What did you expect of a chicken company?

Andrew Donaldson writes on the Gareth Cliff episode that caused all the trouble, after listening to all of it


Clucking hell

ALL things being equal, our various social media platforms should ideally be troubled in the coming days by faux Nando’s posters and memes commenting on the franchise’s decision to terminate with “immediate effect” their sponsorship of Gareth Cliff’s The Burning Platformwebcast. 

And why not? It is a relatively simple thing to do, it’s not without precedent as parody adverts have appeared in the past, and it is in keeping with their alleged commitment to freedom of expression. Some suggested slogans, then: “Hypocrisy is not a poultry matter,” “We never fall fowl of the mob” and, for those with a standard grade matric, “Chickenshit.”

Several commentators have already taken the company to task. Writing in Politicsweb, Phumlani M Majozi, a senior fellow at African Liberty, suggested they’d been overcome by “white guilt”: “The mobs won,” he said. “If you think that this action by Nando’s advances the interests of black people, then you have been fooled.” 

In Daily Maverick, communications consultant Kabelo Kgobisa-Ngcaba said much the same thing: the chicken people succumbed to the will of the mob. Moreover, it was clear from her comments that considerable outrage, both online and in the media, had been generated only by one small segment of an hour-long show. It was this small segment that had gone viral, but it was enough for the commentariat to tuck into. This is not surprising. There’s a Gadarene element to our social justice warriors; all too often they embrace without question the mendacious and shallow in their maddened quest to take offence.

It was obvious that very few people had actually seen last Thursday’s episode of The Burning Platform in its entirety. Again, this is not startling; Cliff’s guests were One South Africa spokeswoman Mudzuli Rakhivhane and DA leader John Steenhuisen and, given Monday’s local elections, the topic at hand was “service delivery”. This is hardly cutting edge entertainment. In fact, I suspect that nobody at Nando’s even sat through the entire thing. 

Which meant that I had to do it. If only to discover how Cliff, as Nando’s put it, “had failed to create an environment where free speech was possible by talking over Mudzuli Rakhivhane and dismissing her view whilst not allowing her to adequately express it”. Having watched it — and there’s an hour I’ll never get back — I can report the following:

The first half of the episode unfolds as a genial, if unremarkable conversation about election issues. Cliff does not talk over or interrupt his guests when they’re speaking. So blah, so good.

In the 31st minute, Rakhivhane raises the issue of the DA’s controversial Phoenix “Heroes” election posters. Steenhuisen admits, a little awkwardly, that the posters could have been “foregrounded” in context; namely, that the residents of Phoenix had been abandoned by the police during the July riots in KwaZulu-Natal and left to fend for themselves. This was not vigilantism, he says, but a case of ordinary citizens taking steps to protect their families, their communities and their businesses from looters. ”I don’t care what anybody says, those people are heroes.”

So far, so good. Rakhivhane interrupts Steenhuisen in the 33rd minute, saying she has a problem with his comments. Cliff encourages her to speak up, saying, “Go ahead.” She suggests the posters were “confusing”; that they were not about “service delivery”, but about “race”. She speaks at some length about the racial tensions that had existed between the black and Indian communities in KZN for decades, and how the apartheid government, by allowing the latter “just that little bit of extra privilege”, had fostered this racial enmity. Putting up those posters, she says, was stirring up that racial hostility.

Just as I was thinking, Gee, that’s a lot of guff to put on a poster, Cliff tells Steenhuisen: “John, answer the two questions from Mudzuli.”

Steenhuisen points the posters were all about service delivery — in this case the lack of protection offered by the police. He mentions that, during the looting, ANC politicians actually stirred up the violence, promoting an anti-Indian “race narrative”, among them the useless police minister, Cheek Bile. 

Cliff then chimes in about “false equivalences”: a DA poster cannot be compared to the theft of billions of rands of public money, which “affected the poor and exacerbated differences between us” and that it is wrong to suggest the DA is “equally awful as at the ANC in this case…”

It is roughly at this point, as Rakhivhane interrupts Cliff, that the clip circulated on Twitter starts. “I’ll tell you what,” he tells his guest, “I’m sure there are a hundred thousand people who are going to sleep tonight worrying about where their next meal is coming from and about five people who are worried about the hideous racism that’s out there…”

This, of course, is a big mistake. Red rag to bull, etc. Rakhivhane tries to respond as Cliff prattles on about Institute of Race Relations surveys that indicate that racism is at the bottom of the priority list for most South Africans. 

“You obviously don’t experience the kind of racism that I experience on a daily basis,” Rakhivhane tells him.

“Your personal experience are completely anecdotal and unimportant to all of us, I’m sorry,” Cliff replies,

Rakhivhane, startled at first, tells him: “Oh, okay. Thank you. I appreciate the fact that you think that the experience of a black woman in this country is unimportant and irrelevant.”

“Mudzuli, I’m not interested in identity politics at all,” Cliff says. “Nobody really is. They’re only interested in themselves. The elections are coming up…”

Steenhuisen is bemused at this exchange. He is not “smirking”, as some have claimed. In fact, he’s struggling not to burst out laughing. This was supposed to be about the elections and look where these children are going, into the swamp of critical race theory. “Service delivery! Service delivery!” he reminds them in a joking manner.

“I’m so over [identity politics],” Cliff continues. “It’s so uninteresting … I can’t believe that you’re going down this track.”

The discussion then returns to the DA’s posters. Cliff tells Steenhuisen that it was wrong to remove them, that the party should have stuck to its guns and kept them up. Steenhuisen explains they were removed because the controversy they generated was a distraction from issues of service delivery. Cliff is having none of this; the party should have stood by their convictions, faux outrage be damned.

Rakhivhane then says that the one party that does stand by their public statements is Freedom Front Plus. “I know what I’m dealing with, with the Freedom Front Plus. They don’t flip-flop.” Steenhuisen, unable to resist cracking a joke, notes that her party leader, Mmusi Maimane, is the “ultimate flip-flopper”.

That’s it for the interesting stuff. Now, in the 43rd minute, Cliff tells his guests he wants to “move on” to other matters. “I knew you guys wouldn’t get along,” he says, “which is fine. I brought up the posters, because I didn’t want to be criticised for giving [the DA] an easy ride.”

With that, the rest of the episode resumes in a collegiate manner. There is much good-natured humour. Steenhuisen jokes about Rakhivhane wanting to vote for the FF+. There is another slightly uncomfortable moment, however, when the issue of Afrikaans language rights is raised. 

Rakhivhane begins to explain she studied at Stellenbosch University for four years — but then Cliff jumps in again with the “anecdotal evidence” stuff. Which did suggest that he’d only recently come across the term and was now throwing it about to show off. But he was apologetic about interrupting her, calling her a “highly erudite woman who’s acquitted herself admirably this morning. I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m disregarding [your anecdotal evidence].”

All told, a blonde moment. There are others. Cliff does, for example, have extremely odd views about universities. But, as the show ends, he is gracious towards Rakhivhane, telling her that, for a first-timer with him, she was “on fire this morning”. There was no sign of the fierce grilling and intolerance of the opinions of others that we’ve been hearing so much about. 

As for Nando’s? Well, they surely realise that, when it comes to free speech, some pretty ugly things will be said from time to time. They’ve done repugnant stuff themselves. For sheer bloke-ish sexism, for example, nothing could beat this poster: “The second best way to cover your fingers in a hot chick’s juices.” One can only imagine the long Friday lunchwhere that kak was cooked up by the chaps at the ad agency. 

A sensible sponsor would have ignored this nonsense altogether, and reiterate its commitment to freedom of expression. Rakhivhane did not need Nando’s assistance or “protection” here. As Cliff says, she put across her points rather well. If, however, Nando’s really wanted to sanction Cliff then rather than withdraw it entirely, perhaps they could have reduced their sponsorship of The Burning Platform by one or two per cent. That, after all, is all the lynch mob saw of this show, and it was enough, typically, to generate the usual childish outrage.

The goblin returns ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Not a very big man. More like a goblin. In stature, if not temperament. But filled with self-importance. And last week he delivered a telling message vis-a-vis the local elections to business folk in Johannesburg: the ruling party must “responsibly respond to the cries of the people”, as the Citizen reported, and not merely “promise to do better”. 

Yes, former president Thabo Mbeki was calling on the organisation he once led to urgently pull up its socks: “The ANC is too big to fail, because if it fails, the country will collapse.” 

Ah, bless. It’s like he fell asleep in 2007. He’s just woken up and now his elves are unhappily drawing straws to see who gets to break the bad news about the thieving and buggery that took place while he was in Nappyland. 

Does Mbeki know what happened at Polokwane? That Jacob Zuma ousted him from the top spot? What about the Guptas, and the Saxonwold shebeen? Is he even aware of load-shedding?

But wait … what’s this? Someone has given him a cheat-sheet? For here was Mbeki commending pledges by the business community to invest a trillion rand in the country and then pointedly reminding us that pledges alone don’t amount to anything tangible. 

As he put it, in that inimitable manner of his: “We need a social compact to produce a common plan which will be binding on all of us. We must urgently finalise the social compact between social partners to achieve our country’s fundamental social transformation to reduce and eradicate the plague of unemployment, poverty and inequality. That in truth is where the resources will come from.”

I pity the poor sod who had to get this down at that meeting in Parktown. I know all too well that particular hell, having had to transcribe Mbeki’s prattle from a dictaphone on a few occasion myself. Back then, I needed to stop for a cigarette every two minutes because the circulation stopped in my arms. My hands were falling asleep even as I typed, it was that dull. 

But I digress.

“If this is done, as it has to be done,” Mbeki said, “then we will generate the resources that are needed in order to deal with these problems which are very legitimately raised in the local municipalities.”

It’s cash, I realised. The bastards want yet more cash. More notably, Mbeki called on the government to also invest in the country as this was the only way to get the resources to fulfil the promises made ahead of the elections. 

He’s aware that these elections take place on Monday? Like, in five days? 

I mean, there’s a ton of ANC promises out there in need of fulfilment in not much time. We’re talking major rabbits-outta-the-hat stuff. Big, big rabbits. Just between you and I, though, I don’t think they can do it. Even if they worked over the weekend.

Apart from Mbeki, “they” include several old-timers who served in his administration. Most of them, it should be noted, blithely said nothing and looked the other way during Accused Number One’s tenure. 

Hauled from their recliners at Shady Acres, the retirement home for struggle stalwarts, they’ve been roped into helping Cyril Ramaphosa as he humps a somewhat less-than friendly campaign trail. They include former“caretaker” president Kgalema Motlanthe, former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and former police minister Sydney Mufamadi. 

There have been admittedly startling indications from this lot of the scale of the mess that the country finds itself in as a result of the ruling party’s ineptitude and corruption. Comprehension, you may say, is dawning. It’s stilly a bit fuzzy. But it’s there. Make no mistake.

Mlambo-Ngcuka, for example, recently told supporters at Ruth First House in Johannesburg that the coronavirus pandemic had done much to spotlight these problems. 

“We have no water for hygiene but there was money for water,” she said. “We have no proper housing for a large number of our people, we have no clinics within reasonable reach for a number of our people and the money of the poor is being stolen by people who feel they are being owed by society.”

Note, please, that there’s no indication that the pandemic was to blame for anything. Thankfully, she didn’t go down that route.

“We want to see service delivery and we want to see care. Ubuntu. We want leadership with ubuntu. They may not be in a position to solve all the problems but they can be in a position to show that they care. We need to make sure that they know that we expect nothing less than a clean government and a clean government has to start in your municipality.”

This was pretty weird. It was like listening to Helen Zille. 

The country, Mlambo-Ngcuka continued, could not afford cadre deployment. “Struggle credentials,” she said, “cannot run a municipality. Comrades have come to run the municipality. No municipality must have people who count money when they cannot count their fingers.”

This being the eleventieth hundred time we mention maths literacy in this column. But you said it, baby. Here’s the difficult bit: you still want another crack at government? Here we must differ.

Mlambo-Ngcuka claims it is every citizen’s responsibility to ensure that elected officials are held responsible because “if society does not do this, then our team has lost”. That losing streak has been there for a while. It will now accelerate and I believe setbacks on Monday will be considerable. 

I base my prediction entirely on claims by experts that the DA will fare badly in the elections. Not very scientific, I know, but then neither are our experts.

Dumb beasts

How dispiriting that, within hours of its unveiling, an anonymous hacker posted a photograph of a defecating pig on Donald Trump’s new social media platform. Why the constant denigration of these sentient creatures, arguably the most intelligent of farm animals? They should sue for defamation.

Another greatly maligned animal is the donkey, routinely misrepresented as stupid as its instinctive emphasis on self-preservation often results in a stubborn refusal to do as instructed. (Only a suicidal fool crosses a rickety rope-bridge in the Andes with tons of stuff on its back.) Yet here we have the disgraced former media tycoon Conrad Black likening his friend, the orange loser, to a jackass, or male donkey.

Black, author of the 2018 biographyDonald J Trump: A President Like No Other (Encounter Books), was addressing a literary festival in one of the Tory shires at the weekend. According to The Times, he believes Trump will be the Republican candidate for the 2024 US presidential elections. “He calls me occasionally,” Black was quoted as saying, “and I think he has learnt lessons which are disagreeable to him at times. But I think he has taken on board that the presidency of the United States has to be conducted with greater dignity than he showed. You can’t behave like a jackass in the White House.”

Black is a great believer in getting a second crack at privilege. Known for his extravagant lifestyle, he once ran a media empire that included such assets as the Telegraph group, The Spectator, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post, but he ended up serving a three-and-a-half-year prison term following his 2007 conviction for siphoning off millions of dollars from the sale of his company’s titles.

Following his release, Black has been on a quest to clear his name. His Trump biography seemingly helped a bit. In it, he writes that his subject “is not, in fact, a racist, sexist, warmonger, hothead, promoter of violence, or a foreign or domestic economic warrior”, but rather a person who is greatly misunderstood. Trump pardoned him in 2019. At the time, a White House spokesperson said the decision was due to Black’s “tremendous contributions to business, as well as to political and historical thought” and his work supporting fellow prisoners while behind bars.

Incidentally, Trump’s social media platform, a response to “the tyranny of Big Tech”, is called “Truth Social” which probably means it will be anything but. It’s part of his new Trump Media and Technology Group. Analysts point out that, while he has embarked on numerous ventures over the years to diversify from his property empire, very few have been successful. 

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) there is some opinion that his name alone is a harbinger of bad luck. Major flops in the portfolio include commuter airline Trump Shuttle, financial services company Trump Mortgage, “realtor” college Trump University, food franchise Trump Steaks and, of course, Trump Presidency.