Monday, December 20, 2010

Bob and his yummy friend, the mole rat

A Famous Grouse: December 18, 2010

(Latest Weekend Argus column, as submitted. -- AD)

CALL it progress, but there’s now a car guard outside the Mahogany Ridge,  a sign that even here, in our isolated village, we cannot escape the developments and social change that is sweeping across the broader South Africa.

The locals grumble, of course, and mutter on about the inevitability of the spike in thefts from motor vehicles that is bound to come.

The more progressive among us, however, have accepted his presence and have even gone so far as to adopt a pro-active role in the young man’s affairs and we test his vigilance and devotion to the self-appointed task of watching over our rusting hulks by throwing stones at him, usually when he asks us for money.

It does rather keep him on his toes, inasmuch as a person in a wheelchair can said to be on his toes.

But, even so, he’s pretty agile, and he makes a difficult target to hit.

It could be worse, of course. He could be a delegate at the World Youth and Student Festival in Pretoria which, at the time of writing, presumably still had some way to go towards attaining its avowed aim of defeating imperialism.

Reports from Pretoria have not been all that encouraging, but perhaps we should accept National Youth Development Agency chairman Andile Lungisa’s excuse that the bad weather was to blame for the hasty programme changes and the no-shows by high-profile politicians.

Certainly he was very quick to dismiss reports that some of the 30 000 delegates were going hungry by pointing out that even though they weren’t attending a “wine and dine festival”, no-one would be starving as they strove to build a world of peace, solidarity and social transformation.

In this regard, it should be made clear that when students went at each others’ tonsils with their tongues earlier in the week they were not foraging for half-masticated scraps of food but in fact kissing -- an activity that Lungisa has endorsed with some good nature.  “They are not prisoners... This is not a prisoners’ festival but a youth festival,” he said. “They will continue kissing each other.”

Not everyone was being so friendly, though. The Israelis have been made to feel a little unwelcome, and a fistfight apparently broke out between the Moroccan and Western Sahara delegations.

Earlier, ANCYL president Julius Malema had touched on the hostility between these two regions when he explained to delegates how “fearless” President Zuma, in exchange for writing off R1.1-billion in Cuban debt, had been awarded the José Martí medal, the highest honour Cuba can bestow on a foreign head of state and, at that price, certainly one of the world’s most expensive.

“Apartheid Morocco”, he said, must decolonise Western Sahara. Failing which, he would then urge the president to remove Morocco’s embassies here. As the chump put it, “We cannot house [an] apartheid regime in South Africa.”

The Moroccan delegation were so terrified at this that they immediately stopped beating up the Western Saharans and, donning what appeared to be Santa suits, sang and danced for a bit before setting up a stand in a corner of Atteridgeville’s Lucas Moripe Stadium to sell rugs, funny slippers, fake leather purses and hookahs made in China. When the festival ends on Tuesday, they will -- for a small fee -- helpfully load other delegates’ luggage onto the buses. If the buses come, that is.

Elsewhere, the country’s youths were also getting on with the business of attaining manhood. At this time of the year, the thickets of Port Jackson on the Cape Flats are choked with the plastic-sheeted hovels used by clay-daubed initiates as they learn to respect others and practise ubuntu.

So far, at least eight initiates, including a 14-year-old boy, have died in the Eastern Cape after being circumcised by apparently unskilled iingcibi and amakhankatha, or traditional “surgeons” and “nurses”. Apparently, the local initiation schools have taken adequate steps to prevent such fatalities in the Western Cape. Let’s hope so.

Which brings us to that act of barbarism in KwaZulu-Natal this afternoon, the ukwesha, in which a fully conscious bull is to be ritually slaughtered in the name of culture by young men who will force it to the ground, rip out its tongue, force earth into its mouth, gouge out its eyes and mutilate its genitals.

It’s outrageous that, in a bid to suppress outrage, the general public is barred from this atrocious and primitive exhibition -- and yet it is funded by taxpayers, as entertainment for the lazy and irrelevant Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini.

There’s a lot of growing up needed out there. Even our car guard can tell you that.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Famous Grouse: December 11, 2010

Latest Weekend Argus column (as submitted, unedited) -- AD

THE other evening, at Mahogany Ridge, a chap came round with a petition about the rock lobster quotas for recreational fishing just as a discussion on the rampant poaching of same that takes place on an almost daily basis just a stone’s throw from the Slangkop lighthouse appeared to be edging towards a violent conclusion.

A letter had appeared in one of the community newspapers detailing a resident’s encounter with these poachers, apparently members of what is referred to in some quarters as the local Rastafarian community, although I fail to see how the sporting of dreadlocks and thuggish behavior makes one a devotee of this obsessively backward religious cult. It’s rather like calling paedophiles Catholics.

According to the newspaper’s correspondent, a group of maybe ten dreadfuls had hauled out about a thousand or so mainly undersized crayfish, and were busily loading black dustbin bags full of their spoils into a bakkie when he came across them.

It was the poachers’ stupid and rather aggressive comments when confronted -- “The ocean is for ever!” “Don’t interfere with our work!” “We know where you live!” -- that had set us off at the Ridge, and it was perhaps not a good time to flap about a piece of paper and call for signatures demanding that decent, law-abiding folk have a more sensible crack at what’s left on the ocean floor.

Two distinct factions had emerged, both of them largely unreasonable.

One was of the opinion that it was futile to bother oneself with notions of marine conservancy, or any form of action aimed at protecting our wildernesses for that matter, because the environment had been plundered to the extent that it was now only a matter of months, if not weeks, before the Atlantic was as barren as the Sahara.

Therefore, to avoid missing out on the spoils, become a poacher yourself and get in at the death, as it were. Everyone was doing it, and, as experience has shown, no-one would stop you, certainly not the authorities.

This was where the other group differed, loudly opining that it was not yet too late to make a difference -- although drastic action was needed, such as banning fishing altogether. Well, within a 50-kilometre radius of the lighthouse. (Please note: the consumption of alcohol had little to do with the formation of this opinion.)

I liked the thinking here, and where it was going. More of that in a moment. First I must admit that I fail to see the point of crayfish. It’s not even a fish, so why call it that? To my mind, there’s something distastefully gluttonous about the culture of eating these things. Anyone who has ever seen the aftermath of an all-you-can-eat Mozambican prawn binge on a Sunday afternoon in Johannesburg’s southern suburbs will get my drift. It’s not pretty, all those greasy faces, the peri-peri and lemon butterstains, the shells in the laps, the wheezing and wind-breaking at the table. It means little to me, therefore, if I never see a crayfish again, and I’d rather they were just left alone in the sea to scurry about and eat waste.

I realise, however, that this is a minority viewpoint. But I don’t care. This is not an age of consensus, and anyway, most people don’t know what’s good for them. Which is why our plan to save the village from the crayfish menace will probably come as a surprise to the residents and ratepayers’ association.

True, they may object to having been ignored in the process altogether, but they’ll shut up soon enough when our radical cell gets its Lotto funding.

We’ve asked for a lot. Ordinarily, you’d think the tom would be more appropriately doled out to charities and various other worthy concerns, but events this week have shown otherwise. If the National Youth Development Agency can get R40-million for its anti-imperialism beano, then we too should be allowed a fair whack of the Lotto cake to implement our scheme.

Our plan is simple really. And when you’re dealing with the National Lotteries Board it has to be simple. That’s a mistake often made by those waiting in vain for money for Aids hospices or lunatic self-help schemes aimed at empowering rural women -- too complicated by half.

All we want to do is ban all forms of boating here. No exceptions. Poachers and people who buy from them will be forced to eat their catches on the spot. Then they will be put in stocks on the slipway, and small children will be encouraged to throw rocks at them.

It may seem excessive, unpopular even, but, you know, one day, you’ll thank us.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Famous Grouse: December 4, 2010

The most recent Weekend Argus column. -- AD

OH dear, Anneli Botes. What to make of this unfortunate woman and her silly comments? Or better still, what to make of our reaction to her, which, I’d suggest, is more alarming?

To a chattering class that has perhaps grown weary of the cretinous Julius Malema, now the single, overarching symbol of our public life, Botes’ admission, in an interview with Rapport, that she disliked black people because she was scared of them was a welcome diversion, and we fell upon her as if she was the sushi on the girls at Kenny Kunene’s place.

She was, in short, an ignorant racist. Granted, they said, she may be an award-winning novelist, but she was nevertheless an imbecile who had no place among us and should leave the country at once.

There came a deafening and perhaps predictably hypocritical clamour from the usual gang of white commentators who fell over themselves in a self-righteous rush to point out that, no, not all white people were like Botes, and that some were so different, they were even rather special. Bearded sage types like themselves, in fact.

It’s true that much of what Botes had to say about black people was nonsense. Her suggestion that violent crime showed blacks, as a group, were “angry because of their own incompetence” is, frankly, crap. Alarmingly -- for a writer, at least -- she appeared to have no grasp of our history. This is what happens, I suppose, when you live in Port Elizabeth, the singularly most isolated and cloistered white community south of the retirement villages of Bournemouth. But that is another issue for another time, perhaps.

Distressingly, there are those who endorse Botes’ views, who believe her crackpot theories are valid. But we err, perhaps, when we dismiss those who defend her right to freedom of expression as being racist as well. And, here’s a thing, I believe Botes was at least honest in expressing her views, however retarded they may be. It may have made us all feel a whole lot more comfortable, but would it have been better if she had lied?
Which brings me to a point -- what my response would have been if someone had asked me: “Who or what do you fear?” Several probable answers spring almost immediately to mind. Disease, loneliness, violence. All in all, prosaic stuff, and nothing too exciting there, really, so perhaps a better question would be: “What should we fear?”

What about politicians? Should we fear them?

Hmmm. Tricky. Certainly, we should despise politicians, and it is probably our duty to do so. We must keep them at a distance, and at all times deny them access to places where the innocent and the weak are gathered. Schools and hospitals especially.

At worst, politicians are greedy sociopaths and at best . . . well, there is no best. They lie. They steal. They cheat. They are unable to experience any degree of shame. They would sell their own mothers for a packet of cigarettes. Their concern with our wellbeing is that of a fox towards a crippled chicken. And, perhaps their most loathsome attribute -- how they love to bang on and on, like a stuck record, about the national interest.

Think about it. Why must we have a media appeals tribunal, and punish journalists and writers? It’s in the national interest. Why must we have a debate about the role of the media in a post-apartheid democratic society -- a debate, incidentally, in which journalists’ views will almost certainly not be welcome or even considered? It’s in the national interest.

Why the wholesale looting of the country’s mineral resources? Why the shady deals? The nepotism and favours for friends that bedevils our business culture? Why the lack of transparency in our corporate life? It’s in the national interest.

Why must there be moral regeneration? Why all the pastorpreneurs trysting with the gang of thieves in Luthuli House? Why the resurgent discussion about the need for religion in the curricula of our schools? It’s in the national interest.

Why the much-vaunted return to traditional values? Why do we need unelected traditional leaders? Why do we continue to squander public money on parasite kings and feudal royal houses in a constitutional democracy? It’s in the national interest.

The same goes for the the blue-light convoys, the fat salaries, the luxury cars and the costly trips abroad. Ditto the extra ministers and deputy minsters with the result that we have a cabinet that has grown at much the same rate as the girth of Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s Jabba the Hut-like nephew?

The national interest? Fear it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Famous Grouse: October 16, 2010

Another (unedited) Weekend Argus column. -- AD

THE City of Cape Town, I learnt this week, apparently has in its employ those who are familiar with the practices and customs of the dark arts and will not hesitate to make use of that expertise as it goes about stamping out merriment and fun within the boundaries of the metropole.
This is welcome news, especially for those living in Plumstead. Residents there can sleep soundly, secure in the knowledge that officials take a dim view of tourist operators larking about in the local cemetery at night.
As councillor Carol Bew has noted, some of them have loved ones buried there; they object to these tours as they feel that, far from being just a place where the dead have been buried, the graveyard is a sacred and holy place. “It is not a place for entertainment and not a place for events,” she told one newspaper. “There are historical graves, but they can be visited during the day.”
True, and Bew was probably as correct when she suggested that Mark Rose-Christie -- who is now considering that cancelling his five-hour “mystery ghost bus tour” as a result of the city’s rectitude and punctiliousness -- must follow certain processes. “There are certain fees that have to be paid depending on the event,” she said. “To do that he has to go through city structures, follow the policy, and that is that. There is no skirting around it.”
But it was Bew who, in her correspondence with Rose-Christie, raised this nonsense about satanism, suggesting that Rose-Christie’s operators “dress in black robes, come in the dead of night, make a small fire at certain graves, make soft music to create an atmosphere” and “even drive a coach into an open grave and make it disappear” and so on. She had been informed of this, she added, by City Parks, who appear to know what’s going on when it comes to such matters.
Perhaps Bew is a superstitious person, and really does believe in such rubbish. Which would be a pity, because why then should we take her seriously? For all we know, she may well believe that rubbing oneself with a toad on nights when the moon is full will get rid of warts, and that is hardly the sort of thing one expects from our elected representatives.
Perhaps she feels she must believe in such things because it serves the interests of the vaunted multiculturalism, because, hey, that’s what tolerance is all about. You know the trope: we are a diverse community, with many, many different and conflicting beliefs, and many, many of them irrational and illogical, but an offence to one faith is an offence to all, not so? If the traditions of the clergy are irrational, based in darkness and morbidity, then who are we to criticise and attack such traditions?
There is one further aspect of the city’s behaviour in its dealings with Rose-Christie that is especially troubling. He has pointed out that there are many cities around the world, with histories and folklore as rich as Cape Town’s, where such tours of graveyards and cemeteries are on offer. But, Rose-Christie has claimed, nowhere else are tour operators charged a fee for taking visitors to these places, and he was told: “We are not like other cities, or the rest of the world, we are Cape Town.”
Unique, then, in our capacity to be smug, petty and especially little, for this is truly the Cape colonic: so far up our own fundamental that we’re practically inside out. Perhaps, one day, we may just get over ourselves for long enough to realise that what really is unique here is that we continue to live, shamefully, in perhaps the most racially divided city in the country, but that is another issue altogether.
Rose-Christie has said that he will not pay what he feels is an exorbitant fee of R3 000 per group to visit Plumstead Cemetery. Fair enough. I wouldn’t be seen dead there myself. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that.) But I’d urge him to reconsider scrapping his mystery tour altogether.
 If he really wanted to offer his clients a baffling experience, he should drop by Cape Town Stadium. Picture the scene: a dark night, with huddled tourists on the pitch, staring up at the empty terraces, the silence thick with the ghosts of Fifa’s empty promises and dead vuvuzelas. Very spooky.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Famous Grouse: October 9, 2010

Here, unedited, the first column filed for the Weekend Argus. -- AD

IT’S difficult being a Golden Lions supporter these days. In Cape Town, it’s a lonely experience; one sits in the corner on Saturday afternoons, quietly drawing circles in the beer puddle on the bar while the chaps in blue-and-white low away like cattle, high-fiving each other with annoying regularity.
True, there’ve been thrilling matches this season. Beating the Sharks and Western Province in the second leg of the Currie Cup after losing so spectacularly to them in the tournament’s early stages were such games.
But it was hardly like the late 1980s and ‘90s. The glory years. Then, the only funny thing about the Lions was Jimmy Abbott.
The former boxer, wrestler and debt collector was an avid fan. You would easily pick him out at Ellis Park. He had a regular seat at the half-way line -- perhaps that should be “seats”; if I remember correctly, Abbott was then so enormous he had one for each buttock -- and there he was, a behemoth in the red-and-white strip of the old Transvaal, much like a circus marquee. Happily, Abbott has since slimmed down, found Jesus and is now a full-time minister who has, according to his online Who’s Who entry, worked in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. How terrified those little people out there must have felt when he came banging on their doors, Bible in hand.
But moving on. Now comes the alarming news that tycoon Robert Gumede and arms broker Ivor Ichikowitz, both prominent ANC funders, have bought a 49.9% stake in the Lions.
Gumede is the executive chairman of the Guma Group, an empowerment bunch, and the founder of GijimaAST, an IT company now embroiled in a multi-million rand dispute over software with Home Affairs. Nothing too out of the ordinary there.
Ichikowitz, though, is something else altogether.
He made his fortune selling old SADF armoured vehicles. In effect, then, he’s just a used car dealer, a very flash one, admittedly, but one all the same, and that’s the impression he gave when we met at the arms trade exhibition at the Ysterplaat air force base in 2008.
There he’d unveiled his new armoured personnel carrier with all the schtick of a bad spy movie. Pouting women in fishnets and camouflage hotpants draped themselves over a Smart car mounted with grenade launchers. Sullen blondes in leather jumpsuits with assault rifles glared at the press from behind dark glasses. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was Colonel Qaddafi’s security detail, but a sound system blasting out John Barry’s James Bond Theme brought you back to reality. Sort of.
Ichikowitz showed me his jet. Most exhibitors came to Ysterplaat by road. He arrived in his Boeing 727. It was, he said, one of the last ever built, which meant that it was then about 25 years old. Its previous owner -- some West African despot fallen on hard times -- had hardly ever used it. Just nipped off to church with it once a week, if at all. Good as new. Go ahead, kick the tyres.
It had been completely refurnished, and visitors had to cover their shoes with paper slippers upon entry to its beech and walnut-panelled interior. There were “man snacks” -- little bowls of biltong -- about the place, but on paper doilies. Either we had a self-made man here, a nice Jewish boy who grew up in a modest home with plastic runners on the carpets, or we have an Evil Mastermind solidly grounded in Middle Class values.
Which was it? I dared not ask. One wrong word, he’d press a button, and my chair would flip me backwards into a pool of ravenous sharks. I would be eaten alive while henchbabes in mirror shades stared on impassively. A horrible end.
But, you know, if Ichikowitz can bring something to the Lions next year, well ... maybe it won’t be so bad. Our cheerleaders may even have guns.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is Religion Good or Bad? Blair vs Hitchens

TONY Blair, I can’t help feeling, has a self-confidence that borders on the pathological and the delusional. Quite why he allowed himself to take part in a public debate with Christopher Hitchens on whether religion is a force of good or evil says a lot, I suppose, about his, er, faith in himself and his ability to convince his audience of his argument.
Quite apart from his infuriating arrogance, of course.
He’s a recent convert to Catholicism, and probably has the zealotry typical of converts. I wonder, though, if the desire for exculpation over the war in Iraq was a motivating factor in his decision to come out and bat for the Vatican.
The Observer’s Paul Harris filed an excellent piece on the debate last Sunday, and I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing here the following telling extract:

If it had been a boxing match Hitchens would have been described as landing blow after blow, many of them decidedly low – especially those about circumcision or women's rights. He described the aid work done by religious missions as "conscience money" to make up for the harm they have done. After all, why bother treating HIV-infected people in Africa while working against the use of condoms?
Several times Blair waived his right to respond to what Hitchens had said, instead just meekly accepting the next question. When one member of the audience asked each debater what was most powerful about his opponent's argument, Hitchens simply gestured for Blair to go first, in a move that brought loud laughter from the crowd.
Blair repeatedly returned to his defence that religious men and women did good deeds in their millions all around the world every day. But it was also a position that could get him in trouble. Blair outlined the work that religious groups in Northern Ireland put in on bridging the "religious divide" in order to work for peace. Hitchens did not allow that one to slip by. "I never miss an opportunity to congratulate someone on being humorous, even if unintentionally," he said. Then he delivered the punchline. "Where does the 'religious divide' come from?" he asked to another round of laughter from the crowd.
Blair was on stronger ground when he argued that fanaticism was hardly a preserve of the religious-minded. "The 20th century was scarred by visions that had precisely that imagining at its heart. That gave us Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot," he said.

And, I would argue, it gave us Tony Blair  -- who didn’t appear be bothering God all that much when it came to joining forces with George W Bush in his jaunt against Saddam.
Bush, on the other hand, is another matter altogether. But another time, perhaps.

For the full report, see

A Famous Grouse: November 13, 2010

This is the unedited column I submitted to the Weekend Argus for Saturday, November 13. Due to some or other problem with templates, it had to be drastically cut, and in the process 150 words or so were lost. I'm going to be posting some of my WA columns ("A Famous Grouse") for the benefit of those who can't get the newspaper. -- AD

DEAR venerable and perhaps aged tycoon-type men in Asia. Greetings from a small fishing village at the bottom of Africa.
I trust that you are all well and in rude health, particularly in the pants department, because frankly we’re fast running out of rhino here trying to keep up with your keeping up demands, if you know what I mean, and I rather suspect that you do.
Now, it is not my place to question customs and traditional beliefs. We have the ubuntu here, you know, and we have been taught to look the other way in a respectful manner when confronted with unacceptable behaviour. Nevertheless, I’ve never understood how you could kickstart the mojo by ingesting keratin -- because that’s all rhino horn is, made from the same stuff as our hair and nails.
And forgive me for asking, but how do you take it? Is the horn ground into powder and smoked? Sprinkled on the noodles with the pepper and chilli? Or do you just snort it off some bored woman’s mams? Once you’ve finished the sushi, that is? You may be pleased to note that this particular aspect of oriental culture is now all the rage with the elite and one can hardly move at the better sort of social gatherings for all the models lying around with sashimi poking out of their underwear.
But back to the horny business. Who got the stuff that was stolen from one of our museums in 2008? You may not have read about this, but it was disturbing news here. Thieves made off with the horns of two rhino that were stuffed way back in the 19th century. The thing is, those horns, as was the practice with taxidermy back then, were steeped in arsenic and DDT to prevent insect infestation. Take that, and you may just have the wrong sort of stiff on your hands.
Which brings me to a point. Please, we’re desperate about keeping our rhino. The few that we have left. Given the rate that you guys are killing them -- and it is you lot, not some raggedy-arsed poachers, who’re ultimately to blame here -- it won’t be long before the only place we’ll see rhino is on a ten rand note. Which is sad, really, considering that a ten rand note is only worth R4.50 these days.
However, we understand your needs, we really do. What is the point of being an impotent potentate? How humiliating that must be. And, whether placebo effect or not, who are we to doubt that the consumption of animal parts refreshes those parts that Viagra can only dream of reaching? So, I’d like to suggest a compromise.
Rock pigeons.
Did you know that like their beaks are made primarily of a calcium compound -- very much like nails? Five will get you ten that the beak of a rock pigeon is just as good a muti as rhino horn.  And unlike rhino, there is no shortage of rock pigeon here.
Take my place, for example. My garden is cluttered with the vermin. The pepper tree is so full of them, it’s a wonder the branches don’t break. They freak out my dog, Bob. He’s a Lavender Hill special, and trust me, he doesn’t need freaking out. But the pigeons splash about in his drinking water and eat his crunchy chicken-flavoured pellets, and it drives him nuts and he lunges away at them in fits and bursts.
They make me pretty mad, too, the way they drop their guts on everything. Friends visit, and next thing their cars are streaked in bird stuff. In fact, the pigeons are so cavalier in this regard, that I worry they may be a bad influence on Bob, who has the toilet manners of a cat, and is very particular about where he does his business. His middle name could be Fastidious, but not really, because he only has the one name.
Bob has, on the odd occasion, caught a pigeon. The mess of feathers and soggy bits afterwards was not pleasant, but the experience gave Bob a certain spring in his step, a cockiness, if you will, that made me think of you guys. You too could proudly strut about and do the houri if you had a bit of beak in you.
It’s just a thought, but let me know either way. Yours, etc.