IT’S been a bit of a purple patch for kitsch statues. Like the one of Oliver Tambo unveiled by Jacob Zuma on Thursday at the country’s second-best airport.
It purportedly depicts the late ANC leader’s return from exile but could well be a disgruntled commuter whose flight has been cancelled as a result of a pilot strike.
According to the Presidency, the statue was part of the Tambo centenary commemorations. Accused Number One also officially renamed the airport’s air traffic and navigation services auditorium and tower after Tambo.
At the Mahogany Ridge, we suspect such fetishisation will increase ahead of the ANC’s national conference. No part of the airport will escape and, when they land there in December, delegates will be able to snack out at the OR Tambo Fried Chicken Hutch in the food court and enjoy a post-prandial in the OR Tambo First Class Cocktail Lounge before being whisked off to their hotels.
The striking aspect about the week’s other statue, the one supposedly of himself that Zuma unveiled in Owerri, the capital of Nigeria’s Imo state, is that it bears little resemblance to the man.
True, there are minor similarities. This vulgarity, commissioned by Rochas Okorocha, Imo’s billionaire governor, does capture that distinct, butternut-shaped head.
And, as previously noted of the new Zuma memorial in Groot Marico, the eyes also appear to follow women as they go about their business.
In fact, owing to its height, the statue’s leer is so far-reaching that in Owerri’s outlying suburbs women there report being creeped out as well. Many are unaware of the startling addition to the capital’s skyline and struggle to explain their disquiet.
“I don’t know why,” they say, “but I feel as if I’m about to be cornered by a dirty old man with a thing for showers.”
“#Me too,” their friends say. “#Me too.”
It is a statue of a tall, slender man and, of course, the thief-in-chief is not such a person. The obvious difference, though, is that he is fully clothed and his flies are buttoned — which is not the way he is usually represented in works of art.
For this we must thank Ayanda Mabulu, the angry painter. In his latest mischief, Mabulu has again depicted the President with his tackle out.
He has also included Zuma’s ex-wife in his arresting tableau. Nkosazana Mini-Zuma, as the SABC has accidentally referred to her, is shown in what could be described as a compromised position.
Opinion is sharply divided on the merits of the work. But it gets full marks for putting noses out of joint. Party spokesman Zizi Kodwa, for example, was so offended he described it as an affront to “the very founding values of our nation” but neglected to mention that it was the painting’s subject who was perhaps the affront to said values.
Back in Owerri, where his statue too has been described as an affront, Zuma also received the Imo Merit Award and a chieftaincy to boot. He was well pleased.
“I walked in here … as an ordinary freedom fighter,” he was quoted as saying. “I’m leaving Nigeria, through the state of Imo, as a hero. What a decoration.”
Indeed. And with that, our hero returned home full of Imo mojo. Having finally applied his mind to the matter, he duly appointed the SABC board (a mere three weeks after deadline) and once more reshuffled his cabinet, moving heavyweight ally David Mahlobo from security to the energy portfolio in what is widely regarded as a blatant attempt to steamroll through the Russian nuclear deal.
Mahlobo may have no background or experience in the energy sector. But he does know a bit about applying pressure, having been a regular at a Chinese massage parlour in Mpumalanga snidely referred to as a “house of happy endings” by opposition MPs. Sadly, this will not save the country from bankruptcy.
However, now that he is Nigerian royalty, Zuma should consider penning a form letter.
“Humble greetings,” he may want to begin. “I am Ochiagha Imo, Blesser of Blessers, and, it goes without saying, a very wealthy man.
“But it has sadly come to pass that many hundred and eleventy million of my dollars are frozen in limbo. This is because the banks have closed the accounts of loyal and trusted subjects who may or may not be under investigation by the law enforcement agencies of Western imperialists.
“In order to free this money, and to share in the large reward which I am presently offering, I need from you the following amount…”
Don’t laugh. It has worked before.
This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.