When even the seals go insane

Andrew Donaldson on the vexed question of who can save SA from the state it is in


THE news was alarming. According to The Times of London, the Rupert Murdoch fish-wrap occasionally taken by the regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), there has been a spate of attacks by seals on beachgoers in Cape Town in recent weeks. 

This is no laughing matter. The country is grinding to a halt with a clueless leadership waffling away about “rescue plans” and what-what. And now this. Extremely pissed-off seals. 

An American TV actress, we learn, was rounded on by one of these brutes after it had “mauled a boy” in the shallows at Clifton. Elsewhere, a seal at a different beach had also pounced on a woman bather. A man who was spearfishing said a seal had bitten him and tried to drag him into deeper water and there presumably drown him.

Biologists believe the animals may have brain damage after eating fish laced with toxic “red tide” algal bloom. However, some animal rights activists claim the seals are finally rising up against those who have invaded and colonised their traditional habitat for centuries.

My own feeling is that these flippered beasts had been driven mad by the presence in their midst of revolutionary fibber Carl Niehaus. The erstwhile conscience of the MK veterans had taken a break from his usual buffoonery and was holidaying with his family in the Mother City. 

Who could blame the seals? As it was, many of us on two legs were also in need of a break. Mainly from Carl and his relentless brown-nosing of Jacob Zuma. Alas, there was no respite. He was all over social media as the festive season unfolded. There came the barrage of posts from Nasrec, where he protested outside the ANC national conference, calling for Cyril Ramaphosa’s ousting as party leader. 

This was immediately followed by a slew of selfies from the Peninsula’s tourist hotspots. Much to the chagrin of his many detractors, Carl was having a whale of a time; so much so that, from time to time, we wondered who was paying the hotel bills. Had he put down his smartphone for one moment to splash about in the waves, the seals would no doubt have risked further infection by giving him a bite or two.

Be that as it may, Carl is now refreshed from his break and, batteries recharged, is ready to take on the challenge of saving the country with his own new party, the Radical Economic Transformation Movement. 

He has a ten-point plan, the final draft of which had happily not been released by deadline. He has however been talking up his ideas on his TwitterSpace account, In My Crosshairs. Not that this was of much help. The last episode dragged on for four hours and 15 minutes. I gladly gave it a miss. Had it been five or ten minutes, I might have lent an ear, but not four hours. That’s a whole Sunday afternoon lost forever. 

The Star, however, has reported on these “ambitious” RETMO policy proposals. There is nothing too concerning here. It’s the same old, same old, a car crash of jumbled bumper sticker slogans: halt the privatisation of state-owned enterprises, nationalise the SA Reserve Bank, set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company, seize the land without compensation, build a coalition of progressive forces, fried chicken pieces in every basket, rainbows galore.

Some would label this as communist drivel. To do so, however, would be to malign communism. This is drivel unbound by any form of ideology. 

But Carl is not alone in wanting to save the country. Even the ANC wants to save the country from the ANC. To this end, Squirrel has announced a plan to finally end load-shedding and the energy crisis. It is true that he unveiled a previous plan just six months back, one designed to “improve the performance of Eskom’s power stations and add new generation capacity as quickly as possible”. But that was then and this now, and in the interim the country’s batteries went wholly pap. A tipping point has been reached — and then some. 

So another plan. According to Squirrel, there have been “consultative meetings” with all manner of “stakeholders”: they include “representatives of labour, business, traditional leaders, religious leaders and the community constituency”. He has also met with various premiers, metro mayors and political party leaders. 

No mention, though, of meetings with representatives of the energy constituency. But religious and traditional leaders? Always good to have these guys on board. The more robes and feathers, the better.

Then again, and with regard to the actual nuts and bolts of the crisis, government is probably of the opinion that it is well advised by Gwede “Goblin” Mantashe, the minister charged with keeping the lights on. A team of “independent experts” has also been tasked with investigating poorly performing power stations and “taking action to improve plant performance”. This, you may recall, was what Andre de Ruyter was hired to do as Eskom boss in 2020 — but was prevented from doing so thanks to widespread corruption, industrial sabotage and political interference. Then he was poisoned for his troubles.

To be fair, there is now a grudging concession to private sector power generation. As Squirrel put it, government has “cut red tape and streamlined regulatory processes, reducing the timeframes for environmental authorisations, registration of new projects and grid connection approvals”. 

Such impediments, recently described in the Financial Times as tantamount to “banning people from collecting rainwater during a drought”, were of course first introduced by a government hellbent on entrenching both Eskom’s energy monopoly and the cadre deployment at the entity. 

There was also chatter about renewables, the sort of thing that a mere six months previously would have brought the werewolf out in the coal-mad Goblin. The president was now suggesting that solar panels on the roofs of houses and businesses could generate electricity that could be sold back into the national grid. This was previously unthinkable, but look on the bright side (even if a torch is required): tenderpreneurial opportunities could be in the offing.

Coming right will take some time, and a gatvol electorate will in all likelihood be voting by candlelight in next year’s elections. This does not bode well for the ANC, and there’s a possibility that our next government will be a coalition. Such an outcome may be pleasing to Julius Malema and the EFF. As demonstrated by their adventures in local government, the redshirts do relish their kingmaker role in these awkward arrangements and they thrive on the chaos and disruptions that follow. 

Others in the lunatic fringe are not as enthusiastic about the ANC’s possible misfortunes. Black First Land First president Andile Mngxitama, for one, has warned that the “old and tired” ruling party was about to hand power over to white people. The wit gevaar was, according to this well-known animal lover, informed by the way the DA, under John Steenhuisen’s leadership, was running strategic metros in coalitions with “black” parties like EFF and Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA.

Speaking to Pretoria News, the BLF mngxment said the ANC would not “come out alive” in the elections and would lose its “grip on the country” through coalitions. “Julius Malema and Herman Mashaba will give the presidency to Steenhuisen through a coalition,” he said, “and this country will be right back in the hands of white people.”

The possibility of such an outcome was so unnerving the Pretoria News was moved to remind those readers who had only last night arrived on the planet: “The ANC has been in power since the April 1994 elections after years of brutal oppression of black people by a white government through apartheid that discriminated against the black majority.”

Mngxitama’s own plans to save the country involves the BLF entering into a coalition with the Land Party to contest the 2024 elections under a single, oddball banner. The Land Party are a pan-Africanist bunch who, it says here, are inspired by the policies of the People’s Republic of China. They failed to win a single seat in the 2019 general elections. It is fair to say that we have little to fear from this quarter.

Elsewhere, more learned individuals have given some thought to our salvation. Adam Habib, former Wits University chancellor and now director of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, believes the country can only be saved by a new political order, one that consists of “ordinary people” untainted by the country’s “grubby” parties.

Habib took to Twitter a week ago to point out how striking it was that many in the ruling party, as well as those in Cosatu, the ANC Youth League, the SACP and the EFF, had been complaining about load-shedding. He wrote:

“Yet they are the architects of this crisis by advancing cadre deployment, non-meritocratic [appointments], Zuma’s appointment as President & their general lawlessness. And if you listen to their current political rhetoric, they have learnt nothing. They [are] still immersed in nonsensical rhetoric, unrealistic proposals & protests that are still violent-prone. I have said before, SA’s curse is its politicians, including those masquerading as activists.

“Neither is there a future in a new generation of party political activists. The young here are as bad as the older generation. They have been acculturated in the parties & have become politicians who want their turn in the feeding frenzy & are as incompetent as their predecessors.”

If a new generation was to lead the county out of this mess, he continued, they clearly had to come from “outside the parties”. The future lay not with activists and politicians, but with ordinary folk struggling to survive. 

Such “explosive” comments led to a podcast with Eusebius McKaiser, which at little more than 22 minutes in length, was more in keeping with our tolerance levels. (You paying attention, Carl?) Habib later tweeted about the responses to his earlier comments. There were two distinct categories here, he said. 

The first of these came from the pro-Zuma faction and EFF supporters, and was characterised by “crude racism, ageist and juvenile remarks”, the likes of which were last seen in the 1980s in such groups as the AWB. “Its reemergence now in the ruling party & opposition is dangerous, as is the indulgence thereof by so many,” he said.

The second category was characterised by widespread popular anger at the ANC and its collective leadership, including the president. “And there is good reason for this,” Habib wrote.

“The danger now is the choice citizens make they [are] this gatvol. In the last decade, others were at a similar point & made disastrous choices.” As examples, Habib pointed to the anti-Hillary Clinton wave that led to Donald Trump’s US presidency, as well as the upheavals in Brazil and India. “In each of these cases,” he said, “enraged by the corruption, incompetence and general lack of empathy of their political class, citizens voted for alternatives that were even more disastrous for their interests. This is the danger that SA confronts. So what are our choices to avoid this?”

The most dangerous option we face, according to Habib, is the RETMO or EFF coming to power. “Not only would it have a fascist violent character, but it would also be a corrupt & technically incompetent political class whatever their pretensions [about] excellence.” Most opposition parties, apart from the DA, are “complacent about the fascist character” of the Redshirts. Any coalition with Malema and company will continue the country’s decline.  

As for Squirrel remaining on the job? Hopeless. “Many of those around the President are as corrupt & technically incompetent as the Zuma/EFF crowd, & if he remains in power, we are likely to see more of the same: dithering leadership and the continuous collapse of SA.”

Habib has “no doubt” that the DA would govern the country more efficiently and cites Cape Town’s example. “But they are unlikely to get the opportunity to politically rule simply because they have alienated the black middle & professional classes.”

Who then?

“Our options … are not great,” he wrote. “As I said in my previous thread, we need a complete disruption and overhaul of our party structure with the emergence of a completely new cohort of leaders and activists. This will not happen by 2024. And so we need a temporary plan to get there. This plan needs to focus on 2024 & how to wrest the institutions of the state from the corrupt & the incompetent & to also keep out the fascist. This is the political conversation that should be focussing our attention & those in the opposition committed to a democratic SA.”

There was urgent need for this, he concluded. South Africa is not only degenerating into a failing state, but it runs the risk of becoming a gangster state as well.

And the fish is bad and the seals are insane. A grim business all round. Any plans, anyone?