Twenty years ago... I told you so

David Bullard returns to the South Africa of the first volume of his ‘Out to Lunch’ collected columns


Shades of ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ this week but it was twenty years ago that a slim volume of my collected Sunday Times columns under the imaginative title of ‘Out to Lunch’ appeared in all good bookshops and a few not so good bookshops.

The idea of rounding up a few columns to put into book form came, I am told, from business supremo Doug Band who was a good buddy of the late, great publisher Jonathan Ball. Doug (or Douglas Denoon Balharrie Band to give him his full, rather splendid name) had never met me back then but he was clearly a fan of the weekly column which eventually attracted (according to the notoriously hyperbolic Sunday Times) 1.7 mln readers every week.

Jonathan Ball swung into action and scheduled a lunch with me in Cape Town at a restaurant called the Five Flies near the Cape Town High Court.

Ball and I arrived at around the same time and decided that we needed a

pre-prandial Campari and soda. Not possible said the waitron…we’re out of Campari. “Well, run out to the nearest bottle store and f*****g get some” said JB…and they did. Some of the great attractions of Jonathan was that he was excellent company, swore like a trooper and chain smoked untipped cigarettes. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

He outlined his plans for my forthcoming book and promised a huge launch schedule including big boozy book signings, naked women leaping from cakes, firework displays and a fly past by the legendary Red Arrows aerobatic team. We mutually agreed to dump the last three suggestions in favour of a large cardboard cut-out of me which would be placed next to piles of unsold books. Little ‘Daves’ were also available as souvenirs for dedicated female fans.

The reason JB came up with the idea of the larger than life size cardboard cut- outs was that another South African author whose name escapes me had

just come out with a cardboard cut out to promote his book so we had to go one better by making mine taller.

To our great surprise ‘Out to Lunch’ went straight to the Exclusive Books number one best seller position which delighted the Witwatersrand Hospice who received all the author royalties for what soon became a ‘best seller’.

They also received all the author royalties from the second book so it was rather surprising when they ungratefully ‘cancelled’ me for a fully booked charity breakfast speech at the Park Hyatt hotel after I was dropped from the Sunday Times in 2008 for writing a ‘racist’ article.

The frightening thing if you flip through the pages of ‘Out to Lunch’ is that nothing has changed in the past twenty years. In 1997 I was already documenting the collapse of Johannesburg which had been exposed in a survey of well-heeled American tourists as one of most undesirable cities to visit along with Lagos, Manila and San Juan. Reasons given were various but general squalour and lawlessness featured highly. In contrast, Cape Town was voted one of the five favourite destinations in the same survey.

Other columns dating from 1997 to 2001 cover the dodgy arms deal, the growing influence of the taxi industry, the decolonisation of the school syllabus by the Gauteng Education department who proposed banning Shakespeare with Julius Caesar falling foul because it is “sexist and elevates men”, the gradual collapse of the rand, the growing race baiting industry and mention of such slippery characters as the ANC’s Tony (Sweaty Palms) Yengeni who oiled his way into a cut price Mercedes in return for political favours.

As far back as January 2000 the incoming police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, got into hot water for calling a black female police officer a gorilla according to press reports. A swift bit of spin-doctoring was needed and after a thorough investigation the Independent Complaints Department (ICD) found that Selebi had only called the black female police officer a chimpanzee which was ruled to be far less offensive.

The ICD did recommend that Selebi attend counseling sessions to better help him deal with an already demotivated police service. Selebi went on to become one of the earliest examples in a long line of utterly disastrous and exceedingly dodgy police commissioners.

Also documented twenty years ago was the ANC’s unhappy habit of covering up corruption within the party and allowing miscreants to continue to draw a fat salary while suspended and, in some cases, promoting them to even higher positions within the ANC. For example, Yengeni was appointed chairman of the party’s crime and corruption committee.

In September 2001 I wrote that Frene Ginwala, Speaker of the General Assembly, had urged parliament to act urgently to preserve its credibility and conclude that Ms Ginwala clearly had not been a follower of the Out to Lunch column since 1994 and seemed generally shocked and surprised that the ANC were emerging as what I would later describe as one of the most “disorganised crime syndicates in the country”.

So that was then and this is now and why on earth do we think things will be any better after the elective conference? All that will do is confirm the head honchos who will be fighting the election in 2024 (assuming there is one) and leading the country into another five years of economic disaster, high unemployment, disastrous policy making and general thievery.

The only slight consolation is that it won’t be any of the really loopy RET mob who get into positions of power and maybe, just maybe, Pres Frogboiler will be emboldened to remove the dross from his cabinet starting with Lindiwe Sisulu. There’s also a slim possibility that some of the really dodgy members of the National Executive Committee may finally appear in a court of law although I wouldn’t put big money on that.

When Ramaphosa came to power back in 2018 it was hailed by many as a ‘new dawn’. I sometimes wonder if there’s something wrong with our collective hearing. With the ANC now widely regarded both here and abroad as presiding over a mafia state maybe what we should have heard was that Ramaphosa was the ‘new Don’; just waiting to make us all an offer we can’t refuse.


I thought Pres Frogboiler did very well on his state visit last week, despite some of the snide remarks made by other columnists. One must always take into account the incredible personal pain he must have felt being, as it were, in the lion’s den.

The pomp and ceremony, the banquets, the 62-gun salute in his honour from the Tower of London, the strangely dressed people, the ornate carriages, the soldiers in their gleaming breastplates and the opulence of the surroundings were all harsh reminders of a former colonial superpower and a world away from the traditional image of fur covered royalty we have in this country. It can’t have been easy for Cyril to have kept his cool surrounded as he was by so many of the spoils of colonial oppression.

But fortunately he had the strength to rise above the constant reminders of imperialism and managed to compose himself during his address to MP’s in the ornate Royal Gallery by suggesting that the UK might like to wire some money to SA as compensation for the damage caused by industrialisation.

And while we’re holding out the begging bowl the whole of the West ought

to be chipping in for countries hit by climate change, particularly those with constant load-shedding.

It’s not usual in my culture to go to dinner at somebody’s house, enjoy a splendid meal and conversation and then ask if you can take your host’s wide screen TV with you when you leave.

One little snippet missing from the news reports refers to the mutual exchange of gifts. It’s customary on a state visit for the host and guest to exchange gifts and it must be pretty difficult deciding what to buy the King of England who probably has everything he needs already. One of those wooden giraffes you can buy at duty free wouldn’t really cut the mustard. But I’m pretty sure Cyril didn’t take Chas a copy of Jacques Pauw’s new book which is less than complimentary about the Frogboiler.


I never ceased to be amazed at the complete crap people spend their money on, particularly on Black Friday. I’ve always suspected that a certain brand of designer toaster at R3999 probably doesn’t do much more than those costing a quarter of the price. Designer ripped jeans have always fascinated me and I still can’t fathom why anybody would want to pay more for a pair of jeans ripped at the knee than they would for a pristine untorn pair. But last week I became convinced that some of my fellow humans have completely lost the plot when I discovered alcohol free ‘gin’ selling for R50 more a bottle than 43% alcohol by volume gin. The sooner an asteroid hits planet earth the better for all of us.