Monday, January 17, 2011

A Famous Grouse: January 15

Herewith most recent Weekend Argus column. As submitted. -- AD

LIKE many readers, I’m a little dismayed at the incident between the two policemen and the Grandmother of the Nation, Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, on the Johannesburg M1 motorway’s Jan Smuts Avenue off-ramp on the morning of Thursday, December 30.

Regulars at the Mahogany Ridge, who as a rule won’t venture north of the Huguenot Tunnel for fear of the violence in the hinterland, have had to accept my word that, at this time of the year, this is a peaceful neck of the woods in Jozi.

True, the offramp is near Wits University, but this being the holidays, its campus was largely free of students who’d otherwise have been engaged in some sort of rampaging mob activity, greatly angered that twelve years of outcomes-based Plasticine worm-rolling had little prepared them for the rigour of acquiring engineering or accounting degrees.

It was here that gogo Winnie’s silver Audi A6 was pulled over by the cops who had been following it in an unmarked car since it had joined the M1 at an off-ramp five kilometres earlier.

According to reports, the Audi was being driven in a reckless and dangerous manner at about 150km/h, weaving in and out of traffic, with its hazard lights flashing.

Because the speed limit on this stretch of the M1 is 80km/h, the car was, you could say, behaving in a manner that was suspicious, if not cause for outright alarm.

Furthermore, it had tinted windows, so its occupants couldn’t be seen. This is probably against the law as well.

There are two versions of what happened next. Obviously.

The one is from an archaic and vicious relic of the apartheid era, and the other . . . well, the other comes from Warrant Officer Jannie Odendaal, a police officer with almost 20 years’ experience.

But let’s hear from the former. As I understand their comments in the media, go-go gogo, with her bodyguard and driver, were late for a funeral.

Homilies about “late” and “funeral” spring to mind, but so too does the tragedy in which a 13-year-old member of the Mandela family died in a road accident on the eve of last year’s World Cup. (But, you know, it’s best not to say anything.)

Bodyguard Jacob Monare has claimed Odendaal was not prepared to accept this explanation about a funeral -- would any policeman, I wonder? -- and a heated exchange followed.

When Madikizela-Mandela emerged from the car to calm things down, Odendaal allegedly swore at her, saying: “I don’t give a fuck who you are, get back to the fucking car.” At some point, Monare added, Odendaal’s parner hit him in the knee with an R5 assault rifle.

Odendaal, who together with his partner is in all manner of official and bureaucratic brown stuff merely for doing what he said was his job, suggested the abuse came instead from Monare, who had screamed at him, “Who do you think you are coming to search this car? It’s not apartheid anymore!”

Odendaal was astounded. “I’m a police officer dressed in full police uniform and this guy -- a normal civilian -- he assaults me,” he said. “I then ran back to my vehicle and got a Taser [stun gun] just to intimidate him a bit to calm down.”

Moreover, and far from calming the situation, Madikizela-Mandela had also screamed at Odendaal: “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Clearly, two Tasers were needed. Or a cattle prod. And maybe a large net.

But both policemen now face disciplinary action and charges of pointing firearms. Their partnership has been broken and they have been transferred to different units. Odendaal has been booked off for a week due to the stress of the situation.

Amazingly, there are allegations -- utterly credible -- that the whole matter would disappear if Odendaal offered a grovelling apology to Winnie, who, it needn’t be stressed, is obviously a powerful figure in the ruling party.

What disturbs me most, however, about this awful saga, is Odendaal’s description of Winnie. He told reporters that when she emerged from the car, “I didn’t really recognise her, you know? She had a lot of white powder or cream or stuff on her face. Her face was pale and she looked very old ...  she didn’t look anything like in the newspapers.”

This is alarming, to say the least, and it perhaps offers a hint at the real issue here. True, Madikizela-Mandela is 74 years old. But it is a very young 74, and she leads a very full and active life, one that would exhaust women half her age. And. of course, she looks no older than, um, fiftysomething.

Perhaps WO Odendaal should send her some flowers.

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