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.

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