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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Famous Grouse: June 11

As submitted to Weekend Argus for publication. -- AD

IT was perhaps predictable that there would be opposition to the Gender Equity Bill which ludicrously proposes giving the government to power to meddle in the affairs of private companies by forcing them to appoint women to half of all their top positions.

Some of the reactions to the bill, which is due to be submitted to cabinet in March, have, however, been depressingly prosaic, to say the least.

Here at the Mahogany Ridge, we’ve noted a common theme in the letters to the newspapers, usually prefaced with declarations from correspondents that not only are they women, but they are feminists to boot and they firmly believe in all the usual stuff about gender equality, that women should get the same income and employment opportunities as men, and so on.

This is then followed by some sort of irrational qualifying statement which, all too sadly, doesn’t do the cause much good at all. As an example, I quote from a letter in one of the dailies: “I am all for women who deserve promotion through hard work and proper qualifications for the job, but I think top jobs should go to the best candidates. Many women are not interested in working, and if their husbands can afford it, prefer to stay at home and look after the kids.”

Naturally, there are the corollaries. Many women are, in fact, interested in working, and many men, myself included, would rather not work at all but stay at home instead. Alas, life is an often difficult thing, and well, let’s just leave it at that.

It is noteworthy, however, that those objecting to the Gender Equity Bill have not singled out the most glaring example of the sort of disaster one can expect as a result of such ham-fisted interference in the workplace -- and that is the dowdy klutz hoping to drive this abomination into law, Lulu Xingwana, the Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities.

Dear God in heaven, if there is such a thing, but our Lulu has not exactly covered herself in glory as a member of government, has she? It is something of a mystery as to why the Presidency persists in keeping her on board, pushing her from the one portfolio to the next. Perhaps the thinking is that, with enough time, she’ll eventually shine at something. So far, though, the results have been dire.

Readers will remember how, in 2007, as Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister, Xingwana claimed that white farmers routinely rape and assault their workers. This hardly endeared her to said farmers and the former president, Thabo Mbeki, was called in to resolve the rowdy dispute that followed with the agricultural unions.

Then there was the matter of Xingwana’s special mobile toilet, which she dragged hither and thither to various ceremonies in rural areas.

According to a report in the Afrikaans newspaper Rapport, the loo had gold trimmings and was imported at a cost of R500 000. Xingwana’s spokesperson denied the claim, but confirmed that although she did have a specially-reserved toilet it was no different to those used by grubby common folk.

Our fondest memory, however, of Xingwana concerns the incident in August 2009 when -- as the Minister of Arts and Culture, her next job -- she fled in disgust from the Innovative Women exhibition at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg, because she had been offended by photographs of embracing black lesbians couples.

An arts minister apparently terrified of art? Now there was a thing, and duly approached for comment, Xingwana explained her silly behaviour thus: “Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation-building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this. It was immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.”

As we put it here at the Ridge, but not without some rebuke from the women present: “Social cohesion? Can we watch?”

But moving on, as we must. The problem with Xingwana’s present portfolio -- minister of everything soft and fuzzy except white men -- is that, as opposition MPs pointed out this week, its mandate was vague and lacked substance. No-one knew what the minister was supposed to be doing, apart from being a waste of time and money. Which, come to think of it now, is something she’s quite good at.

However, if government really wanted to get cracking in its quest for equality in the workplace, then it should get to grips with the basics -- spare no effort in ensuring that firstly, girls go to school where they will be offered a first-rate, excellent education and, secondly, they remain at school until they have received that education.

Get that right, and the rest will follow. But then that is another matter altogether.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Famous Grouse: June 4

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

TO Kampala, where our chap there, Jon Qwelane, may or may not be taking time out from the diplomatic swirl with diverse members of the Bagandan royalty and their obsequious courtiers to ponder his future in the service now that he has been found guilty of hate speech by the Johannesburg Equality Court.

There’s a rich irony here, something that won’t be lost on Qwelane, a former journalist who fell foul of the apartheid security establishment on several brutal occasions.

He may even find it amusing that he should be censured for some homophobic crap he penned almost three years ago -- especially now that he is ambassador to a country that until very recently was hell-bent on broadening the criminalisation of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty for such offences as being HIV-positive, or engaging in sexual acts with people of the same sex or with those under 18 years of age.

Compare that degree of homophobia with the sort found in Qwelane’s Sunday Sun column and you’d find it hard to believe we’re on the same planet as Uganda, let alone the same continent.

Which in no way excuses the blimpish gay-bashing exercise in which Qwelane railed at the “rapid degradation of values and traditions by the so-called liberal influences of nowadays”.

Everywhere he looked, Qwelane saw “men kissing other men in public, walking holding hands and shamelessly flaunting what are misleadingly termed their ‘lifestyle’ and ‘sexual preferences’.

“There could be a few things I could take issue with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, but his unflinching and unapologetic stance over homosexuals is definitely not among those,” he continued. “Why, only this very month -- you'd better believe this -- a man, in a homosexual relationship with another man, gave birth to a child!”

If, gentle reader, you feel that this last point strains credulity, you must remember that Qwelane was writing for a readership that is accustomed to seeing photographs of what appears to be large turnips or sweet potatoes on the front pages of their newspapers and being told that these were, in fact, the tokoloshe.

Qwelane concluded that he would be praying that the constitution would be rewritten to outlaw same-sex unions. “Otherwise, at this rate, how soon before some idiot demands to ‘marry’ an animal, and argues that this constitution ‘allows’ it?”

It is understandable that there are those who have welcomed the court’s ruling that Qwelane apologise unconditionally to gays and lesbians, and that he pay R100 000 to the SA Human Rights Commission for awareness and education of homosexual rights, and have urged the government to recall him from Kampala.

Government will probably do no such thing. This, after all, is a “personal matter”, according to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.

Perhaps it’s best that Qwelane remains in Uganda, swanning about the cocktail parties in his pith helmet in search of drink. He’s doing no harm up there, and no good will come of hauling the lumpy-brained troglodyte back to Pretoria.

You’re not going to change his mind -- or the minds of those who support his views, and believe me, there are many, as I discovered by scrolling through the moronic comments posted under the online reports about the court’s ruling.

Some, like the outraged claims that the SAHRC would be using Qwelane’s hard-earned tom to actually train young people in “gayness”, are so gormless that you feel compelled to wash your eyes out after reading them lest your own mind be corrupted. Here, for the stout-hearted, is one such offering, verbatim: “Practitioners must not run to schools and convert our children. We have became imoral country and abomination filled country. Very soon the rath of God will befell.”

God, some readers may believe, has probably done more than enough in the making trouble department. In Uganda, the motion to introduce the harsh anti-gay laws was, according to news reports, inspired by a conference in which in which evangelical American Christians declared homosexuality a direct threat to the cohesion of African families.

But other postings include attacks on the court by those who suggest it only ever tried black people, Africans in particular -- it never heard cases involving white people -- and that it had no authority because it was “drunk” when it ruled against Qwelane in absentia.

The language, the racism and the attitude of obdurate ignorance is that of the ANC Youth League, in particular its brattish president, Julius Malema. It’s like PW Botha all over again, and the boorish bluster is finding currency as the lingua franca in every aspect of our public life. It’s very sad, the hatred of the new dumb.

Dylan at 70

A piece for the Johannesburg Sunday Times on June 5. -- AD

ON August 9 2002, a newspaper published in Buffalo in New York ran an enthusiastic piece on Bob Dylan. The following week, the singer, amused by its contents, had a member of his stage crew read an adapted version to his audience to start a show. Since then, that running joke has opened most Dylan concerts. To wit: "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock 'n' roll. The voice of the promise of the '60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned make-up in the '70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the '80s, and who suddenly shifted gears, releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late '90s. Ladies and gentlemen - Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!"

Well, the poet laureate came in for some stick in April, criticised on tour in China for failing to condemn the detention of artist Ai Weiwei and accused of allowing himself to be censored by Beijing. How the times they have a-changed, went the headlines.

Those that leapt to his defence pointed out the criticism was misinformed: Dylan was never a "protest singer" or "political" and had, in fact, turned his back on "topical songs" in 1965. Besides, his supporters argued, Dylan never did the expected thing, and banged nobody's drum but his own.

Recently he did the unexpected, and posted his response on his website, rebutting reports that he had been previously barred from performing in China, that his shows had been poorly attended and those that did turn up were mainly expat Westerners.

"As far as censorship goes," he wrote, "the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There's no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous three months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me and we played all the songs that we intended to play."

Then came the interesting bit: "Everybody knows by now that there's a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I'm encouraging anybody who's ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them."

Snarky tone aside, there are indeed many Dylan books about to hit our shelves, mainly as 70th birthday tie-ins. Some of the better ones are the updated Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, by Howard Sounes, the revised No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan, by Robert Shelton and the expanded Behind The Shades: The 20th Anniversary Edition, by Clinton Heylin.

Shelton's book, first published in 1986, is considered by many to be the best, if only because it is the only biography written with Dylan's active co-operation. Shelton, a critic whose New York Times review of a folk club performance in September 1961 helped launch the singer's career, passed away in 1995 and his book has been overhauled by editors armed with his original manuscript.

Heylin's book, meanwhile, has grown like a tumour. It ran to some 550 pages upon publication; the second edition, published in 2000, some 780 pages; and the new one 928 pages. Heylin's two-volume treatise of the entire Dylan canon, Revolution In The Air and Still On the Road, was published last year.

At the other end of the spectrum is When Bob Met Woody: The Story of the Young Bob Dylan, by Gary Golio and Marc Burckhardt. A children's book, it tells the story of the young Dylan's quest to find his hero, the folk singer Woody Guthrie, and their meeting in a New Jersey asylum, where Guthrie was stricken with Huntington's Disease.

Writing in The New York Times, historian Sean Wilentz -- author of last year's acclaimed Dylan in America -- noted that although the story of Guthrie and Dylan's meeting was "familiar to baby-boomers", it would come as "news to their grandchildren".

Moreover, When Bob Met Woody was the story of "the folk process" itself, in which songs were handed anonymously from one generation to the next.

What was happening here was that the voice of the promise of the counterculture was about to pass, like Davy Crockett and Buffalo Bill and other historical figures, into the mainstream of a fabled and idealised American mythology, and this may well explain Dylan's testiness over these and other books.

An intensely private person, it could be that, at 70, he feels control of his legacy slipping from his grasp. Perhaps it's more simple; the books have become a burdensome embarrassment. At any rate, in his own memoir, Chronicles, Volume One, he has bluntly distanced himself from the "spokesman of his generation" hoopla: "What did I owe the rest of the world? Nothing."

For many, Dylan's best albums were Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, all released in a blaze of creative fury from May 1965 to August 1966. It was a time when "the singer stood at a world crossroads", as the critic Greil Marcus noted in his extraordinary The Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes.

"For a moment," Marcus wrote, "he held a stage no one has more than mounted since - a stage that may no longer exist. More than 30 years ago, when a world now most often spoken of as an error of history was taking shape and form - and when far older worlds were reappearing like ghosts that had yet to make up their minds, cruel and paradisiac worlds that in 1965 felt at once present and impossibly distant - Bob Dylan seemed less to occupy a turning point in cultural space and time than to be that turning point. As if culture would turn according to his wishes or even his whim; the fact was, for a long moment, it did."

There have been other great albums -- neophytes may consider John Wesley Harding, Blood On The Tracks, Desire, The Basement Tapes, Oh Mercy, Time Out Of Mind, "Love And Theft" and Modern Times -- but Marcus was right about that long moment. It was gone, all right, but its presence lingers faintly, like a dying echo, in the performances that Dylan is now giving, 46 years later.

In June 1988, he began what is now known as the Never-Ending Tour, a ceaseless performing schedule that averages about 100 dates a year around the world.

Dylan didn't think much of the title, and in 2009 told Rolling Stone magazine: "Critics should know there is no such thing as forever. Does anybody call Henry Ford a Never-Ending Car-Builder? Anybody ever say that Duke Ellington was on a Never-Ending Bandstand Tour? These days, people are lucky to have a job. Any job. So critics might be uncomfortable with my working so much. Anybody with a trade can work as long as they want. A carpenter, an electrician. They don't necessarily need to retire."

Nevertheless, the grind is gruelling, and his touring schedule would floor artists half his age. In April it was China, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. This month it's Europe, and in July, the US.

And so it goes. His voice now ranges in tone from a grinding rasp to a reedy honk. His detractors have noticed, and they've charged that the iconoclasm is now directed at himself; that he seems hell bent on exploding his own myth through poor performances. "Not as good as he used to be," is the general complaint. "He can't even sing any more."

It's true the live songs barely resemble the recorded versions. This is perhaps a desire to rework his songs to make up for his battered vocals. But that doesn't mean the concerts are bad. I saw him at a festival in London in 2004 and it was a tired mixed bag of songs. But the following year, at the Brixton Academy, he was astounding. You pays yer money, as they say, and you takes yer chances.

And our fascination continues. These days it's not the new music we look forward to, but the latest volume in the Bootleg Series, the release programme for the rare and unreleased material from all corners of Dylan's 50-year career.

We know the best is yet to come -- the 128 or so songs recorded in a basement in a Woodstock, New York, house in the summer of 1967 with musicians that would later be known as The Band. But that is another story.

So, Dylan is 70. What does it mean? Way back in 1965, he told a press conference: "I'm just a song-and-dance man."

He's now older and still the song-and-dance man, but unlike any other song-and-dance man we know.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A recent letter to management about the sub-editing. . .

I think this speaks for itself. Sort of. . . -- AD

Hi ------

I know it seems like a minor thing, but the editing of the column continues to appal.

This morning we have an example of an erroneously inserted comma destroying the meaning of an entire paragraph.

I wrote of Tom Clancy's use of "weapons porn" -- that is, his tendency to drool over the technical details of heavy weapons, their killing rate, their destructiveness, how fast jets fly, how many bombs they carry, and how he bores readers with brand names like Uzi, Kevlar, Glock and so on. It is a common enough term, just as you get car porn, house porn and food porn -- terms to describe a similar, lascivious overindulgence in motoring journalism, the waffle of decor editors and glossy pictures of cakes.

But someone chose to insert a comma in "weapons porn" -- meaning that, in addition to all the guns and bombs that Clancy clutters his books with, he also assails his readers with heaps of thrusting cocks and sopping holes.

Sadly, this is not the case.

There are other instances where words are needlessly removed, destroying cadence, and where phrases have been reworked in a confusing manner. It's annoying that I take some care with the column only to have it ruined by such sloppiness.

Please slap the person responsible for this sabotage.


A Famous Grouse: May 28

Latest Weekend Argus column, as submitted. Please note: the newspaper did, after consultation with me, change "Nazis" to "despots" as there was some concern about the "potential for suing". As I have no money however, and therefore very little potential as a defendant in such an action, I have left it in. -- AD

HOW weird that there should be surprise at the unseemly haste with which the ruling party is attempting to bully into legislation its fascist Protection of Information Bill.

I mean, come on! It’s no secret that these people don’t like the media. They feel nothing for the press and want to drag us into the street and there gang-rape us into a puddle of submission before a cheering mob of youth league drunkards.

So why the shocked reactions? Could the fact that the municipal elections were largely incident-free have lulled us into a false sense of security?

Could that be the case? That the simple act of casting one’s vote had left us soft and fuzzy-minded, basking in the warm comfort of an evidently misguided impression that we were living in a democracy, one in which the rights of a free press were enshrined in a constitution, only to be rudely and very suddenly bitch-slapped into a frightful state by Cecil Burgess, the ANC MP who is chairing the allegedly parliamentary committee processing this atrocity?

Burgess, sensitive readers may not wish to recall, was in boffo gauleiter overdrive mode earlier this week when he curtly informed opposition parties that the committee would not be discussing input concerning the bill, as had been expected, but would instead start voting on it most pronto.

As he put it, “the enthusiasm to accommodate all different views was an error”, that the process would take “forever”, and that it was unlikely the committee would have “100% consensus on everything” in the bill.

It was a disgraceful business. He may not have clicked his boot heels together, but really, it was there in his sentiment: don’t waste our time with trifling concerns for your rights -- you mean nothing to us, and your concerns of civil liberties even less.

Burgess and his grubby friends may take exception to the association with Nazis, but really, what else can one say?

After all, it is the ANC who are forever reminding us that it was they who are the party of “liberation”, that it was them and them alone who delivered us from the oppression of our apartheid past and gave us our freedom.  And with that, the tacit implication that it is they who will be taking that freedom from us, too.

They get so angry when they’re accused of behaving, if not like the old Nationalists, then a whole lot worse. But really, what can you say about the unhealthy urge to give reporters mandatory prison sentences of up to 25 years for doing their job?

This is not the customary personality disorder so prevalent with politicians -- that venal compulsion to interfere with and manage people around them others for their own good -- but a whole new psychopathy, one borne of a repugnant moral narcissism.

But they forget that, for all their draconian measures and threatened punishments, these types of law always eventually fail.

For example, it may well be that, in terms of the proposed bill, the open toilets at Makhaza and Viljoenskroon and elsewhere can at the whim of a minor municipal functionary be declared “state secrets” and that reporting their whereabouts could land a journalist in a heap of trouble, particularly in the run-up to an election, when its potential to embarrass was greatest, but does that mean they will disappear?

It’s tempting to suggest that, in this digital age of electronic and social media, there are no secrets anymore. Certainly, the Ryan Giggs “superinjunction” debacle -- in which the philandering footballer’s attempts to prevent British newspapers from identifying him were thwarted by a massive Twitter campaign -- is proof that the truth will always out. It’s amazing that with each successive reign of ratbags there is the heartfelt conviction that they are the exception.

But moving on, as we must. Here at the Mahogany Ridge disturbing uncensored news has reached from London concerning the UK leg of US president Barack Obama’s European tour.

It appears that, in an attempt to ingratiate himself with his visitors, prime minister David Cameron hosted a massive braai for about 150 guests in the garden at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon.

Both leaders rolled up their sleeves and got busy with the tongs and soon, according to The Times of London, “the air was filled with the smokey aromas of sizzling British sausages. . .  Rosemary Kentish lamb chops were also available, as were hamburgers and corn on the cob. . .”

Excuse me, but you do not braai English lamb. Ever. They’re far too bland. The Karoo lamb, on the other hand, seasons itself with all the pungent herbs out there in the scrub.

Everyone knows this. It’s not a secret.

A Famous Grouse: May 21

Better late than never, herewith, as submitted to the newspaper, my Weekend Argus column for that first Saturday after the elections. . .-- AD

WELL, that is that, then. All over bar the shouting. And it’s a big rousing, to-the-winner-not-always-the-spoils kind of consolatory cheer for the Abolition of Income Tax and Usury Party who managed to get a couple of hundred votes in the Western Cape.

It’s not much, I know. But it’s a start. And who can say what the future holds for the people who think that revenue collection by governments is a Marxist invention and should be done away with?

The same could be said for the Dagga Party, which had hoped to win at least one ward somewhere in the province. Sadly nothing of the sort happened. Which is a pity, really. All jokes aside -- and there’ve been quite a few as far as the Dagga Party is concerned -- the case for the decriminalisation of marijuana is moral and just and should be taken up by the larger parties.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Right now, we’re concerned with a more probable future, not some weird stuff that happens when you smoke polio weed.

As far as the country’s smaller parties are concerned, it’s fair to say that anything can happen. Just look at the dramatic growth in support for the Democratic Alliance, and you’ll understand that our political landscape is in a constant state of flux, a great bowl of soup forever bubbling away on the back burner.

Well, about 40% of it anyway. The ruling party continues to rule most of the country’s metros and municipalities.

But not here, of course, and this evening at the Mahogany Ridge, we will no doubt be raising a consoling glass or two to big loser Tony Ehrenreich, the ANC’s mayoral candidate, and say, ag, shame, but then the campaign he chose to run had a bit too much in common with the general tenor of those thrown out with considerable tedium by that other Tony from a while ago, Tony Leon.

Unlike the former leader of the DA though, Ehrenreich came across as slightly more magnanimous in defeat than Leon. As a Ridge regular put it, he seemed like a decent sort, even quite ethical.

Perhaps, but the klap that Ehrenreich got at the polls was his first really big political defeat. We should remember that Leon was always losing, and was very good at it -- he could do that constantly trailing a distant second with the same flair that Danny DeVito brings to being short, he was that much a natural.

Should he become more accustomed to losing it could well be the case that Ehrenreich may find it expedient to ditch the valiant runner-up schtick in favour of a more convenient and perhaps comfortable surliness.

And it could be sooner than expected. If what I read in the newspapers is true, he has “hinted” that he may run for premier of the Western Cape as early as 2014.

This time, though, perhaps he’ll be nicer to voters before they cast their votes, and only once he’s safely seen Helen Zille’s goods carted out of Leeuwenhof should he start calling them racist and frightening them with talk of dumping the homeless in the leafy suburbs of the rich buggers and tearing up their bicycle paths.

But on to other matters as we must. We have been following with some interest the hate speech case against Julius Malema, about whom the less said at the moment, the better.

Malema’s lawyer, Vincent Maleka, has put forward an interesting suggestion about Dubula iBhunu, the controversial song that is at the heart of this tedious business. According to reports, the song doesn’t exhort its listeners to “shoot the boer”. That, Maleka has claimed, was a “media translation”.

Who or what exactly is now being identified as a target for shooting is not known. Maleka has apparently been dragging his feet in revealing this crucial aspect of his case in closing arguments before the Johannesburg High Court -- maybe he is being paid by the hour -- and such details, alas, were not available at the time of writing.

However I can reveal that considerable time and effort was spent in convincing the court that the meaning of “ibhunu” had, in fact, changed dramatically from 1994 to 1995. Quite how this happened has escaped me, and perhaps we shall learn more of this mysterious process in the days to come.

What is clear, though, is that, in a judgment in a separate case before the Johannesburg High Court this week, the publication and chanting of “Dubula iBhuna” was declared an incitement to murder. But who? That is the question. . .

* Anton Hammerl. Cheers, buddy. All strength, condolences and love to Penny and family.

A Famous Grouse: May 14

It's a bit late, but here as submitted to the Weekend Argus, is my pre-election column. -- AD

IT IS no secret here at the Mahogany Ridge that, after years of watching them root about in the slops, my loathing for politicians is well nigh absolute.

I’ve come to expect nothing but the worst from them, particularly in the weeks ahead of an election when we are assailed at every turn by the thieving swine who smile at us in the manner of a paedophile offering sweets to children.

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the repugnant manner in which the ANC has behaved in the past few weeks.

Given that, thanks in particular to the efforts of the youth league, the overarching metaphor of the polls is the open toilet, it is hardly surprising that the tenor of their campaign was that of a broken sewer.

It was the youngsters who led the charge at Makhaza, in Khayelitsha, where they seized the open commode as if it were the Holy Grail -- and how gratifying that, having gorged themselves at its porcelain rim, the party is now finding it something of a poisoned chalice.

A fortnight ago the newspapers were full of their crowing after the Western Cape High Court ruling by Judge Nathan Erasmus that the agreement between the City and the Makhaza settlement over the construction of the unenclosed toilets was unlawful.

As ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu put it: “Not only is this landmark judgment a vindication of the long-held ANC view shared by many people, particularly the poor black working class of the Western Cape, that the DA is a racist political party only committed to protecting the last vestiges and policies of apartheid, but that its building of unenclosed toilets in Makhaza shows total disrespect for black dignity.”

Dignity itself was up next, in the form of Julius Malema.

“Spread the message,” he announced from the court steps. “We are here today to bring down Helen Zille. Convince everybody here to vote for the ANC. This is a victory for the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape. But I promise that the DA will not abide by the ruling; it will be up to Tony (Ehrenreich) to fix the toilets because the DA doesn’t care about poor people. But we can get rid of that racist Zille by voting for the ANC on the May 18 elections.”

A pity, then, that he didn’t bother to pay much attention to the actual contents of the Erasmus judgment, which pointed out, right from the get-go -- in its third paragraph, in fact -- that, far from winning, the people of Cape Town were, in this particular regard, the losers in this shameful, undignified business.

To wit: “In this matter we have seen, various government organisations litigating on opposing sides at a high cost to the tax payer. The Mayor of the City of Cape Town Mr Dan Plato and second applicant, Mr Andile Lili, who purports to be a political leader and an Executive member of the African National Congress Youth League, simply failed to rise above their political contest as opposed to their duty towards those that need to benefit the poor and vulnerable.”

Shame on them.

But then came the reports from the Free State of the open toilets in a township near Viljoenskroon, in the ANC-run Moqhaka municipality.

Clearly embarrassed, a high-powered ANC delegation, which included Free State premier Ace Magashule, housing and settlements minister Tony Yengeni and sports minister Fikilele Mbalula as well as Malema, raced to Rammulotsi with foreign and local press in tow in a desperate and pathetic attempt at damage control.

There was a revealing photograph in the dailies. It showed Malema declaiming before what appeared to be a broken loo in the exaggerated manner of the Victorian melodrama. Mbalula, behind him, looked on in shock and awe. All it needed were cartoon speech bubbles: “What is this shit?” “Our arses on a plate, methinks.”

Perhaps the most surprised of all, though, were the people of Rammulotsi. They’d long since given up hope. The toilets were built in 2003. That was three national elections ago. And now only the authorities show up, pretending to give a damn?

But, not long now, and that will all be behind us, all the bilge about cockroaches and dancing like monkeys, all the racism, the spite and the hatred, the moronic spew about white people being thieves and criminals, and all that will remain after Wednesday will be the posters, flapping off poles like the broken wings of dead birds after a violent storm.

And the people of Rammulotsi? They’ll just be a distant memory by next week. Who really cares about them? The ANC? I think not.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Famous Grouse: May 7

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

THE dramatic events in Pakistan this week had not gone unnoticed by the little ones. There they were, one moment awash in the warm glow of the cartoons and next thing, the grownups had taken over the TV remote and were hopping from one news channel to the next. It was perhaps inevitable there would be questions.

We had to tell them the shocking truth -- American soldiers had shot dead Jafar.

And why not? Any parent who has had to sit through Disney’s Aladdin movies will tell you there’s more than a passing resemblance between the two.

In the first and best of the films, weirdie beardie Jafar, the grand vizier to the sultan of Agrabah, is on a quest to locate the genie’s magic lamp which he will use to take over the sultanate before making himself the most powerful wizard in the world.

He fails, of course, and -- spoiler alert! -- at the end of the movie he is trapped in the lamp, now a genie himself but, alas, with no free will of his own.

In the second movie, it gets much worse. In a shocking display of violence, Jafar is once again trapped in the lamp which is now kicked through a fissure in the earth’s surface by a grumpy parrot called Iago and it lands in a sea of lava. The lamp melts and, alas again, Jafar is crisped and reduced to dust.

And so it was with Osama bin Laden, who -- as the chatter went at the Mahogany Ridge on Monday -- was finding paradise a bit of a downer, what with the 72 vegans who now won’t leave him alone.

The novelist Salman Rushdie had the perfect take on the al Qaeda leader, pointing out that he died on Walpurgisnacht, a spring festival celebrated in parts of Europe and usually associated with bonfires, dancing and what was known in medieval times as witches’ sabbaths but more lately as Workers’ Day.

“Not an inappropriate night for the Chief Witch to fall off his broomstick and perish in a fierce firefight,” Rushdie wrote in the Daily Beast. “One of the most common status updates on Facebook after the news broke was ‘Ding, Dong, the witch is dead,’ and that spirit of Munchkin celebration was apparent in the faces of the crowds chanting ‘U-S-A!’ last night outside the White House and at ground zero and elsewhere.”

Of course, we’ve since learnt that that firefight, fierce as it no doubt may have been, was a distinctly one-sided affair, and yes, the yahoo tone and jingoist triumphalism of those American celebrations was indeed grating.

But these and the other issues that have emerged in the days since the raid on the compound in Abbottabad had done little to alter my initial reaction to the news of bin Laden’s death.

I believe the world is a better place now that he is gone. The fact that this deluded murderer was unarmed when he was shot in the face and could see it coming really doesn’t change my opinion all that much. Perhaps it would have been ideal if he had been brought to trial for that procedural veneer, but in the end he would have wound up just as dead. That’s what the Americans wanted all along -- a dead terrorist, and that’s what they got.

Of course, one man’s dead terrorist is, in the nature of these things, another man’s religious hero and martyr.

But even that, too, is changing. The Arab spring, or the so-called jasmine revolution, has been secular in nature. In short, it’s about democracy and universal human rights -- and certainly not about following nutty mullahs and jihadi into the sort of theocracies deemed backward even by the standards of seventh century caliphates.

While al Qaeda’s influence may be on the wane, the same cannot be said for opprobrium for the White House, and in this regard, local reaction to the US raid has been predictably imbecilic, especially the outburst from Young Communist League secretary Buti Manamela: “They claim to be the champion of peace and democracy but they are nothing but invaders and their anti-terrorism campaign is the greatest cover-up of their own terrorism. Through their president [Barack] Obama, they are the worst animal fighting in human skin.”

On Tuesday, the Times of London printed all the known names of those who died in attacks planned by bin Laden. They included the 261 people who died in the blasts in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in August, 1998.

The targets may have been the embassies of the “US imperialists” but the vast majority of the dead were African.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Famous Grouse: April 30

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

TO Steytlerville, where a shape-shifting monster has apparently been bothering the residents of this sleepy Karoo backwater in recent weeks. Those who have seen it say it first appears as a headless man in a black coat and then it turns into an angry dog, then a pig, and even a bat and a large monkey.

Yes, it would seem that not even this quaint dorp, dubbed the north-eastern gateway into the Baviaans Kloof and noted for its near pristine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, has escaped the attention of the politicians as the national municipal elections approach.

The townsfolk have been ignored for years, but now, suddenly, they’re being bothered by a plague of blatant lies, false promises and fatuous arse-kissing.

It’s no wonder they’re terrified out there and have -- perhaps foolishly, given their irrational propensity for brute violence -- turned to the police for help.

Mercifully, the police chose not to gun down anyone or club them into submission but, instead, asked residents to photograph the shape-shifter. Which, according to one Warrant Officer Zandisile Nelani, they duly did after spotting it resting under a tree.

Nelani told Sapa that when the photograph was taken the creature had been in human form, but when the image was developed there was an unknown animal in its place. “It is a very strange thing happening in Steytlerville,” he added, “but no-one has been hurt by it.”

Police are now scanning the election candidate lists for someone to help them with their inquiries. Naturally, we fear the worst.

Here at the Mahogany Ridge, though, much was initially made of reports that a good deal of the Steytlerville shape-shifting apparently occurred in the proximity of a local tavern. Some regulars even pointed out that, far from being paranormal, such activity was quite commonplace at the Ridge, especially on pay days.

But this suggestion was given short shrift and it was pointed out that, in the parlance of the simple fisherfolk that we are, “drinking someone pretty” followed by torrid fumbling and groping in the car park was not the sort of shape-shifting under discussion here.

Indeed, what was happening in Steytlerville appeared to be quite the opposite -- an apparently normal, possibly even attractive person suddenly loses their head, and then turns into a pig, and not the other way round.

But moving on. As we did rather pronto when word reached us that President Jacob Zuma had, rather astonishingly, declared that some ANC candidates would be kicked out of office after the elections to make way for communities’ “preferred” choices.

He was electioneering in Bloemfontein when he told disgruntled party supporters to “vote for the ANC and we will sort out the candidate lists later”.

It didn’t sound very convincing, did it? Was he losing his head? Was this transmogrification? Was he about to take off? Who could say? But here was shape-shifting on a whole other level, and it was much like watching a slothful mastadon splashing about in the swamp as it became a mere whisper of its former self.

More worrying, though, is that this about-turn apparently not only negated the ANC’s somewhat frantic attempts in recent weeks to convince supporters to accept the party-ordained candidates over their own popular choices, but it could throw the poll’s outcome into chaos -- particularly for said party-ordained candidates who will be forced to make way for others.

It is here that things will get interesting, in a very grim way.

In a recent blog, the political analyst Nic Borain raised the point that when the business of government becomes the business of enriching the governors -- and, as we know only too well, the “rewards” of political office are considerable -- then the process of getting onto the party’s candidate list becomes “one of mayhem and murder, endlessly chaotic and contested”.

You can imagine, then, having fought tooth and nail to get on that list and thus into office, the extreme reluctance at now suddenly having to make way for some yokel community leader coming out of nowhere, and without the sort of political patronage, tenderpreneurial connections and predisposition for looting that now characterises our public life.

It’s outrageous, this suggestion that one should hop off the gravy train before they’ve even hooked up the locomotive.

They won’t take it lying down. And it’s here, obviously, that we will see men and women, in fits of atavistic greed, truly turning into beasts. The fighting and backstabbing, the bloodletting and the barbarism of it all, the treachery and brutality, will be something else. Even the police will be scared.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Famous Grouse: April 23

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted for publication. And before somebody decided to change a few words here and there and drop Heidi fucking Klum into my work. Does this sort of thing happen to other columnists? Some sub-editing drone deep in the works suddenly deciding that some copy could be improved by willy-nilly dropping in names of celebrities and without telling the author? -- AD

SOMETHING terrible is happening to South African rugby, and I’m not talking about Peter de Villiers. 

Hang on, let me rephrase that.

Something terrible has already happened to rugby. It started some years ago but now it has spread to SuperSport, place of the blokey blokes responsible for beaming the game into the homes of subscription TV viewers across the country.

And home is a good place to watch rugby, especially today of all days, what with the roads out there being choked with half-dead marathon runners coughing up over one another. But that is neither here nor there.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Someone somewhere arose one morning from a comfortable bed back in the mists of time and had what could, at a stretch, be considered an idea, one to mull over with tea and cookies on a Monday morning.

Why not steal a concept from the Americans? Slap a bunch of half-naked young women who pose like circus ponies on the sidelines when the teams run onto the field, and every now and then have them jump about and wave bits of fluff?

Very top notch notion! Because, really, when you think about it, South African men had lost interest in rugby, hadn’t they? Where were they on the weekends? Certainly not in front of the television, worse the wear for the beer and biltong. No, they were down at the nursery snapping up trays of annuals to stuff into a forlorn corner of the garden or maybe slipping into spandex shorts for a bit of pedal action.

It was a crisis. Something had to be done to bring us home. And lo, the hubba hubba meisies on the touchline.

It worked a treat. Now there’s something to look at when we watch rugby. Come Saturdays, the Mahogany Ridge is packed with manne eager for a glimpse of hot flesh with the dull thud of chaps bashing into one another. There is excitement once more, and the promise of off-the-ball action. Not to mention the brandies and coke.

Rugby was temporarily saved. By the sort of backwardness that put the craven into Danie Craven.

Alas, it was only a matter of time before SuperSport, in a fit of unfettered thought, decided to jump in and get their very own cheesecake.

You may have noticed. For the past few weeks they’ve been on a farcical quest . . .  slight pause here for dramatic effect . . . for their very first female rugby presenter!

Yes. In 2011, no less.

There is every reason why they should have female rugby presenters. But the way they’re going about this charade of gender equalitarianism insults just about anyone you’d care to think of, save the hopelessly Cro-Magnon.

We know this, because they’ve shown us. On the television. Shamelessly. We’ve seen smug jerks with microphones asking applicants dumb-ass questions like, “What position do you play if you have a number three on your jersey?” It’s the sort of patronising guff Miss SA contestants endured in Penny Rey Coelen’s time. Which was way before they had even invented sex. Never mind sexism.

There have been some interesting web postings by applicants who have endured the  cattle call experience of the job “interview”. One blogger, objecting to SuperSport’s “tits and bums” approach to rugby commentary, has rightly questioned whether Darren Scott got the job because he looked like a supermodel.

For the record, I’d like to point out that years ago Darren was in fact a supermodel, a stunner whose legendary centrefolds set the magazine world alight. But then he let himself go, and now he looks like a liver spot. Naas, on the other hand, hasn’t aged a day since he got the job, but then he’s a vampire.

Shame, but our successful applicant will have to work with these people. Worse still is the godawful title that comes with the job: “Lady Rugga.” As in Lady Gaga. Excuse me, but what the hey? (Memo to self: revealing outfit of boerewors and chops, maybe?)

But moving on. It’s up to rugby fans to help rugby. We need to think big. Outside the box. For the nation. Like Clint Eastwood, when he made that film, Evict Us, with Nelson Freeman and that little guy as Francois Pienaar.

We need to liberate the struggle songs from the ANC and sing specially adapted versions at games. I’m serious. What could be more stirring than the nation-building spectacle of hundreds of thousands of expats in Auckland all singing Dubul iKiwi or Mshini Wam at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup?

That’s provided, of course, we play rugby for a change. And not that girl stuff.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Famous Grouse: April 16

Latest Weekend Argus column. As submitted. In other words, you'll see "shits" here and not "s***ts" as printed in the newspaper. -- AD

IT was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, unabashed hedonist and daughter of US president Theodore Roosevelt, who once famously remarked: “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

For some bizarre reason, I was reminded of that quote, which the redoubtable Ms Longworth had embroidered on the cushions on her settee, by the images of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the nation’s gogo, and Julius Malema, the nation’s gogga, seemingly inseparable at the latter’s hate speech hearing in Johannesburg.

I mean, you can’t stop him from shooting his mouth off at the best of times, and it’s never very nice, is it? And she . . . well, let’s just say there were jokes about revolutionary cougars on Twitter and Facebook.

But, really, sitting here at the Mahogany Ridge, staring blankly at the pile of newspapers near the door, it’s hard to get excited about any of this simply because we have grown tired of this dreadful saga.

It’s not just Malema fatigue either. There are a growing number of people out there for whom Malema and his vapid rhetoric are anathema but who nevertheless feel that the civil rights group Afriforum and the Transvaal Agricultural Union have done themselves no favours in pursuing this matter of Dubul’ iBhunu (Shoot the Boer).

Far from shutting him up, it’s made Jelly Tsotsi louder than ever. Look at the grandstanding, all the blather about Mickey Mouses, of the struggle and the revolution on trial, and, perhaps most annoying of all, the continued singing of that stupid chant, now belted out with all the belligerent gusto that the young, dumb and violent could muster. That is, when they’re done urinating on lawyers’ cars.

The courts may well rule that the singing of Dubul’ iBhunu is hate speech. But that won’t stop the youth league from singing it. They will continue to do so, because they know it upsets the like of Afriforum and the TAU. It’s that simple. They’ll do so because they’re spiteful little shits. Get used to it.

Your only recourse is to ignore them. Do not, under any circumstances, pick up the telephone and call the nearest talk radio station to mouth off about Jelly and his little potty-mouthed Pecksniff, Floyd Shivambu. Do not join that chorus of whining, braying half-wits. If you do that, the youth league has won. Have a little dignity, and if you really feel you need to talk to a moron talk show host, moan instead about fracking in the Karoo.

Still on matters of freedom of expression -- and, yes, that includes the singing of stupid songs about killing the Boers as sure as it does remarks about people who dance like monkeys -- we now turn to retired Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs, who was apparently on the receiving end of some flak from the cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro and the Treatment Action Campaign’s Zackie Achmat at UCT last week.

Sachs had presented a talk on addressing moral tensions around freedom of expression. It was the same talk he’s given a month before, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Time of the Writer festival -- except for one small difference.

In Durban, Sachs had sharply criticised Zapiro’s controversial “rape” of Lady Justice cartoon.

As he put it then -- but not, tellingly, in an abridged version at UCT:

“Can we laugh . . . at a cartoon that might be deeply wounding to millions and millions of other people out there, decent ordinary people who feel we might criticize President Zuma, poke fun at lots of things that he does, but still recognize that he is our President. In their view, you don’t depict the President of the country about to open his fly, with Ministers at his side urging him on, with a woman lying prone and helpless in front of him. For millions of our people that kind of scene is reminiscent of the stereotype of the black male rapist. It ravages the soul, the issue is deep, it’s hard, it’s sharp.”

But then the cartoon was not meant to be a cheery chuckle, a bit of a titter and a snort before we move on to the sports pages. Zapiro had wanted to make a point. “My thoughts were, here is someone who is bullying the judiciary,” he explained. “I knew there were aspects that would offend people, but I thought it was an incredibly important moment. I think it pushed Zuma to say that he actually respected the judiciary.”

And how churlish would it be to point out that the cartoon first appeared in September 2008 -- a full eight months before Zuma became president?

It makes a small difference, I think, getting things right.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Famous Grouse: April 9

Latest Weekend Argus column. Except for the footnote about the Spartist tendency, it is reproduced here as submitted. -- AD

HERE at the Mahogany Ridge we were a little surprised at Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s admission that the ANC won’t be winning back control of the Cape Town Metro in next month’s local elections.

Such candour is refreshing, and signals, as it does, that one at least is awake and smelling the coffee even if what I may refer to as that old Dunkirk spirit has all but rolled over and died.

Sad as it may seem, but Motlanthe has not done our old friend Tony Ehrenreich any favours with his careless talk.

The Cosatu provincial secretary -- notwithstanding his mumblings of humility at the honour of being called to serve a higher office as a loyal and doughty member of the ANC, etc -- had expressed a frightfully keen interest in being our next mayor.

He had plans for us, he certainly did. Grand, towering ones. Brimful with resentment and spite. But now, alas, Ehrenreich’s dreams of upheaval in Trevor Manuel’s leafy suburbs must be put on hold.

Where was the support of the party leadership when our faithful Spartist* trade union leader really needed it?

Earlier this week, he had threatened to force the city’s wealthier residents to integrate with the working classes by building low-cost housing in Constantia.

Readers will recall that this is familiar territory with Ehrenreich. Last year, for example, he drew great attention to himself by offering his struggle chums -- “shop stewards and comrades” -- the use of his holiday home in Kleinmond for the nominal charge of R100 for two days to cover service costs.

Explaining his offer in a FaceBook posting, he wrote: “There is something immoral about having a watch that costs R200 000 or a car that costs half a million or a house that costs R2-million when the majority of our people live in poverty.”

Some people praised him for his altruism, but here at the Ridge, we were, like, Kleinmond? Second prize is another two days there?

But back to the point. Ehrenreich clearly has a jones for bashing the rich. So what? Many people do. But it is his language that concerns me. “The days of the elites are over once I’m mayor,” was how he put it. “The super-rich, selfish buggers won’t have it their way any more.”

The etymology of “bugger” refers. The term, though now mildly offensive to some, was originally used to describe anal intercourse by a man with a man or woman, or sexual intercourse by a man or woman with an animal.

It is derived from Boulgrerie, the French for “of Bulgaria”, and referred to the Bogomils, a Bulgarian clerical sect considered heretics back in the Middle Ages. Apparently, it was widely believed that the heretics would, like most things they did, adopt an “inverse” approach to matters in the pants department and hence the sort of thing that frightens the horses.

The word has also, if I may, jumped into other European languages; Buger in German, buggero in Italian, and bujarrón in Spanish, for example.

Are there many Bogomils in Constantia? Or even, for that matter, ordinary Bulgarians? I am not sure. Perhaps there are. If so, it would appear they are safe and won’t be bothered by Ehrenreich for some time.

Meanwhile, I wonder if there is an African word for “bugger”.

The university graduates of the future should be able to enlighten us on that score, if the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, has his way. He told educators in Pretoria this week that he wanted every university student in the country to learn one African language and that this should be a condition for graduating.

It is, naturally, a jolly clever idea. French, for example, would be very useful. That’s a language that is spoken by millions of Africans. So is English, the country’s lingua franca.

But I don’t think that is what Nzimande had in mind. As he put it, “We can’t be expected to learn English and Afrikaans, yet they don’t learn our languages.”

Ignore, if you can, the tired “us” and “them” rhetoric here, and consider that learning an African language would go some way towards creating a more cohesive society. In fact, they should probably teach these languages to school kids.

Which, forgive me if I’m wrong here, is what they do, surely? So matriculants should enter university knowing how to at least converse in an African language?

The worrying thing about African languages is that, like most of the world’s tongues, they are probably endangered. There are, according to Unesco, some 6 000 languages in active use, but as many as 80% of them could be endangered -- meaning that they probably won’t be spoken a hundred years from now.

But, you know, that didn’t stop Latin.

* Spartist -- Defined by the Urban Dictionary as: "An individual who observes Marxist theory to the exclusion of all else. Often comndemns most things in society and the world with meaningless far left-wing dogma, and often end up in logical cycles and jumping to conclusions in the process. Such people claim to be progressive, but are as backward thinking, unimaginative, blinkered, hare brained and colourless as the leaders of the former Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe. The word comes from the Private Eye 'Archetypal left-winger.' Dave Spart. Tariq Ali, Hugo Chavez, John Pilger, Seamus Milne and Noam Chomsky are typical Spartists."

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Famous Grouse: April 2

Latest column, in yesterday's Weekend Argus, as submitted, and before editing. -- AD

BACK to Mahogany Ridge where we briefly celebrated advocate Nehemiah Ballem’s intemperate outburst in which he swore at Western Cape High Court judge Lee Bozalek in much the same way a stevedore would upon having a large weight dropped on his toe.

Ballem, for those of you were visiting another planet this week and have only just returned, had reportedly grown a little tired of the judge’s questions about his tardiness and had snapped back, “Jou ma se p***, man, f*** you!” before storming out the court.

Now, it’s not as if that sort of language has never been heard at 35 Keerom Street before. Years ago, when I was a court reporter, it was quite customary for witnesses in the more lurid criminal trials to say such things about those in the dock, and vice versa.

However I cannot ever recall an officer of the court addressing a judge in such a manner. 

But these are modern times, and Ballem’s crude remarks were seen at the Ridge as a welcome departure from the rigid decorum of the courts -- a throwback to the colonial era if ever there was one, what with all the robes and stuff -- and a bold foray towards an open and more “democratised” jurisprudence, one in which all that stuffy, deferential bowing and scraping was done away with and the interests of justice could now be served in the language of the humble man in the street.

In this respect, it has been pointed out that Ballem certainly has the common touch. Rushing to his defence, senior High Court judge Seraj Desai said of the advocate: “Mr Ballem comes from a particularly humble background. I do not believe he would deliberately place his hard-earned place in the profession on the line.”

Maybe not. But here at the Ridge, the advocate soon lost our respect when he claimed that he was drunk at the time of the outburst.

Actually, we have nothing against being drunk per se. Some of the country’s best judges have been known to take a drink. And who wouldn’t take a drink when your car breaks down, especially in Gordon’s Bay? Which, according to an interview with the Cape Argus, is what happened to Ballem.

But to admit to getting drunk on Smirnoff Storm? An alco-pop? That’s beyond the pale, man. That’s what schoolgirls drink, not hard-arsed, sweary lawyers.

What shame Ballem has brought upon himself and his house.

At which point, and by way of this column’s customary segue, we now turn to one who appears to have no shame whatsoever -- the government’s chief spin doctor, Jimmy Manyi.

In a bid to somehow sharpen the skills of the government’s various media heads and communications officers, Manyi has roped in the services of Tony Blair’s former press secretary, Alistair Campbell.

Described, and with very good reason, as the Gordon Ramsey of spin, Campbell is a man who could possibly teach even Ballem a thing or two about swearing.

For some idea of Campbell’s colourful management style, if nothing else, readers are urged to search their DVD rental outlets for the hit BBC comedy series, The Thick Of It, or its spin-off movie, In The Loop, which stars Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, an aggressive, profane and greatly feared communications director who regularly uses smears and threats of violence to manage Whitehall’s crisis management public relations. Tucker’s character was partially influenced by and bears a distinct resemblance to Campbell -- a comparison that Campbell himself has acknowledged.

The show is not for the faint-hearted. Before production, scripts are sent to a “swearing consultant”, a Lancastrian by the name of Ian Martin, who helps with the series’ more livelier language. Talk of sexual acts by fat, bald German men is not uncommon.

Perhaps Floyd Shivambu, the ANC Youth League’s spokesman, has seen the show, for his enthusiasm for insulting reporters has approached distressingly uncomfortable levels in recent weeks.

Shivambu, however, is apparently not very intelligent so his comments to the effect that journalists were white bitches, drunkards, racists and so on, are perhaps of no significance save the odd bother with the Equality Court.

But we digress. Just what advice did Campbell have about a hostile media?

In his blog, the BBC’s Andrew Harding quoted him as telling government communcators: “I don’t think you have it as bad as you think you have it.”

And they should get used to being insulted -- “be a bit more chilled,” was how Campbell put it. “When you’ve been called Hitler or Goebbels or Rasputin, there’s no question capable of upsetting me.”

So, there you have it, Jimbo. Suck it up, jou ma se seun.