Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Big Reads: JZ's 'Groot Krokodil' tears

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23 Oct 2014 | Tony Leon | The Times

Never mind those pesky "clever blacks" who so irritate His Excellency the President. We have our share of "clever whites" as well, both local and exported.
"Apparently in the land of the rising sun Zuma means 'running horse'"

Kevin Pietersen, the supremely talented batsman lost to these shores and from 2005 the key man in the English cricket team, has recently switched from on-field fame to retirement notoriety by dishing the changeroom dirt on his enemies in his team with his apparently explosive memoir, KP: The Autobiography.

But whatever his prowess in front of the wicket, he is apparently less nimble in a media interview. At the weekend he bagged the premier interview column in the Financial Times, whose "lunch with" series is the gold-standard platform for celebrities. Our Kev chose the restaurant for his interrogation with journalist Matthew Engel. Quite unselfconsciously he selected Zuma, which the sharp-elbowed Engel described as "contemporary Japanese almost opposite Harrods, but without anyone Japanese in sight. The waiters are English; the clients wealthy wanderers."

Apparently KP is not as quick with repartee as he is with the bat. The interviewer records: " 'Zuma'," I muse. "'So it's a KwaZulu-Natal restaurant?'

"It takes him time to remember South Africa's president.

" 'Oh, Jacob!' " Then he decides that's funny. He is not very hot on politics, including the politics of everyday life," Engel notes.

But we can be grateful for KP's restaurant selection as it led me straight to Google translate since, until then, I had no idea that Zuma had a Japanese provenance. Apparently in the land of the rising sun it means "running horse". This seemed very apt and localised since weekend reports suggest that our homegrown Zuma is running away from parliamentary questions, although he must have been relieved - in a universe of bad headlines - that the C word chosen by the Sunday Times was only "coward".

But both evasion of parliamentary interrogations (which, to be perfectly fair, the presidency describes as "grossly misleading") and unfair enrichment lead us back again to that once obscure KwaZulu-Natal village, now a byword for state-sponsored profligacy, Nkandla.

Since parliament has never had a proper presidential explanation for the R246-million expenditure there - either because of the tactics of disruption of the enfantes terribles of the Economic Freedom Fighters or some other undisclosed reason - we have to read the tea leaves elsewhere (perhaps this is appropriate since this president's tipple is nothing stronger than Rooibos tea).

Apparently the most powerful man in the land feels "persecuted" by the media over the expenses. On Sunday, he advised that "there was no outcry over an airport built in former president PW Botha's home town".

His reference to the airport at George is both accurate and instructive. Indeed, during the long tenure of the former strongman of apartheid and MP for George, a modern airport was built in his constituency. Doubtless, the identity of the local parliamentarian and consideration of the ease of his travel counted for a lot in green-lighting its construction. But 25 years after Botha's forced exit from public life and office, the airport still serves as a huge and necessary gateway for tourism into the southern Cape region, which long after the reign of Botha still attracts thousands of visitors. More than 600000 arrive there every year.

Any tourists visiting the former home of the "Groot Krokodil" in Wilderness might also be surprised by its modest scale, not the palace of splendour one might expect.

But this is really beside the point. Things have reached a pretty point when a post-apartheid democratic president uses as his standard of justification the excesses and outrages, or lack of them in this case, of the brutal and undemocratic system he and his party vowed to replace and improve upon.

The old struggle phrase "never again" seems to have been replaced by one that says "well, sometimes when in a corner, we will dust it off".

The PW Botha defence at least has some form, as they say in cricket. Less helpful to Zuma's cause was his invocation of geography the other day. He apparently shrugged off the mushroom clouds engulfing his administration when he suggested that corruption is a crime only in a "Western paradigm".

He might want to have a word at the next Brics summit with his opposite number in China, Xi Jinping. He doesn't have the inconvenience of being heckled by opposition MPs but, in the eastern corner of the world, he has unleashed a campaign against corruption described recently by The Economist "as the most sweeping for decades".

Since we apparently bow to China in matters of foreign policy, we might want to borrow domestically from this campaign, although in China the drive is apparently led by "party investigators and the feuding factions they serve".

We have no shortage of feuding ruling party factions in South Africa. But we are blessed with an independent public protector, one of the real gains of the post- Botha years. A pity we don't celebrate her work and not curse her existence, as some in the seats of power do.

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook:


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