Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Famous Grouse: February 26

Weekend Argus column, as submitted. -- AD

TO the shores of Tripoli, where there seems to be no end to Muammar Gaddafi’s bad hair days.

Despite the fact that the Colonel shares a milliner with Mrs Madikizela-Mandela and enjoys a reputation for doing absolutely fabulous things with old Errol Arendz frocks, he has of late been losing it rather badly in front of the television cameras, and the red carpet fizz could well be a thing of the past.

His latest outburst had even the most jaded of the Mahogany Ridge regulars stunned into silence, their flabbers very, very gasted.

Daffy would now have us believe that not only have the Libyan protesters been manipulated by al Qaeda, but they are all teenagers on drugs. “Their ages are 17,” the Siren of the Sands explained on national television. “They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe.”

Oh dear, oh dear. And they’ve probably been listening to pop music as well.

The bad hair days, though, could soon be a thing of the past. This however is not good news for Daffy. Even in his most delusional moments, and there certainly have been a lot of those recently, he must be aware that one of the more prominent traits of the jasmine revolution sweeping the region is that these are not drawn-out affairs, and the killing of civilians certainly won’t change this.

In fact, the swiftness with which the Tunisian and Egyptian tyrannies fell perfectly complements the social networking era. It’s like so digital, man, that if this was The Arabian Nights, it would be a thousand and one tweets. “Meet in square, topl govt, then off 2 Ali’s disco. Rock on, dudes.”

Brother leader’s furious avowal, then, that he would die like a martyr may not be such empty blather after all, and here at the Ridge we’ve opened a book on Daffy’s last days.

True, there is a good chance that he’ll be allowed to leave the country -- but, given the universal condemnation of his murderous behaviour, who would have him? The smart money’s on Zimbabwe.

And should it end very badly for Daffy? Well, the odds are strong that it would be at the end of a rope or by firing squad, and less so by stoning or beheading. Given the mysteries of the Sahara, however, anything is possible up there, and it may well come to pass that a revolutionary tribunal will order him staked out in the desert and be trampled to death by stampeding camels.

Our thoughts, meanwhile, are with the Amazonian Guard, Daffy’s elite force of henchbabes. The 40 members of this bodyguard unit are all virgins, cherry-picked -- figuratively, of course -- by Daffy himself.

These young women undergo extensive martial arts and firearms training. They wear their berets at a suitably coquettish angle, bring a certain something to battle fatigues and jumpsuits and, with appropriate use of lipgloss and other beauty products, smoulder with an intensity that, let’s say, is wholly absent in our female Metro cops.

What is to happen to them when Daffy goes? It would be a shame if the unit disbanded. Maybe they could get film work. As it is, they already look like something out of a James Bond movie. And what about a job at Mavericks or Teazers? A lap dance from a virgin who can kill you in six different ways with an eyeliner pencil certainly has dangerous appeal. When she says no touching, you know she means it.

Closer to home, meanwhile, our attention has been drawn to Jimmy Manyi, the recently appointed appointed government spokesman who appears to have been freely helping himself to Daffy’s Nescafe.

Manyi believes there are too many coloured people in the Western Cape -- “this over-representation . . . is not working for them” -- and it would be better for all if they scattered themselves far and wide across the whole country.

Unfortunately, there are far too many people who think like this in government. Politicans who wonder why large sections of the population regard them with such disgust may well ponder the words of the late writer and philosopher, Auberon Waugh, who once suggested that their distasteful urges to power were personality disorders in their own right, “rather like the urge to sexual congress with children or the taste for rubber underwear”.

Manyi’s racist outburst, however, goes so much further than the mere urge to bother ordinary citizens. It rather ominously echoes all the other social engineering horrors: lebensraum, apartheid, the pogroms, the displacements and the final solutions.

Such people, it hardly needs saying, are well advised to take note of events in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Famous Grouse: February 19

Saturday's Weekend Argus column, as submitted. -- AD

IT is no small blessing that the rugby season is on us, and at Mahogany Ridge we can perhaps move on from the heated arguments about Bono, the Irish rock star who has taken time out from saving the world to sing us some tunes.

It’s not as if there weren’t more pressing matters to discuss. This week, for example, the village was threatened by fire and some homes had to be evacuated, the flames were that close.

Plus, there were the baboons who climbed through Wilma Bothma’s bathroom window and ate everything in the medicine cabinet, including her chocolate laxatives and anti-depressants. The mess was terrible, but the baboons seemed pretty chilled.

And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the goiter on Jan Spoelstra’s neck has swollen to such an extent that it looks as if he’s got a second head. To which we could say, well, just as long as it doesn’t have a mouth as well, he speaks enough rubbish as it is.

So quite why we have instead continually moaned on about Bono and that silly news report last weekend that suggested he supported ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and the Kill the Boer song is a mystery. You’d have thought the man had screamed it from the rooftops: “Go on! Slaughter them all! In their beds!”

It was obvious that he had been horribly misquoted by sections of the media. Yet the hysteria continued, and the rivers were choked with U2 concert tickets.

Here at the Ridge we don’t do rock concerts. Our idea of fun is . . . well, for the past week it’s been retelling that chestnut about the concert where Bono clapped his hands together every few seconds, saying, “Every time I do this, a child in Africa dies.” To which a heckler responded, “Well, don’t do it then, you bastard!”

It’s an old joke -- it harks back to the 2005 G8 summit in Scotland and the anti-poverty campaign which focused on the claim that children in Africa were dying of preventable diseases at the rate of one every three seconds -- and I’m only repeating it here in case you have just landed on Earth after a long flight from Mars. And now that we can bait one another about the Stormers and the Sharks, it’s a joke that, hopefully, I will not hear again -- at least not this year. What does bear repeating, however, is this remark from the wonderfully mordant songwriter Randy Newman: “I used to be against world peace. But then Bono came out for it and the scales just fell from my eyes.”

And that brings us neatly to the other fool in this nonsense -- Steve Hofmeyr. As my friend Willem has suggested, it may be some time before Bono throws his Steve Hofmeyr concert tickets in the river.

A few years ago our Steve emerged as a social activist campaigning against the proposed renaming of Pretoria to Tshwane. He argued that there was no historical basis for the change, as Tshwane, a pre-colonial chief, never actually lived in the area, although, as he put it, he may have wandered through the Fountains Valley with a few goats, pausing only to urinate against the nearest thorn tree.

So outraged was he, that -- irony of ironies -- I dubbed him “the Boer Bono” in a newspaper article at the time, and the reference found its way into a dictionary of South African quotations.

I don’t think he was very happy -- perhaps I should have pointed out that it was Bono who was, in fact, the Irish Steve Hofmeyr -- and I rather dreaded running into him again.

He did confront me, one night, in Johannesburg. Instead of punching me in the mouth, though, he gave me a slab of chocolate. It was a puzzling and suspicious gesture, but I did accept the gift.

At the time, I had yet to up sticks and relocate to the village and knew nothing of Wilma Bothma’s medicine cabinet, but I was wary enough to throw the chocolate away. Who knows? It may have been drugged. You know what these musicians are like.

But now Steve has threatened to include “Afrikaans struggle words” in his recordings if the Kill the Boer song is legalised. 

He told a reporter: “There are lots of Afrikaans words which we’d like to use again and bring back into the Afrikaans dictionaries but, because they are hate speech, we are all trying very hard to avoid those words.”

That, presumably, is why they’re struggle words -- because of Steve’s difficulty in not uttering them.

But please, no more songs, Steve. Enough torture. You’ve done quite enough as it is, and we must all move on.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Famous Grouse: February 12

Latest Weekend Argus column, as submitted. Unedited. -- AD

THERE’S an old joke about a visitor to Belfast, Northern Ireland, who finds himself on the wrong side of town. A drunk, spoiling for a fight, asks him whether he’s Protestant or Catholic. Thinking fast, he replies that he is an atheist. The drunk ponders this, before responding, “Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

In Belfast, it’s not a particularly funny joke. There, whether you’re a Catholic or a Protestant has little to do with religion but depends largely on whether you were born on this or that side of the Falls Road.

I visited Belfast in February 2005, shortly after a Sinn Féin supporter, Robert McCartney, was murdered in a pub brawl there, allegedly by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

On the face of it, the brawl had little to do with politics -- McCartney was defending a friend who had allegedly insulted some women in the pub, Magennis’s, and for his troubles, he was attacked with a broken bottle and dragged into an alley where he was clubbed with metal bars before his throat was cut -- but his death would, in the months ahead, go on to have quite extraordinary political consequences.

The IRA initially denied involvement in the murder, but then later admitted that two of the four men directly responsible for McCartney’s death were IRA volunteers. They approached McCartney’s family with an offer to shoot those involved in the killing. The family, of course, would have nothing to do with this, but instead took their fight for justice to the US, where American support for Sinn Féin was waning.

What struck me about the incident, though, was the “wall of silence” that descended on Magennis’s. I visited the pub three days after the murder, and the reception I got was chilling. No-one would speak to me.

It was worse for the police. They weren’t called to the scene, but had noticed McCartney and his friend in the alley during a routine patrol. They were set upon by a mob of youths, and had to withdraw from the area until reinforcements in riot gear arrived. During this time, surveillance tapes from the bar’s security cameras were removed and destroyed, and the jackets and other items of clothing worn by McCartney’s attackers was burned. There were 71 potential witnesses to the brawl. Everyone of them said they were in the pub’s toilets at the time -- a cubicle that measures a little more than a square metre in area.

Later, I had dinner with a social worker who explained that, among Irish nationalists, contempt for the police was as bitter as ever, and that, since the 1998 Good Friday cease fire agreement, it was to the former paramilitaries that these divided communities looked to for law and order -- with some horrific consequences.

He told me of a Catholic woman, a single parent, who was concerned about her teenage son’s apparent delinquency, so she called in some IRA members to have a word with him. “The first time, the boy wakes up in the middle of the night, and there are these men in balaclavas in his bedroom, telling him to behave himself. It works. For a while. The second time, a few months later, they pull out a gun and kneecap him in front of his mother. Cripple him.”

I was reminded of all this and how religion poisons everything by the frenzied brouhaha following the president’s rather stupid comments about heaven and hell during a voter registration rally in Mthatha.

Here I must side with the ANC secertary-general, Gwede Mantashe, who has described the reaction of opposition parties to Jacob Zuma’s remarks and their charges of blasphemy as “childish”.

As a Catholic atheist -- thrashed and beaten by the best Irish teachers his parents could buy, all holy men good and true -- I’d suggest that anyone making a fuss about such nonsense could well be described as childish. And superstitious. And backward.

Unfortunately, that includes the ruling party as well, as they’ve somehow seen fit to install among their ranks an official ANC chaplain-general, one Rev Dr Vukile Mehana. Quite what his duties are, apart from leaping to the defence of the president in supposedly ecumenical matters, remains a mystery.

Perhaps he makes party members feel better about themselves. All politicians, by definition, have dysfunctional personalities, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be happy from time to time.

A far better response to Zuma’s remarks would have been to suggest that, yes, maybe there is a reward in heaven for ANC voters. But sadly nothing for them while they trudge the vale of tears this side of the pearly gates. Where it really counts.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Famous Grouse: February 5

Latest Weekend Argus column, unedited. -- AD

WE should be pleased that Tony Ehrenreich, the perpetually whining Cosatu provincial secretary, has stepped forward to take on the bicycle menace, particularly with regard to the cycle lanes running from Woodbridge Island to the city centre.

Ehrenreich has declared that the lane is for wealthy white Capetonians. It is therefore elite and racist, nothing more than a brutal instrument with which to bludgeon the poor and keep them in their depressingly oppressed corner of the Peninsula.

What’s more, the poor probably don’t even have bicycles and, as Ehrenreich will tell you in that unfortunate tone of voice, must instead make do with overcrowded and unsafe trains, buses and taxis if they wanted to get from one place to the other.

We could, at this stage, take note of transport and public works MEC Robin Carlisle’s comments on the matter, that it was thanks to the neglect of Ehrenreich and his colleagues in the ruling party that the city’s public transport was in such a parlous state. But then this is exactly the sort of thing Carlisle would say. It is, at best, informed opportunism and it is surprising that newspapers still pay attention to such nonsense.

It would be better for all if Carlisle and company could stop harping on about the old days when things ran smoothly. There is a democratic revolution afoot -- and why should Cape Town have an operating metro passenger rail system when, let’s say,  Polekwane has none at all?

The city has, meanwhile, pointed that there are also dedicated cycling lanes in Belhar, Athlone and Gugulethu.

Highly unlikely, you’d think, given the general contempt for the people living there.

Nevertheless, one enterprising newspaper duly despatched a team to Gugulethu to check these claims and, lo, there was indeed a cycling lane. But without cyclists.

For 40 minutes the team “monitored” the lane and it just lay there, indolent, untrundled by a single bicycle. Eventually a nearby resident explained that the lane was used in the morning and in the evening when people weren’t at work.

Quite why the team did not return to “monitor” the cycle lane at these times has not been explained. Editorial budgets being what they are these days, a second trip was perhaps out of the question. That was a cheap shot at the accountants, I know, but I feel that, in our age, a newsroom without enough bicycles for its staff is a newsroom that has little regard for its readers.

But, suffice it to say, had the team returned, five would get you ten that most of those making use of the lane would be pedestrians, not cylists -- something that would no doubt please Ehrenreich.

The ANC’s constituency is the downtrodden. As long as they’re mired in neglect, the miserable drones remain ballot box fodder. That, at least, is the apparent thinking in Luthuli House. God forbid the city dare suggest the masses even begin to enjoy a leisure activity like cycling. Next thing they’ll be happy and thinking for themselves -- and that’s bad news for the revolution.

Besides, the revolution’s vehicle of choice is not the bicycle. It is the luxury high-performance motor car. With a price tag of a million-plus. And a classy hood ornament. Like a 19-year-old girl with raw fish on her groin.

Which brings us to the vulgar businessman Kenny Kunene, who served up sushi in such a manner at his trashy waterfront nightclub last weekend.

Guests included the ANC Youth League’s celebritarded president, Julius Malema, who typically made most of nearest microphone, this time to inanely challenge the authorities to enforce liquor bylaws at establishments frequented by the ANC's nob class.

And typically, especially where Malema is concerned, the ANC leadership has once again defaulted to damage control mode, and has distanced itself from the incident.

Kunene, too, has foresworn nyotaimori, or “body sushi”, which he once defended as a noble and ancient Japanese custom.

It is nothing of the sort. The practice is rare in Japan, and its roots probably lay with the Yakuza, or Japanese mafia. This of course would explain why Kunene and those like him so often dress like pimps and gangsters -- because they eat like them.

Another ancient Japanese custom is seppuku, or “stomach cutting”, a ritual suicide formed part of bushido, the samurai code.

In order to attenuate shame, a disgraced warrior -- or revolutionary, if you will -- would plunge a sharp knife into his abdomen. Hacking at himself in a sidewards motion, he would attempt to disembowel himself. At the same time, he would bare his neck, so that his kaishakunin, a personally selected attendant or second, could lop off his head with a sword.

There’s a lot to be said for the old ways.