Who will win the ANC Chumpathon?

Jeremy Gordin writes on a neck-and-neck race between Nathi Mthethwa and Naledi Pandor

An article from a while ago popped up in my mind this sunny Joey’s morning. I’ve been able to locate a small part of it (the article, not my mind) on my trusty desktop. But roughly 80% has disappeared – zoops! like a cosmonaut into a black hole [1] – behind one of those seemingly inevitable and ubiquitous pay walls.

I’ll tell you what, maibru: bloody pay walls have been more destructive to my freedom of reading rights than even that incident many years ago when some city council apparatchik confiscated my library card for smoking between the K and L shelves in the big public library reading room downtown, hard by Luthuli House or, as some of the twitterati would have it, Lootfreely House [2].

Ah, the depredations and imprecations of time spent living under the ANC regime; sharper than a serpent’s tooth, I tell you; felt more keenly than the gathering winter cold by us oldsters; sufficient to make one seriously consider volunteering for the Ukrainian army, emigrating to Cape Town, or working gratis for the DA and Eskom.

But sufficient foreplay now – as the bearded traveller on the Moscow-Vladivostok train said to the young woman seated opposite him, and with whom he’d exchanged only two sentences during the previous three days.

The article mentioned above was/is headlined “ANC horserace hacks are blind to the real politics of SA” and was written by one of my mentors, Prof. Anton Harber, a person as kind as he is wise, though why he’d want to be so mean to horses, I don’t know [3]

Best as I can tell, the learned prof. is in the article urging our (presumably) younger (and probably swarthier [4]) political hacks not to focus exclusively on the minutiae of ANC internal politics – the “arcane workings of the party structures” – lest they miss the really important issue, the “new” assaults “on our constitution and open [sic] democracy”.

The prof. is probably correct, as he of course generally is, about which end of the field, as the rugby commentators would say, the (journalistic) team should be playing its game.

Yet, leery as I am about disagreeing with him, I can’t help feeling that directing people’s feet solely to the pedagogical side of the street [5] could result in all of us missing a great deal of what is going on in the ruling party.

For example, consider those meetings – the NEC ones, or NWC ones, or the cabinet ones, or whatever they’re labelled – those that the ANC grootkoppe [6] often hold, generally turning an ordinary weekend into a so-called long one (for themselves).

You probably think (as I used to) that at those meetings various serious issues are analysed and discussed, such as what should be done about David Bullard and his outrageous columns, the provocative behaviour of Carl Niehaus, the floods in KZN, or even whether someone charged with a crime should be allowed to stand for office on behalf of the ANC.

Regarding the last, I’ve sometimes even imagined that justice minister Ronald Lamola might put together little tests for cabinet ministers – you know, those multiple-choice ones.

X has been charged with embezzling one billion rands from the national Covid alleviation fund. Can he stand in the next elections as (a) a city councillor? (b) an MEC? (c) as President? (d) cross the floor to the DA? (e) opt for an ambassadorship? (f) not give a shxt? Answers at next month’s NEC meeting.

“No, Fikile, you may not take the test home.”

But what I have now learned – it’s extremely hush hush – is that the ANC leadership uses these meetings not to waste time talking nonsense but as rehearsals for a competition known as The Champion ANC Chump of the Year Award.

Winners get big prizes – first prize is an all-expenses paid weekend trip to Dubai – and everyone is extremely, sometimes almost viciously, competitive. Judging, handled by the ANC’s national disciplinary committee, is of course democratic, based largely on the quality and volume of reactions from the people of Seffrica.

Thus, extra points are given if, for example, the contestant can really annoy, say, Afrikaners qua group, or even more points if a larger group, such as all whites, can be driven into a state of rage.

One person who has until quite recently led the competition, I’m given to understand, is minister of international relations, Grace “Hong Hong” Naledi Pandor. She’s been demonstrating some remarkably nifty soft-shoe shuffle, as it were.

As readers might know, she took the lead in the competition some weeks ago when it was revealed that she, working in tandem with super-chef and former finance minister, Tito Mboweni, wanted to give Cuba a donation of R50-million because, well, because they’re nice guys who assisted us during the Struggle and moreover, even though that sweet old fellow Uncle Joe B is at the US helm, the perfidious Yankees are giving the Cubans a crap time.

Pandor scored good points when pesky AfriForum took her department to court to halt the donation payment – initially AfriForum got an interim stay, and the parties are now in court. Well, Pandor’s fellow contestants thought that was the end of the story.

Not so. Pandor’s an old soldier and wasn’t going to give up without a jolly good tussle. Thus, it transpired in court just yesterday that there actually exists – and has, since 2012 – an arrangement to give our Caribbean friends R350-million. This deal was completed in 2012, two years after former president Jacob Zuma visited Cuba and reminisced with a number of commissars and retired generals about the good old days in Angola and environs. (The disciplinary committee will thus have to rule on whether Pandor is entitled to get points for what has turned out to be Zuma’s move.)

But, as I said, Pandor’s hanging tough while sending blood pressures soaring, by suggesting inter alia that there is a clear difference between a R50-million donation and a R350-million Economic Assistance Package. What part of this don’t the AfriForum lawyers understand?

Pandor also said on radio, in her impeccable accent (which is way better than mine) and sweetest voice, that she was “intrigued” by why everyone was getting hot under their Voortrekker bonnets about Cuba when, after all, “this country makes various humanitarian donations to other countries”. (She did not specify which countries these were, nor the amounts of money; but I daresay spokesperson Clayson Monyela, MBA, “a seasoned results- driven professional with over 20 years’ experience in communication,” can come up with something.)

“The minister’s got pole position in this one,” someone tweeted. “Better flag this twitter,” said another. “This is going to be so good for the STEAL industry,” said a third.

“Why don’t they simply stick the flagpole in an appropriate pothole?” asked my wife, joining in, “That’ll save them from having to build a flagpole foundation for millions.”

“Calm down now, honey,” I responded, “it’s late in the evening and I’m just trying to run some ideas up my own flagpole.”

You guessed it. The man who’s given new meaning to the saying “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun” [7] – i.e., sports, arts and culture minister Nathi Mthethwa – has easily swept past Pandor with his plan to spend R22-million on a monumental flag, set to fly at Pretoria’s Freedom Park.

Last Tuesday, Mthethwa, ever an intellectual, said the planned flag would be a “constant marker of our break with the colonial and apartheid past” and that it was part of “memorialising our democracy”.

He added that “during the day [the flag] would be seen, and at night you would also be able to see it because it lights [up] at night, because the education has to be continuous, both at day and at night.”

But for some reason, Seffricans in general were outraged; no one cared about having a glow-in-the dark flagpole or getting continuous education.

Their ire wasn’t even assuaged after Vusithemba Ndima, deputy director-general of “heritage promotion and preservation,” said a feasibility study had been carried out by Delta Built Environment Consultants, who were paid about R1.7-million.

Nor were people made happier by the news that in the department’s 2022/23 annual performance plan, R5-million is budgeted for site-specific geotechnical studies, including an environmental impact assessment, while in 2023/24, R17-million is allocated for the installation of the flag.

The flagpole, said Ndima, would be 120m and the flag itself would measure 10m by 15m.

Various commentators have described the plan as “tone deaf,” especially “at a time when many artists are still struggling as a result of lockdown regulations imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Artists? When I hear the word “artists,” I reach for ... never mind.

All these folk can complain as much as they like, but I think Mthethwa is going to win The Champion ANC Chump of the Year Award. Especially as he’s now also boxing smart by saying today that he has now directed his department to review “the process” as criticism mounts.

Yeah, sure; and I’m Mishka Yaponchik the artist from Odessa.


[1] Do you by the way know Woody Allen’s crack ... Sorry, I’ll start again: do you know Woody Allen’s joke about black holes in the 1997 movie “Deconstructing Harry”? ... Hmm, maybe another time.

[2] This is not an inappropriate anecdote – because, as I recall, I was at the time researching (De) Klerk, W. and Luthuli, A., though exactly what commonality I thought they shared, I don’t, some 20 years later, remember. (Yes, I know I should have been looking for De Klerk under D not K, but, as Bob Dylan has remarked in one of his odder tropes, I was so much younger then.)

[3] I suppose – I am merely surmising – that it could be related to some sort of suppressed anger that Anton might harbour towards Boxer, Animal Farm’s working-class horse-hero, who still believes fervently in the Revolution even as he is sent by the ANC... sorry, by the pigs ...to the knacker. As Freud pointed out, we often get angriest with those in whose behaviour we see a reflection of our own, especially if we have misgivings about that behaviour.

[4] Demographics R us, what can I say?

[5] If I never have a cent, babe
I’d be rich as Rock-e-fellow
With gold dust at my feet
On the sunny side of the street. – Louis Armstrong.

[6] Btw, if you have a moment, the translation on Dr Google of “grootkoppe” – as “big heads” and as referring “to the rocky hills formed as a result of meteorite impact” – reminded me unaccountably of black holes. Now, as a public service, I want to point out that on 16 May the King of Wokes, Zapiro, had a cartoon published in/on the Daily Maverick. This showed three science wonks standing next to one of the new super-telescopes and the legend at the top of the cartoon reads, “First photo revealed of supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy”. One of the wonks then says to the other two, “Einstein couldn’t predict this!” [Zapiro meant “couldn’t have predicted ...”] We (the readers) then look at the next panel, which shows a black hole and its fiery circumference – with the Eskom logo plumped in the middle of the black hole. Ha ha. But, as my learned son, the astrophysicist, asked me, “Am I being pedantic by noting that dark matter is something different [and is] unrelated to black holes or their interior?” I don’t think my son was being pedantic; I think it’s back to school for Zapiro so he can learn the difference between black holes, Eskom, potholes, dark matter, ANC press releases, and various other exciting phenomena.

[7] Variously misattributed to Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring. It actually comes from a corrupted version of a line in the play Schlageter, written by a sweet Nazi (a real one, not a Putinesque one) named Hanns Johst.