Will Zuma finally tell all?

Andrew Donaldson writes on the ex-President's new book, Carl Niehaus' run-in with Derek Hanekom & other matters


ACCUSED Number One’s greatly anticipated book will shortly be with us, or so the Jacob G Zuma Foundation has announced. The timing is ideal; as a stocking stuffer, it will make a welcome gift for those Msholozi supporters who did all their Christmas shopping during the July uprising in KwaZulu-Natal and are now bored with their looted toys, or have broken them.

Details of Jacob Zuma Speaks: The Words of a President remain sketchy. We don’t know who’s publishing the book, or whether it’s the ruminative philosophical work of a wily political survivor or some folksy goatherd memoir brimming with made-to-measure ubuntuisms and other mumbo jumbo. Or if there is, in fact, even a book.

The foundation insists there is. “This long awaited book will be made available in the 2nd or 3rd week of December 2021,” they tweeted. “Reverting stuff. Details will be made public in due course. Keep your eyes on this @JGZ_Foundation TL #WenzenuZuma” (sic

If the accompanying image is of its cover, then it’s a rather striking one. The great blesser is photographed in a neat suit, smiling broadly with arms folded in a confident manner. The eyes have an avuncular gleam, and one can imagine them following the younger female staffers around the bookstore as they bend over to pack the lower shelves with works by lesser authors.

But it is the stuff between the covers that we should concern ourselves with. One reader, in particular, cannot wait to get his hands on this volume. Carl Niehaus, the MK veterans’s chief fibber and unvaccinated gadfly, has tweeted: “Looking very much forward to read! We need @PresJGZuma’s wisdom now more than ever.”

And yes, looking very much forward to book read me too — if not the same perhaps reasons for as Carl. 

In the interests of transparency, I should declare that Carl and I are now on first name terms as he kindly reached out to me last year, encouraging me to try harder when insulting him. This in no way infers that we agree on the matter of Zuma’s alleged wisdom. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the wisdom here is not even Zuma’s, but his. Five will get you ten that Carl is the ghost writer here

The threat of a tell-all volume has been with us since November 2016, when uBaba first told a gathering of cadres in Pietermaritzburg that he was planning a memoir about his tenure as president of the country. It was a rather enigmatic disclosure.

“One day when I am retired,” Zuma was quoted as saying, “I will write my book and you will realise why I said what I said. This is because I know where things went wrong. I know who are the witches at work. It is fine when the enemy is at a distance, but when it is your friend, it is not easy because they know your weaknesses.

“At least I know who [my enemies] are and what they are doing. I am not worried. If I was crazy, I would make the whole of South Africa crazy as well. As you can see, I am not bothered. People can say whatever they want. I know what it means, where it comes from and where it is going.”

Very mysterious, you will agree; ominous in a Harry Potter-meets-Shakespeare manner, cryptic and suggestive of dark superstitions and much back-stabbing. However, commentators have long since pointed out that, seeing as he knows where things went wrong, he should rather tell us all about it from the witness box.

Finally, it goes without saying that the prison memoir is a respected literary tradition. 

Kiss kiss, bang bang

Elsewhere, there is little seasonal goodwill between Carl and his former comrades. When the hissy fits gets underway, he is all rolling mouth action. His insults, delivered in high dudgeon without a second thought, or even a first, tend however to result in much collateral embarrassment — although there are those who believe this is not possible as Carl has no shame whatsoever. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Cyril Ramaphosa is obviously off the Christmas card list, along with the rest of the ANC’s national executive. Carl’s relentless tirades on Twitter concerning the funding of Squirrel’s successful bid to lead the party are of course fuelled by his support for Zuma. Such is the abiding ardour here that, in certain circles, Carl is sometimes cruelly mistaken for a colorectal polyp. 

Fikile Mbalula, the diminutive transport minister, is another of Carl’s bêtes noires, and exchanges between the two have filled the columns of the lowbrow press for more than a year now. Highlights include Carl’s claims he is suing Mbalula for calling him a “suspected” criminal and a “well-known thug” and, in response, Mbalula’s tweets that Carl is a fraudster who had lied that his mother had passed away in order to cadge money from his colleagues.

Surprisingly, this primary school behaviour hasn’t yet included boasts that each other’s dad was the stronger and would beat up the other’s. But then Carl’s father has also died a couple of times.

The more interesting squabble, however, involves former tourism minister Derek Hanekom. According to the gossip, this one harks back to the days when Carl was ambassador to the Netherlands and Hanekom popped over for a visit. Again, the details aren’t clear. But it’s obvious that Hanekom’s adventures there have weighed heavily on Carl’s mind ever since.

So, when Hanekom reminded Twitter some weeks back that our former man in The Hague is a “rather pathetic creature” and who had burst into tears “when he was exposed for forging [ANC financial officer] Paul Mashitile’s signature”, Carl let rip with this startling tweet:

“Hmmm, I see some people are tweeting lies abusing my name as a footstool to claim moral high ground. But they forget about how they smooched transvestite whores in the redlight district of Amsterdam, & with the same lips went home to kiss their wives. So much for morals... Sies!”

Excuse me … but smooching? Is that really what goes down in De Wallen? They smooch? With lips? One pair for the trannies, and another for the missus? Could that be it, then — the celebrated two lips from Amsterdam? (Forgive me.)

Carl forgets, of course, that travel is an enlightening experience and it broadens one’s horizons. He should try it sometime. Judging by suggestions from the regulars here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), there are many far-off and remote destinations that he may wish to consider.

Names and other insults

A trending Covid joke among expats is that, in the UK, they’re known as “borcestershire shots”. Very ha-ha etc, but the pronunciation of names is now a sensitive social issue and, accordingly, no laughing matter. A group calling themselves Race Equality Matters wants companies to encourage their employees to add phonetic spelling to their email signatures. This presumably in addition to their preferred pronouns.

REM say they launched the #MyNameIs campaign because mispronounced names can be considered “a microaggression” and signal that a person is “minimal”. They cite several instances of “disrespectful” anglicisations: “Efemena is called Effy, Nano is called Nando’s, Abdullah is called Jeff, Bharrat is called Bob.”

According to The Times, they are not the first to draw attention to such potentially harmful practices. LinkedIn, the networking site, last year added a feature allowing its members to record the pronunciation of their names. 

Earlier this year, the actress formerly known as Thandie Newton declared that, henceforth, she’d be known as Thandiwe Newton. This some 30 years after her Zimbabwean name was misspelt in the credits of her first movie. “That’s my name,” Newton said. “It’s always been my name. I’m taking back what’s mine.” In their campaign material, REM provide a phonetic spelling: tan-DEE-way

Helpful enough, I suppose, but let’s see them have a crack at Labuschagne.

Parents must share some of the blame here. Phonetic spelling would help, for instance, with the pronunciation of X Æ A-12, the name that Elon Musk and the Canadian singer Grimes gave to their son. This was later changed to X AE A-XII. By the time the boy is in his teens, he’ll probably be known as Cackles, a microaggression for “calculus”. 

The musician Frank Zappa is another. He was once asked if his kids ever suffered as a result of the names he gave them: Dweezil, Moon Unit, Ahmet and Diva. No, he replied, if there was any trouble, it was because of the surname.

There have been suggestions that REM would have been spared all this bother had the natives stuck with their colonial names, like Sixpence or John. But that is the sort of thing colonialists will say. English names, meanwhile, come with their own difficulties. Beauchamp, for example, is pronounced Beecham and, oddly, Featherstonehaugh Fanshaw. But, and whatever the pronunciation, it’s likely that their ancestors were all slavers. And that is another sort of problem.

Meanwhile, and as unlikely as it may seem, I must report that people often get my own name wrong. I am regularly addressed as Mr Andrews, Mr Anderson, Mr Donald and Mr MacDonald, sometimes even by officers of the court. I am used to it, and it doesn’t bother me. However, it is only when I am called P*** that I feign deafness.

A testing time

No matter who is playing, all other cricket is of little importance where the Ashes are concerned. This is according to the English, and their newspapers have been full of it in the run-up to the present series, with player profiles, coaching tactics, analyses of game strategies and accounts of past glories and past scandals dominating the sports pages. There is also great concern among commentators here that the recent racism and sexting scandals in English and Australian cricket should not be part of the on-field sledging during the series as these are “personal matters”. 

This week, The Times reported that England could expect a hostile reception in Brisbane during the opening Ashes Test. England cricket boss Ashley Giles has said he would support captain Joe Root were he to halt play in the face of racist or loutish behaviour from a partisan home crowd. Fortunately, and judging by England’s miserable first day performance, the tourists will not be spending too much time in Queensland.

Reading all this, though, reminded me of spin bowler Pat Symcox, who suffered extraordinary abuse from Aussie fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1997. The objects that rained down on him while fielding on the boundary included golf balls, tennis balls, bottles and a roast chicken. Symmo thought it very funny, laughing back at the spectators. He even kindly threw back their chicken — and went on to take a career best wicket haul, 4/28, in the Proteas’ 67-run victory. The sledging that day must have been very “personal”, but winning is the ideal response at such times.

Shome mishtake, surely?

Still Down Under, news comes that Australians are supposedly the world’s heaviest drinkers. This is according to the 2021 Global Drug Survey, which claims they drank to the point of drunkenness an average of 27 times in 2020, almost double the global average of 15. The findings are, of course, dubious: the survey was conducted between December 2020 and March 2021 — and for most of that time, South Africans were banned from buying alcohol in terms of prime minister Nkosazana Virodene Dlamini Proxy Zuma’s draconian lockdown regulations. The Clarice will probably chalk this one up as another healthy win for social cohesion. 

As it is, the study was not remotely “global”. Confined to just 20 countries, 16 of them in Europe, it ignored Africa and Asia completely. Data collected seems skewed in favour of those who get drunk more often rather than those who remain drunk the longest. This may explain why this year the Aussies scored a surprise upset over the famously taciturn Finns, who’ve quietly occupied the top spot for many years now: the researchers apparently ignored the fact that, in the frozen north, a good bender can last for several days, sometimes a week, while a night on the town is just that — only a night.

I was reminded of this by a joke about the Finns’ national reserve. Two friends from Helsinki go to a log cabin to drink vodka. After three days, one finally says, “Shall we eat something?” “I thought we came here to drink,” his friend says. “Not talk.”