Monday, August 1, 2011

A Famous Grouse: July 29

SPARE a thought, if you can, for the president. It’s not so much one thing after the other, but one on top of the other -- and all at the same time, nogal -- and there’s nothing, not a single word, on how to deal with this kind of mess in the little guide books they handed out at Polokwane.

This business with Chief Justice Sandile Ncobo handing in his notice, where the hell did that come from? And now the pressure of having to pick a successor. What about Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke? Or Judge Mogeng Mogeng? Or even a woman, Judge Sisi Khampepe?

Decisions, decisions. And only two weeks in which to find a replacement. Hoo-boy, life at the coalface, hey?

Then there are the unions, always the unions, whining on and on about the dithering re the economic policies and the failure to address the matters of corruption and poverty. And if it’s not the unions, then it’s that damn fool intellectual Moeletsi Mbeki and his snide remarks about song and dance leaders who don’t have the will or the leadership to solve the country’s challenges, as if those were bad things, singing and dancing.

To top it all, the Public Protector’s not very flattering report of the SA Police Service’s suspect deals in trying to lease new buildings in Pretoria and Durban at four times the market rate, and the clamour to get rid of the national police commissioner, General Bheki Cele?

What is wrong with these people? Do they not understand that you don’t just get rid of loyal supporters like Cele? It’s all very well, this chatter of putting the interests of the country ahead of the interests of the party, but what of the risks involved in such drastic action, especially if one is seeking endorsement from said party for a second term as the big chief?

And so Jacob Zuma vacillates, dithers, hums and haws, staring into middle space, a rabbit transfixed in the headlights of an oncoming dumpster truck, as opprobrium and scorn fly about the place like a swarm of killer bees.

Which is why, on that rare occasion when politicians do act boldly, putting principle ahead of privilege in the struggle for the common good, we tend to sit up and take notice and, duly impressed, we are full of praise and express appreciation most pronto.

Take a bow then, Tony Ehrenreich -- you’re not just a Cosatu provincial secretary or the man who would have been our mayor, if we only let you, which we didn’t, but you’re a man of action, bold and brassy, and only the most churlish among us are unmoved by the erudition of your comments to the effect that it is expensive wine and crayfish that is ruining the tourism sector, and that the foreigners are staying away from our hotels in droves because they feel we’re ripping them off.

And where lesser public servants would have balked at expressing such an opinion in public, for fear of widespread ridicule maybe, you not only sallied forth fearlessly and without regard for reputation, but even called on the Ministry of Economic Development to place the Western Cape’s economy under the administration of the national government, so the threat to said economy posed by expensive shellfish and posh booze can be “coherently attended to”, as you put it, and to do so as a matter of urgency.

Well done. You certainly showed them what’s what.

And while we’re here doling out kudos for intellectual capacity, step forward, Jelly Tsotsi.

We thought the ANC Youth League president had gone to ground this week, what with the disclosures that a businessman had allegedly deposited heaps of money into Jelly’s trust fund in return for securing lucrative government tenders.

It was pleasant at first, the silence. But then we began to miss the daily dose of outrage here at Mahogany Ridge. Luckily, the peace was soon shattered.

Wasn’t he in fine form in Queenstown on Thursday, ranting away at “illiterate and uneducated journalists” and calling the anonymous source who apparently fingered him “a baboon” and “a bloody ape”?

There was the customary swipe at white people -- “They must pay for making us slaves . . . we must punish them. And now they must pay. If we don’t we are paying them for calling us kaffirs!” -- before, once again, returning to the lavatory, now the overarching metaphor for our national affairs. “Since I have become the youth league president, I have received no peace. If I go to the toilet they [the media] follow me. They say, ‘He went to the toilet but he didn’t shit.’”

Now, now. No need for the potty mouth. 

A Famous Grouse: July 22

Weekend Argus column. As submitted. -- AD

NEWS of a fascinating study into predator behaviour has reached us here at the Mahogany Ridge.

Lions, apparently, are more likely to attack and devour people in the period just after a full moon. This is according to researchers with the University of Minnesota College of Biological Science who’ve studied the records of nearly 500 lion attacks on Tanzanian villagers between 1988 and 2009.

In more than two-thirds of the attacks, the victims were eaten. Most attacks took place in evenings when the moon was waning and provided very little light -- proving that lions hunt most successfully when they can use the darkness to surprise their prey. The attacks dropped off as full moon approached, when the moonlight got brighter. After full moon, the animals were ravenous and, with the nights growing darker once more, it was pretty much open season on stray villagers.

These findings, it’s claimed, could well explain the full moon’s frequent appearance in folklore and tales of the supernatural as a harbinger of doom and disaster.

Which brings us neatly to Floyd Shivambu, the spokesman for the ANC Youth League. Is he by any chance a werewolf?

Come now, the question is serious. Even the most casual observer would have noticed a pattern here -- full moon: barking mad -- and my own inquiries suggest that Shivambu does indeed suffer from a form of lycanthropy.

Once a month, this unfortunate and deeply sensitive young man is apparently transformed into some brutish beast, and his associates in the league are compelled to chain him to a post in the basement of Luthuli House and keep him there until the moon begins to wane.

Consider the events that took place immediately before the last full moon, some ten days ago. A hapless Media24 journalist rang up Shivambu with a  request for a telephone number for Jelly Tsotsi, the youth league’s president -- and was bluntly told: “Fuck you. Fuck off, okay?”

This was not the gentle Shivambu that we’ve come to love.

I’ve listened to a recording of that conversation several times now -- it’s online if you can stomach it -- and it’s heartbreaking to hear the rabid, intemperate growling that had replaced the man’s normally mellifluous tones and considered wit.

The transformation was astonishing -- and terrifying. Once he held us transfixed in the spell of his oratory. But now it seemed he was more likely to gnaw on our bones with his filed canines.

But then, just like that, after the full moon the monster was gone and, miraculously, in its place the familiar pussycat.

He was a little contrite about the naughty words, admitting that his language was inappropriate and unfortunate, and he promised that it will never happen again -- although he did suggest he had somehow been provoked into the outburst by what he termed the “disgustingly provocative methods” of the “right-wing, Afrikaans” media.

This week, Shivambu had to field similarly provocative methods as reporters bothered him with all sorts of questions about the R16-million house that Jelly is building for himself but to no avail. Perhaps the snarling and interesting facial hair thing would have to wait until the next full moon?

Shivambu also put in a suitably toadying performance in congratulating the deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, on his birthday on Tuesday.

“As a progressive internationalist, Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe has never agreed to make unsustainable and unnecessary assurances to imperialist Masters, even when he addresses them in their countries,” Shivambu wrote in a statement.

“Recurrently, the contributions of Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe reflect a deeper understanding of ANC traditions, policy positions and various conjectures of the National Democratic Revolution . . .  Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe represents a brighter future of the ANC and the country and will always be celebrated as one of the best leaders of his generation of ANC leadership. Happy Birthday Comrade President!”

In the meantime, Jelly, the ANC’s not-so-bright future, declared at a press conference on Wednesday that, regarding the finances for his new home, it really was nobody’s business but his own as to where he got the money.

Interestingly -- only because it is indicative of the depths to which our politics has sunk -- Jelly compared this sort of inquiry with questions about ablutions. To wit: “You are going to be patient about everything else, including when you are going to the loo. You must be asked how many minutes did you spend in there?”

For one who is continually spouting so much of the brown stuff, the idea that Jelly even needs to visit the little room is, well . . . perhaps we shouldn’t even go there.

But let me just say there are people that even lions won’t eat.

A Famous Grouse: July 15

Weekend Argus column, as submitted for publication. -- AD

THE inexorable slide ubuntuwards and the obdurate embrace of mumbo-jumbo continued apace this week with the department of science and technology -- no less! -- now urging the citizenry to embrace “traditional medicine” so that, in the words of one news report, “it finds expression through combating diseases”.

Well, excuse me, but what do you call “traditional medicine” that works or, if you will, “finds expression through combating diseases”?

That’s right. “Medicine.”

But jokes aside, the notion that a government department claiming to represent science and rational inquiry should truck with charlatans and peddlers of superstition in our name beggars belief.

It is folly of the worst order, coming as it does on the heels of the opprobrium and scorn heaped on our healthcare courtesy of the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

You’d have thought we’d have learned something and moved on suitably chastened from that grisly episode, what with the drunk health minister, the monstrous Frankenmanto, lurching through the charnel houses of public health and throwing vegetables and bottles of dodgy vitamins at those living with HIV and Aids.

But no. Here, in the 21st century, is the dst’s director general Molapo Qhobela suggesting at an African traditional medicine and “intellectual property workshop” -- no sniggering at the back there, please -- that we should learn from countries like China which had “effectively” integrated “traditional medicine” into their health systems.

These, of course, wouldn’t be those same countries whose “traditional healers” had effectively integrated rhino horns, tiger penises, bear claws and the parts of other slaughtered endangered species into the various foul concoctions they’d prepared for their gullible victims?

On this point, I must stress that I am utterly dismayed by news reports on the upsurge in rhino poaching, particularly as they invariably state -- rather matter-of-factly -- that the horns are used in “traditional medicine” in Asian countries and thereby imply or reinforce a belief that the stuff works.

It doesn’t. Rhino horn has no medical properties whatsoever -- that’s the cold, cold truth of it -- and newspapers would be doing their readers a service if they suggested instead that the horns were used in traditional quackery.

But back to Qhobela and the gang of snake-oil and bunkum hawkers he was courting in Pretoria, the Traditional Healers Organisation.

It is perhaps a good thing, as Qhobela suggested, that the department planned to conduct research on plants that are supposed to have medicinal qualities. South Africa has, according to the figures blithely bandied about, about 3 000 such species and it would seem that much work is needed to sort out which plants work and which don’t.

And who knows, maybe they’ll find something really useful, like aspirin, which comes from plant extracts, including willow bark and spiraea, known for centuries to alleviate headaches, pains and fevers.

But it is worrying that the THO wanted to be involved in that research. Judging by the remarks from their spokeswoman, Phephisile Maseko, the process would, at best, be quite colourful with the “traditional healers” poking about the laboratories. Hopefully, they may even learn something from the process.

Maseko was full of the usual guff about how the large international companies had exploited “traditional medicine” for years now, and, as if this wasn’t bad enough, practitioners had been demonised by Christianity and the media. Shame, you may think, the indigenous cultures just can’t win, can they? Especially against the white man’s magic.

There is hope, though -- and this is the touching part. Maseko believes that, by interacting with government, the abuse from the foreigners and the alien cultures will stop, and there will huge rewards for “traditional healers”.

However, the quacks are doing rather well as it is without government assistance. According to Maseko herself, a staggering 72 percent of South Africans made use of “traditional medicine” -- which suggests that there are a great many people out there who believe their bladder infections or diabetes may be better treated by those whose apothecary skills came to them in dreams and visions rather than those who went to medical school.

Until they get proper training, the THO and its members should be barred from treating people. Seriously, if government really wants to be of help here, then it must take steps to ensure that “traditional healers” stay well and truly away from the sick and the poor. Traditional doctors, that’s what we need. Practitioners who know what they’re doing -- because they learnt the traditional way, at university.

In the meantime, perhaps the “traditional healers” can make themselves useful wherever tourists gather. Visitors from the northern hemisphere may be delighted in having the witchdoctors throw the bones for them.

This could be a most lucrative business.

A Famous Grouse: July 9

As submitted to Weekend Argus. On a rather pleasant note, it should be recorded that the Hips did rather well at the Radium on the night in question, and management have asked us back. October 15, I think, is the date. -- AD

TO Johannesburg where I am to perform this evening at one of the city’s more historic beer halls with The Hip Replacements, the cult rock band whose members, all of advanced years, have turned the amps all the way to 11 and, as a result, won’t be going gently into that good night.

But enough of my glamorous rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, and onto more pressing matters.

It occurs to me, in the back of the bullet-proof stretch limo hurtling along another of Jozi’s rutted roads, that the Formula One people were perhaps possessed of some uncommon good sense in considering Cape Town as the possible venue for a South African grand prix and not this place.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Johannesburg. It’s a dynamic, wonderful city and it doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

And that may well explain the howls of laughter on Thursday when the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, suggested during her opening address at Education Week 2011 at the Sandton Convention Centre that five times seven is 45. She was stressing the importance of fundamental disciplines in education. Or something.

Shame. But moving on. Johannesburg would probably never entertain the notion of an F1 event with damn fool millionaire playboys in high-octane rockets hurtling through its streets. Naturally, the usual jokes about stolen tyres and hijackings would apply were that the case, as well as some unkind remarks about the guys from the local chop shops showing the so-called professionals a thing or two with the pit stops.

But it won’t happen. That stuff is too girl’s blouse and limp-wristed for these guys. Not nearly enough explosions and death involved.

To be fair, though, Jo’burg could very well host a rally. Paris-Dakar is an obvious example, and they could do the whole thing within its municipal boundaries with the Senegal leg in Hillbrow and Berea alone. Think Mad Max meets District 9, and the television networks would be at each others’ throats for the rights to broadcast that one. Advertisers, too, because we have a world-wide audience here of, I don’t know, zillions, if not even lots more.

Personally, I have very little interest in motor racing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not even a proper sport, lacking as it does the requirements to pass muster in this regard: two teams and a ball. I may of course be speaking for myself but it is for these reasons that women’s professional beach volleyball is a far more entertaining prospect that, let’s say, silly people on bicycles.

However, I am willing to accept that are many Capetonians who consider themselves grand prix fans. Bizarrely, their enjoyment of these spectacles is often enhanced with the consumption of beer.

Government, of course, is aware of this and, typical of those with the personality disorder that compels them to bother and interfere with other people, wants us to stop and there is talk once again of banning alcohol advertising.

It was this aspect of the striking artist’s impression of “a Monaco-style grand prix” roaring through Green Point that appeared on the front page of Wednesday’s Cape Argus that impressed us at the Mahogany Ridge. There were absolutely no alcohol billboards in the picture.

True, there were other elements missing from the picture. People, mainly. And hawkers. Which is just plain weird. Why would anyone pass on the opportunity of selling sebastian Vettel or Jenson Button a pink chicken made out of plastic bags or a wire shark? It would be like a grand bazaar down there on Beach Rd -- a mere R20 would get those attractive durable coat hangers for the entire Ferrari logistics team.

Actually, it could well be that there were no advertising billboards in that artist’s impression simply because by the time Cape Town did host a grand prix -- September 2013 was bandied about as an “optimistic” possibility, according to the Argus report -- it will be illegal to advertise anything except the odd pronouncement by Jimmy Manyi, the government mouthpiece.

Seriously. These are extremely weird times and political correctness has run amok. Everything is bad and can harm us. Nothing is good, and for advertisers to urge others to think otherwise these days is criminally irresponsible and possibly a gross violation of someone’s human riots.

Even romance novels should come with health warnings, according to a recent report in a British academic journal, because they can “dangerously unbalance” their readers. As a result, according to the busybodies, the Mills & Boon-type potboilers can be blamed for unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, unrealistic sexual expectations and relationship breakdowns.

And all along we thought rock ‘n’ roll was to blame.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Famous Grouse: July 2

Latest column, as submitted to Weekend Argus for publication. The Stormers lost, by the way. There are some people I know who like to be reminded of this. -- AD

BRAAING this afternoon? Perhaps a few slabs of cow and a yard of boerie on a fire with some mates before the game starts?

Here’s a suggestion: when picking up provisions why not ask the butchery if they have anything in non-cruelty, or meat that was prepared for consumption without religious interference? See where that gets you.

I mention this only because there’s been an awful hubbub from the bearded fellows in robes now that the Dutch parliament has passed a bill outlawing the slaughter of livestock without first stunning the animals -- meaning that procedures that make meat kosher for Jews and halal for Muslims will be banned.

According to reports, observant Jews and Muslims would have to import their meat from abroad, stop eating meat altogether, or leave the Netherlands altogether if the law was enforced -- which has led to an outcry about infringement of religious freedoms and charges of anti-Semitism.

Here the Jerusalem Post has been particularly instructive, noting that Switzerland first banned ritual slaughter in 1893 as part of a campaign to discourage Jewish immigration and get Swiss Jews to leave the country. Recent attempts to reverse the ban have been strongly opposed, often “with strong xenophobic undertones”.

The Nazis also banned ritual slaughter in 1933 -- unless the animal was first stunned. The Scandinavian countries -- Iceland, Norway and Sweden -- soon followed suit, also insisting on stunning before slaughter. More recently, New Zealand banned ritual slaughter on animal welfare grounds. Now the Dutch want to follow suit for similar reasons.

This was not good enough for the Post, which asked: “Could animal rights’ activists opposed to [the Islamic practice of] dhabiha and [Judaism’s counterpart] shechita be receiving their ethical inspiration from a regime responsible for human history’s largest genocide? At the very least the Nazi precedent teaches that purported concern for animal rights is no guarantee of good moral sense.”

So, the “underdog-loving Left . . . ostensibly motivated by concern over purported suffering caused to poultry, sheep and cattle”, as the Post has labelled animal rights activists, are now like Nazis?

Please, you’d have to better than that.

It’s not a wholly unique charge. Look at the opprobrium heaped upon those who objected to the Ukweshwama, the annual bull-killing ritual in honour of the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini; they’ve ludicrously been labelled anti-African, anti-tradition, anti-monarchy, anti-Zulu, anti-ubuntu and just about everything else this side of Oprah Winfrey.

No doubt some of us were. Is it just me, or are there others who find the notion of tribal “royalty” and its attendant privilege utterly repugnant? This is the 21st century, not so? We live in a constitutional republic, damn it, and these people suck up our tax bucks to live like feudal muck, happy as pigs in the proverbial? Thought so.

But I digress. Most objectors to Ukweshwama were merely of the opinion that the spectacle of dozens of young oafs trampling a bellowing, groaning animal, trying to break its neck, pulling its tongue out, stuffing sand in the animal’s mouth and even ripping off its genitals as cruel and unnecessary.

Which is hardly the same thing as ritual slaughtering. Nonetheless, there is considerable opinion out there that suggests it is not the animals’ interests that we are serving here, but some form of cultural imperialism -- even Islamophobia. In this regard, one rabbi in Amsterdam, Yitschok Huisman, has told reporters that Jews weren’t really the target of the Dutch legislators -- but have wound up as collateral damage, so to speak. “At this point, the step was mainly meant to hurt the Muslims,” Huisman said. “Many don’t like them here.”

Scientists are suggesting that animals do suffer more when ritually slaughtered. The Royal Dutch Veterinary Association, for one, claims that during “slaughter of cattle while conscious and to a lesser extent that of sheep, the animals’ wellbeing is unacceptably damaged”.

Yeah, I hear you. Ethics before irony. That’s their motto.

Of course, there was a time when kosher killing -- if I may put it that way -- was considered more humane. And that was millennia ago when our forefathers killed animals with rocks or ate them while they were still alive.

But, you know, with technological advances in the field of killing animals . . . well, there may come a time when future generations look back at all this and think, How strange that our forefathers ate meat, and how cruelly they treated animals. Until then, though, perhaps the supermarkets could start labelling their meat as cruelty-free.

Lastly, think of this: would a Stormers victory be any sweeter if it went down with veggie burger? No, thought not.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Famous Grouse: June 25

 Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted. -- AD

TO Mahogany Ridge then with heavy hearts and there dust off the old Victrola to replay the drinking songs and ballads on treasured Pogues and Christy Moore albums and root in the darkened corners for the better whiskeys, the bottles we were perhaps saving for less solemn occasions, and bid farewell to Kader Asmal and reflect on both his extraordinary achievements and the challenges he faced in this vale of tears.

It is true that I didn't know the man well but, importantly, I believe I knew what he stood for, and perhaps I’m not alone in thinking that with Asmal now no longer with us, our own struggle to safeguard the constitution he helped draft has overnight grown immeasurably more daunting. The forces of basket-case totalitarianism are massing.

Many of the tributes have noted Asmal’s tireless pursuit for human rights and justice. Many have pointed out that it was only last week that he spoke out once more against his own party’s maddened efforts to scramble into law the Protection of Information Bill.

In his tribute, his colleague and comrade, Trevor Manuel, the minister in the Presidency, told the National Assembly that, for that very reason, it was sometimes “very  tough” to be friends with Asmal.

“He continued arguing . . . against the government of which I am part, albeit on a few issues that he considered fundamental,” Manuel told MPs. “Such has been our comradeship, premised on values that are far greater and bonds much stronger than the tactical issues about which we need to differ.”

Let’s not mince words here. Asmal’s principled stance did not endear him to many ANC members. He had bitter enemies.

Perhaps it is churlish to dredge up such memories, but readers will recall the alarmingly tasteless statement released by Kebby Maphatsoe, the national chairperson of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’Association, and Mangaliso Khonza, the association’s spokesman, in response to an address by Asmal to the Cape Town Press Club in October 2009, in which he had poured scorn on the political ambitions of the then deputy police minister, Fikile Mbalula, who, it was speculated, was rather keen on becoming the next ANC secretary-general. Asmal had said that he hoped he would be dead before that happened.

Maphatsoe and Khonza, like good little corporals, immediately sprang to Mbalula’s defence, accusing Asmal of arrogance. Fully aware of his battle against cancer, they added, “We advise Kader Asmal to go to the nearest cemetery and die if that is the choice he has made.”

Mbalula’s own view of Asmal was that he was “a raving lunatic” and a “latter-day Don Quixote” for having the gall to oppose the militarisation of the SA Police Service.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe also joined in the fray, warning Asmal, rather cryptically, that “self-destruction can bleed you to death”.

In his response, Asmal said of Mantashe’s “extraordinary” comments: “I think it justice and confirms the prejudice that if you are questioning a policy which is regressive, that means . . . [it would be] helpful if in fact you just died from your cancer.”

Moreover, he was adamant that he was not going to shut up about anything.

And, boy, could he talk. My fondest memory of Asmal was of the time I first met him. It was in 1993, and, oddly enough, at a record company beano on board a motor launch out at sea in a very choppy Table Bay.

The Irish rock band, Hothouse Flowers, were in Cape Town to promote their Songs From The Rain album, and their label here had organised a boat trip with journalists to Robben Island. I was rather surprised to learn that Asmal had insisted on joining the party. “Oh,” he told me, “I know the boys very well. That’s Fiachna [Ó Braonáin], that’s Liam [Ó Maonlaí], that . . . ah, that is somebody else. They hang around my local in Dublin. I’m a very big fan. Very, very big fan. Fantastic music.”

As we ploughed off towards the island, the band stripped off their shirts and lay about the upper deck trying to catch a tan. Downstairs, in the cabin, Asmal, a glass of whisky in his hand and an audience of awed journalists at his feet, held court with tales of Dublin and Trinity College, where he had taught, and shared with us his vision of our new country.

We never got close to the island -- the sea was too rough -- but it didn’t matter. Asmal had made the trip worthwhile.

That was an incredible time, I now realise, of promise and hope. It’s gone now, that optimism, and there’s a grimness and uncertainty in our lives once more. We’re going to miss the guy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Famous Grouse: June 18

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. -- AD

A STUDENT from the University of the Witwatersrand emailed this week with a query about Julius Malema. Was it I who had first called the ANC Youth League president “Jelly Tsotsi”, and if so, could I provide her with the background to this appellation?

I happily replied that, yes, I was the clever pants who came up with that one, and explained that the play on words -- slapping “tsotsi” into the brand name of popular children’s sweets -- suggested that, as a political figure, Malema was both rather immature and something of a thug.

Now that I think about it, there could be other inferences. The “jelly-like” nature of this fruit-flavoured confection -- they’re soft and chewy -- suggests, if not spinelessness, then a certain lack of foundation. A wobbliness, if you will. Figuratively and literally. In Malema, that is, and not the sweets.

But the email pleased me. Not only had she carefully selected the best person to help her with her homework, but here at least was one student who was learning something useful. I began to re-evaluate my opinions about the youth -- perhaps they were not all rubbish and crap, as I’d imagined at the beginning of the week.

What sparked the rancour was a television interview with ANCYL secretary-general Vuyiswa Tulelo ahead of the league’s national conference, in which she burbled on smugly that the youth could no longer be ignored because they have arrived, or some such inanity.

More’s the pity, of course, but the self-importance and arrogance that tripped from the mouth of this slug-like woman was almost too much to bear, and the slough of despond into which I was unceremoniously plunged was yea deep to say the least.

It got worse. Naturally. Jelly himself was all over the place in the run up to the conference, full of belligerent posturing as he lashed out at the Cosatu and SA Communist Party leaderships, accusing them of failing to lead the workers and having the temerity to to criticise the league’s mines nationalisation policy, which they claim is nothing more than a scheme to bail out debt-laden BEE fat cat mine owners.

Another of Jelly’s targets this week was the Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, presumably because he holds the view that, when it comes to the economy, the youth league president is perhaps something of a half-brained, jumped-up windbag who has somehow convinced himself that, because he has an opinion about something, he is an expert. I’m guessing here, of course. I could be wrong. Perhaps Manuel secretly believes that Jelly should be managing the International Monetary Fund.

But moving on, as we must. The youth. What good are they?

Not much, according to the overview of the country recently released by Manuel’s National Planning Commission. Here, indeed, was bleak reading. That slough of despond? It just got slougher. We are deep in the brown stuff.

We have failed to give them a decent education, according to the report. “Apart from a small minority of black children who attend formerly white schools, and a small minority of schools performing well in largely black areas, the quality of public education remains poor. Literacy and numeracy test scores are low by African and global standards, despite the fact that [the] government spends about 6% of GDP on education and South Africa's teachers are among the highest paid in the world (in purchasing-power parity).”

Learners in historically white schools do better, but at most schools with black learners, “the learner scores start off lower, and show relatively little improvement between grades three and five’, the report states.

“[Though] there have been some improvements, as measured by the pass rate of those who sat the 2010 matriculation exam, which was 67.8%, this hides the fact that only 15% achieved an average mark of 40% or more. This means that roughly 7% of the cohort of children born between 1990 and 1994 achieved this standard.”

All of which means that we have another “lost generation” here, a whole bunch of casualties destined to wander the dusty byways of the country, incapable of doing much other than stare at people in cars. It’s a bloody horrible thought.

But there is hope. Consider this: about 40 000 youngsters crammed into Soweto’s Orlando Stadium to celebrate National Youth Day. About 35 000 of them left in disgust before President Jacob Zuma bothered to pitch up, four hours late. They’d learnt a very valuable lesson -- politicians utterly despise people, they really do.
And maybe as he arrived at the almost deserted venue, with its red carpet strewn with rubbish, the president had learnt something as well.