the radio, but when my gorgeous wife allows me to use her vehicle, I perforce do; and the other day I listened to folks calling in about Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s recent announcement that he and his executive team plan to undergo polygraph tests as part of an integrity check aimed at ensuring they aren’t involved in corruption.

None of the callers sounded Caucasian to me – and the comments were ribald, I tell you, ribald. To put it politely, all the callers had about as much time for the ANC and its leaders as they would for a puff adder on the kitchen table.

Lollygagging in the bedclothes this morn, I recalled the ANC’s 2007 52nd National Conference in Polokwane. There was shock horror – at least among the medi-aaah – when the incumbent ANC president, our seemingly presentable national president, Thabo Mbeki, was rusticated by the delegates in favour of unpolished and innumerate Jacob G Zuma.

But them days are long gorn, like a turkey through the corn, as the old blues song has it. In those days, the media and many in the country were still enjoying a love affair with the ANC and its president. These days many of such people have apparently signed divorce papers and even former Ramaphosa “supporters” seem to have gone quiet. (Oh sorry, Peter Bruce; I almost forgot; it’s also your 70th this year. Have a lekker one.)

Still, to lose an election, there has to be some muscular opposition. From what I can gather, it seems there’ll be three main blocs at the elective conference. (i) Staunch supporters of Ramaphosa, (ii) those aligned to the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction, and (iii) Ramaphosa “pragmatists,” those not necessarily fond of Ramaphosa, but who have resolved that he’s the only sensible option right now.

With this as context, the only folk I know of who have clearly indicated that they will run against Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency in December are minister of cooperative governance Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

There has been some talk in recent months that former ANC SG Ace Magashule, son of JG Zuma, Duduzane Zuma, and former health minister Zweli Mkhize might take a lunge at grasping the poisoned chalice. But Magashule seems to have been snookered by the ANC electoral committee; Zuma junior is not, I think, going to be so silly; and Mkhize seems to get deeper in the doodoo by the day.

This leaves, as best I can tell, Dlamini Zuma and Sisulu. How precisely they relate, respectively, to the RET faction, I don’t really know; anyway, it seems that most of the “real” RET leaders, whoever they are, have got other troubles right now and are worrying primarily about their various forms of hypertension.

Now, as I said, to lose an election, even if you’re Ramaphosa, there has to be some muscular opposition; and I don’t think either Dlamini Zuma or Sisulu represents anything like that. In short, then – and counter-intuitively, given the state of the nation and the ANC – I predict that in December Ramaphosa will be given another underwhelming mandate to be ANC president.

But please bear in mind that last weekend I opined that there was no way the Springboks could lose against the Wallabies.

In short, I think that after December, we shall be back to no-business as usual. And to Ramaphosa, I can say have a very happy birthday – but, even if I’m invited, I won’t be coming to your party.