(Written 15 December 2013)
With the demise of Nelson Mandela still dominating everything in the news this week, including the advertising, South Africans return again and again to the question, “How did it all go so wrong in the new South Africa? How did it happen that we started heroically with the ANC of Mandela, and a brief decade and a half later, we are saddled with the corrupt and incompetent ANC of Jacob Zuma! At the same we ask rather dolefully, “What can be done to right the ship?”
In thinking of this, the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens came to mind. I first heard this poem recited in 1971 by my good friend Giles Tayelor. We were steaming across the Indian Ocean at the time and I remember the dramatic moment vividly. The two of us were engineer cadets on the SA Vergelegen and he, being a SACS boy and all, had been taught poetry at school. (I had had no such luck having been sent to a technical school.) On that afternoon the blue-black sea was quite rough with storm clouds overhead and we were looking out over the aft deck at the wake of the ship when he told how, in the poem, “the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud, and gurley grew the sea. The ankers brak, and the topmast lap, It was sic a deadly storm”. He recited how the sailors tried valiantly to keep the ship afloat until (depending on the version you read) “a bolt flew from our gude ship’s side, and the salt sea it came in…” And as every well-educated schoolboy knows, Sir Patrick and the good ship did not survive, the poem ending poignantly, “Half-owre, half-owre to Aberdour, ‘Tis fifty fathoms deep; And there lies Sir Patrick Spens, Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet!” http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/ch058.htm
Of course, what makes the story so heroic is that it all started out with hope. Hope that the treacherous journey to bring the king’s daughter back from Norway could be achieved, the poem beginning: “The king sites in Dumferline town Drinking the blude-red wine; “O whare will I get a skeely* skipper To sail this ship of mine?” O up and spak an eldern knight, Sat at the king’s right knee; “Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor That ever Sail’d the sea.” ” *skilful
In 1994 we started out with hope, but when we look at the storms gathering in all quarters of South Africa today we see that the “lift is growing dark and the wind is beginning to howl”; and to illustrate the warning signs I draw your attention to the rather strange case of Thamsanqa Jantjie who was appointed by unknown to sign, for the deaf, the speeches at Mandela’s memorial service on 10 December 2013. It is a case that epitomizes the strange world of Jacob Zuma; something captured perfectly by Zapiro.
Now, before you say the president cannot be responsible for everything, may I say that I know that Jacob did not appoint the interpreter personally, I know that mistakes happen, and I know that in the bigger scheme of things, Thamsanqa Jantjie’s blatant lies about his being a qualified interpreter for the deaf is a relatively small thing, albeit a sad one. I know that there are fraudsters and shysters all over the world, but consider the circumstances of his appointment.
The Sunday Times of South Africa, dated 15 December 2013 (p. 3) informs us that the head of the ANC’s religious and traditional affairs desk, Bantubahle Xozwa, happens to own South African Interpreters, the company that employed Jantjies. For these ‘services’, South African Interpreters included in their bill an invoice from another company, Asange Image Studio. The reason being that images are required “for all appearances” of SA Interpreter’s workers. You may well ask why another company is required to provide something that could so easily be acquired in-house until you find out that Asange Image Studio is owned by Cikizwa Xozwa, Bantubahle’s wife. Cikizwa also happens to be the office manager for Jackson Mthembu, the ANC spokesman; small world this. It seems that SA Translators and Asange have done quite a lot of business with the ANC and here is the cherry on top, their “invoices to the ANC all have the same false address and registration number”.
If all of this sounds a bit like everything else that surrounds Jacob Zuma, but you are not convinced, here is the clincher. When it was asked who Jantjies was, remember, this is a man who had been given top security clearance to be in the inner circle with people like the President of the United States, and it was asked how he came to be appointed…, nobody knows! The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu tells us Jantjies’ “services were secured by the government”, but conceded that the ANC has “utilized his services over the years”. Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the government’s deputy minister of women, children and the disabled (by every account a totally dysfunctional department) is quoted as saying that her department did not hire Jantjies. Furthermore, she “did not know who had”; adding that “somebody, somewhere, is lying”. Err, yes, that is one of the few things we worked out pretty quickly.
As noted, this little episode epitomizes Jacob’s administration; everything about it is “so totally Zuma”. In the Zuma world it is OK to provide a mediocre service and defraud the public. We have ample evidence of how those in the inner circle of ‘number 1’ have license to feed from end-to-end through the country as though it were a trough. In the Zuma world it is OK for cabinet ministers to cheat on travel expenses and to botch substantial tenders (Joemat-Peterson), no matter what the cost to the country’s natural resources. And if you get found out, well, just hang in there, the Secrecy Bill is just around the corner to protect the government’s flops. In the Zuma world it is OK to spend an unauthorized MR200 (US$20,000,000) on yourself while pretending it is for your security because if you are the president surrounded by a sycophantic coterie of security ministers, you can have your private home in the rural midlands at Nkandla declared a national key point; while at the same time your friends can land their private airliners at the Waterkloof Airforce Base, a real military installation in a built-up area, because that can be declared… “not be a national key point”. And all the while those actually responsible will know nothing! It is pure Zuma.
So we ask ourselves again, how can the hope we had be saved? Where will we find a skilful skipper to sail this ship of State for we have seen ‘the new moon with the old moon in her arm’, and we know that if we are to continue this way ‘we’ll surely come to harm’. Who can sail South Africa away from the storm that is the accumulation of the corruption, lies, mediocrity and feigned ignorance that characterizes the administration of Jacob Zuma; an administration spectacularly symbolized by the mumbo-jumbo of the delusional Thamsanqa Jantjies?