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.