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."

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