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.

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