1. Little Story
When I was 14 or 15 and had just discovered thoughtful writers such as, for example, George Orwell, and compassionate ones such as Alan Paton, I mentioned to my father that I was being bullied by a couple of bigger boys at school (Brakpan High) and that anti-semitism was part of their repertoire.
"Hit them," he said, "hit them hard. Break their noses."
"But dad," I said, obviously scared, but also wanting to try out my newly-found, liberal-type "understanding" and empathy, "that's not going to change what they think."
"Tell you what," he said. "Hit them hard enough and they won't ever open their mouths again on that subject. It doesn't matter what they think. Just let them know that, whatever they think, they're not to open their mouths on that subject again."
My old man was saying that you shouldn't and can't negotiate with bullies. Nor should you think for a minute that they give a damn about your kindness and empathy.
This is why Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, has made such an almighty balls-up by caving in to the bully-boys of the tripartite alliance.
Her decision to capitulate, to take the picture "The Spear" (JG Zuma a lá Lenin with a balls and dick superimposed) off City Press's website, is, I believe, one of the worst things that has happened to the Seffrican media since 1994.
"It's like blood in the water," a young colleague (female) remarked.
"What!?" I asked.
"Like sharks," she replied. "They can smell the blood; there'll be no stopping them, now."
She too is correct.
What happens if the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) gives the DA et al permission to go after Mokotedi Mpshe, former NDPP, for his "decision" to drop the corruption case against Zuma? What if this in turn leads to the possibility that charges are re-instated against Zuma? Won't such charges be an affront to his dignity? After all, he is president of the republic.
I'll tell you what will happen. The ANC and allies will march; they will march to the SCA; and they will march to the Constitutional Court, if needs be, and they will throw stones if needs be - and sticks and stones can break your bones. Burning tyres are even worse.
Once the tripartite alliance realises that it can get what it wants by bully-boy tactics - and now they have done just that - there'll be no stopping them.
Or what will happen if some bright spark - or rather a dark spark such as say Jacob Dlamini - writes an absolutely riveting, brilliant novel that really takes this country apart? That makes JM Coetzee's Disgrace seem like a Girl Scout camp? (If you're interested, Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer of all people has had a shot at it in her new novel No Time Like the Present, a brilliant dissection and pinpointing of what we have become, or what the ANC has become. But her style has become so convoluted that no one's noticed.)
So what about this (imaginary but) riveting new novel (that might be being composed as we speak) that unveils someone very much like you-know-who, that rips away the curtain in the proverbial shower? Are Gwede Mantashe and Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande going to burn it in Gandhi Square?
I'll tell you what: if it offends his highness's dignity - and by golly it will - well, they will certainly march to Hyde Park shopping centre and make Exclusive Books take it off its shelves. Who's going to stop them?
Why did Haffajee succeed in having only a one-night stand - as David Bullard has called it - with her ethical principles?
Well, for one thing, as she has admitted, she was scared - with which one can sympathise.
For another, she claims she "cared"; she read all sorts of things such as Duduzile Zuma's evidence in which she wrote about her "hurt" at seeing her father's picture with his putative genitals exposed. Haffajee also made mention of Justice Malala's piece in the Sunday Times titled "Why Malindi cried ..." (May 27 2012). Let's come back to this sentimental shlockand to Malindi down below.
4. By the way, was Zuma's dignity attacked?
Of course his dignity was derogated. That's what happens when you're famous, notorious, a head of state, or whatever. That's what satire is all about. You think Helen Zille likes having what is supposed to be her late-middle-aged body on show all over the Internet? And there are countless other examples of heads of state with which I'm sure Politicsweb readers are more familiar than I.
Suck it up, Jacob. Suck it up, Gwede and Blake and Zwelinzima. Stop being so bloody precious. Who do you think you are? Thabo Mbeki?
5. By the way, is it Jacob Zuma?
I'm not so sure. I think it was Anton Harber who pointed out that the spectacles are Vavi's. The body is of course Lenin's. What about that nose? That's not Zuma's nose. Have a look ... oh, but you can't. It's gone from the Goodman Gallery; it's gone from the City Press website. Well, try Pierre de Vos's website. (Heh-heh, maybe the ANC will march on him now.) Maybe it's Vavi's face actually; maybe this was Brett Murray's visual pun.
There was a good piece in Business Day on 24 May by Chris Thurman; it's about the differences between reality and representation. Maybe Vavi, Mantashe and Nzimande should read it. But do they read?
6. Aw, c'mon, Jeremy, you know what the fuss is about
Ja, the fuss is that to a lot of people who have not heard of reality, representation, satire and mimesis, a painting of the ANC leader's chiluga and cojones is just plain disrespectful - and, well, undignified.
Well, that's true; but I believe that most of these people would not have cared very much about a canvas in the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg if it hadn't been drawn to their attention.
And it was drawn to their attention in a most manipulative manner; the artist was accused not only of hurting the president's dignity but, as Thurman puts it, of "perpetuating the stereotype of the sexually rapacious black male".
Not so. All he was doing was having a dig at a man who has 24 or so children (I forget how many), a number of wives, and a reputation of being something of a swordsman (or do I mean spearsman?). So what? That's the reality. Suck it up, guys.
7. Why has the tripartite alliance pulled this unpleasant little number?
Because it can. Because Helen Zille stole its thunder when she marched to Cosatu house in Braamfontein. Because Seffrica seems to be in a state of perpetual hysteria. Because the alliance is in disarray for a number of reasons, from the expulsion of Little Julie Malema to Vavi saying that Cosatu should not have a preferred candidate at Mangaung to the split over e-tolling to the ongoing embarrassment caused by General Richard Mdluli. And, had I but world enough and time, I could keep going with this list.
So what the hell. Find a moronic little issue that will unify the rank-and-file for at least a day, and will be perfect for the bombastic verbal gifts of Jackson Mthembu, Vavi, Nzimande and Mantashe, and rock ‘n roll.
8. The shlock
In section 3 above I mentioned the shlock that moved Haffajee's heart to such an extent that she gave the farm away to the bullies.
One part of this was an article by Justice Malala in which he explained about the "raw pain churning inside black South Africans" and that probably caused advocate Gcina Malindi to start bawling in court. I don't know about Malindi's life and I don't want to be rude about Malala's.
But I do think this kind of stuff can be kept for your shrink or your novel and that, if you're an advocate, if you have inherited a remarkably fine and proud and brave tradition, then you man up - as the young men say these days - you man up and get on with it.
You also come to court prepared - even a bozo like me knows that the judge is going to ask what your remedy/ies is/are - and you keep your personal stuff for your personal life. It's a court room, not Desmond Tutu's living room.
9. The bottom line
Ferial Haffajee has let journalists down. I am no more interested in her personal shlock than I am in Malindi's. She's let journalism and others down because she's grandstanded and then allowed the bullies a victory. Some people would say that maybe it wasn't a fight worth having because the whole issue's not that important.
Trouble is that when the really important issues come up, who's going to trust you and what you choose to do?
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