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Denis Beckett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

The Race Card Still Trumps All

My latest column on Moneyweb:

On the way to Sci-Bono, the radio is race, race and race. UN economist Jeffrey Sachs is under fire for raising the thought of a three-child policy in Africa. A lengthy string of African persons come on to express extreme distaste for non-African persons telling Africa what to do.

I sukkel over what to make of this. An outside agency tells you to change a practice that has been unquestioned forever? This practice has given you a richly extended family that makes you as an African feel strong and fortunate compared to cultures by whom in other respects you feel daunted? Of course you’re cross.

Then again, is it compulsory to ascribe to Sachs a malicious secret anti-Africa agenda? And even if Sachs is to be crucified, is “the West” as a whole truly to blame? Of course “the West” is no longer in any sense an entity, as in Cold War days. It’s a way of saying “white people” obliquely so it can be said fiercely.

The airwaves flow with bile about villainous white people who are hell-bent on re-suppressing Africa by restricting its birth-rate. These are the same airwaves that yesterday flowed with bile about villainous white people having too much wealth. There are times a ou can wonder.


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Amos Masondo, the Hilarious One-Man Show

My latest column on Moneyweb:

The last time that I unpacked my cudgel-set to defend Africa from the slander of the Forward button, I got roundly klapped. That was only a couple of weeks ago. You’d think I’d learn. But whether due to hardening arteries or onset Alzheimers or what, to me there’s something big in coming to grips with what South Africans think of South Africans and how it impacts on getting to a South Africa that we’re contented with.

So here we go again, damn.

The Forward button has been hard at work, not least with “Amos Masondo”, the “Mayor of Johannesburg” making the dumbest most pathetic hilariously painful non-speech in history.

If you haven’t seen this one… well, you will laugh. You can’t help it. The guy on the screen spends 2.36 minutes being the ultimate puffed-up self-important politician behind a microphone, with a hell of a lot in his mouth and a crisp round zero in his head.

Where my sensitivities get a bit twitchy is that this is an African person, with the kind of African accent and the roll of the eyes and so forth that some non-African persons delight in mimicking, before suitable audiences.

If you look closely you will detect that it’s parody, a comedian ripping off hollow pomposity. But if you look lightly, or if you look with eyes that seek grounds for put-downs, you might actually think that this is an actual speech. And you might contemplate departure to one of those Omolandy places that decimated the indigenes.


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We Have No Time for Random News from Heaven

My latest column on Moneyweb:

It’s a pity that Heaven vanished so fast. Heaven was seriously fascinating, not to mention depressing. But The Force was with Jake on this thing. For a start he was speaking in Zulu, or so it is reported. You’d think that for an Mthatha audience he’d Xhosafy things a bit. What he for sure was not speaking was English, which is just as well. Had there been a video clip in English, he’d be all around the world, rivalling Mubarak.

Who also did him a favour. We had no headspace, last week, for random news from Heaven. Our eye was on Tahrir Square, a place that this time last month had been heard of by nought point something percent of us. Now we could take exams on its layout and vista, and lighting scheme. Also on the perspective of “The Egyptian People” as displayed by those of them gathered in the square; the other eighty million apparently existing only in order to draw breath.

But that’s another story; for now the point is that President Zuma’s Heaven ran into air-time troubles unduly early. Then at the end of the week it was kicked out of sight by Jake himself re-entering, this time as a tailor’s model reciting an accounts dept memo interleaved with a Santa Claus wish-list. And he recited it so nicely, almost fluff-free and entirely without foot-in-mouth, that Heaven vanished while we sang hosannas to the job creation plan.

Before memory also fades I want to revisit Heaven, the issue. Heaven was telling, to me, right from when I first met it, by radio. Serried ranks of opposition spokespersons were speaking in Oppositionese, saying “outraged” and “appalled” etc, along with a less standard term, the quaint 19th-century leftover “blasphemy”. All because President Jake had said that if you wanted to go to heaven you should vote ANC.

A weird thing to say, to be true, but one could picture a politician tossing out a line like that, probably a throwaway response to some prompt, in a situation such as extricating from a public event. Ag, man, pleez, couldn’t they los the ou out?

I was double sensitive on this because Jake has already taken a bad rap from a loose word that grew overfar. In my view the shower comment — still dogging him four years on — was never meant to be “showering inoculates me against Aids”. It was meant to “I’d done it with a niece, who what is more has Aids, what’s wrong with wanting to feel clean?”

The dumpings flowing at Heaven seemed like a Round Two coming up, and I was indignant on Jacob’s behalf. You don’t have to like a guy’s politics to want him to get a square deal.

But then… alarms started ringing. First on SAfm, where smart morning-show Siki or Ntsiki read out the Zuma comment before seeking comment from someone called “Chaplain General” of the ANC. This wasn’t no throwaway line. This was a lecture. It went on, and on, several sentences. I was stunned. A preacher in a church would sound weird, thumping the ticket-to-heaven line so hard. A politician going this heavy on it was … well, “weird” is a small word.


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To Czech Boytjie and His Fan Club: Here’s What’s Wrong With Your “Quote of the Century”

My latest column on Moneyweb:

My friend Shaun forwards “QUOTE OF THE CENTURY”. This is the fourth time that “QUOTE OF THE CENTURY” descends upon my Inbox, and the second that it is sent to a single recipient, looking for an opinion. The other two times it went to many recipients, looking for a sneer.

Shaun is fine. So is the first ou who sent a query, Ian. This is appropriate stuff to bounce off friends.

The other guys, who forward “QUOTE OF THE CENTURY” far and wide as a put-down of Africa and Africans, I worry about. My country faces deterioration and distortion. It needs help. These avid forwarders are people who make a mountain of how much help it needs. They are people who unhesitantly take themselves as capable, indeed superior. In distributing this “QUOTE“ they are responding to legitimate fears, legitimate (excessive) uncertainties, and a legitimate sense of the alienating of minorities, especially whites. Their response is pathetic racist bitchery that can have no effect but to inflame disgust at themselves.

“QUOTE OF THE CENTURY, MAYBE EVEN THE MILLENIUM” reads “ Some people have the vocabulary to sum up things in a way you can understand them. This quote came from the Czech Republic . Someone over there has it figured out. We have a lot of work to do.

” ‘The danger to South Africa is not Jacob Zuma but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the Presidency. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of a Zuma presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Zuma, who is a mere symptom of what ails South Africa . Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Jacob Zuma, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their President.’ ”

What is wrong with this “quote” is a few small things and one enormous thing. Problem 1 is the reinforced evidence — hard on the heels of “FW: Gareth Cliffs letter to Gov (this should be sent to all south Africans)” – that it’s more fun to belittle the people who you blame for your discontent than to remove the discontent.

Next (after wondering what’s so special about a vocabulary that gives us “fools”, “fools”, “fool” and “fools” within 40 words) we see that despite losing its author the quote has kept its Made in Czech stamp as it wafts through the ether. That, and the homely referring to South Africa as “The Republic”, might make a nasty mind suspect that a boytjie from Jozi has decided that a put-down of his compatriots sounds better coming from afar.

Then, the follies of a Zuma presidency. Which follies are these, again? The incapacity, the cock-up and the overstatement were worn in before Jacob arrived. The central folly of the Zuma presidency is the one inherited, via Thabo the Now Unmentionable, from Saint Nelson Himself; redividing the population into race hang-ups via the new job reservation called BEE and the new racism called demographics.

But there’s a law against “follies of a Mandela presidency”, isn’t it? It’s “follies of a Zuma presidency” that goes viral. They may mean pre-presidency. You can take offence that Shaik went down alone when Jake should have been with him. And rape or no rape, a guy who bangs his goddaughter is not a guy you want as best friend. The leopard skins and the proudly paraded boep embarrass people who want their president to reflect their traditions rather than his own. And how about all those wives and mistresses? Not often does he get a “not tonight, darling”. I guess people get jealous. Though they might credit his absolute open-heartedness; not a common feature among presidents.

Say what you like of the man, the presidency is less follied than many have been, including some based in the same Union Buildings.

Come now to the big issue: the dangerous depraved foolish electorate. This complaint combines insult — “look how clever I am, saying the blacks are stupid without using racist words” — with death-wish. When you glory in whining that your problem is not bad policies but bad compatriots, you’re declaring hopelessness.


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Presenting my new website, Democracy Version Two, or “D2″ for short

Mense, gut tells me it’s time I gave you a rollicking column completely free of anything that smacks of better world & so forth. And kop says: “ja, okay, next week.”

Right now I do a thing I’ve spent some time plucking up courage to do. This is to present to you my new website, http://www.democracyversiontwo.com, which is entirely about better world & so forth.

I get gloopy just saying that, aware that the Anonym Mob are reaching for the vitriol. But I focus on the rest of us, we who rather than rage at cruel fate for dumping us in Africa prefer to revel in what is beautiful and to fix what is not. Too bad the scorn-and-bile crowd hog the airtime, but that says that real people are quiet, not absent.

It’s freeing up the real people that gives me faith in our tomorrows. That’s the nub of my site and it pursues a theme I’ve been punting, to mainly sceptical ears, since around the time the average Moneywebber was in nappies. The first time I was really roundly dumped on for it was in 1985, and that is a funny story.

The then new Weekly Mail had asked for a free ad in my then relatively established magazine Frontline. Shortly after, they ran a review of my first book on how to make SA politics seriously sound. The review was by a Marxist prof of economics, Colin Bundy, who kicked my book to shreds with hobnail boots.

That incidentally put me to an intriguing dilemma. I asked myself if I would (i) run so savage an assault on any colleague/competitor, and if so (ii) on one who had given me a welcome-to-the-world freebie ad? I concluded Yes, it was right. If you start getting into royal game, censoring your contributors to ensconce off-limit privileges, you’re on a highway to a very bad place. But I also wondered: would it be the same were I not a person who had given a single past-tense hand-out but a person providing continuing advertisement bookings? That answer, I never knew.

The funny bit is that while Bundy’s attack was rough all round (though surpassed later by Robert Kirby in the Financial Mail), his high point fingered my idiocy and imbecility for saying that one day Afrikaner farmers and African labourers would stand together in the same voting queues. I’m sure that many readers jeered with him in ’85. I’ve always wondered if any of them, come ’94, remembered and scratched their heads and blinked a bit.

I tell you that because I want you to have Bundy in mind when you look at my site. You will see stuff that looks as strange to you now as those queues looked to him in ’85. Be a tad cautious about shrieking Crazy! Naïve! Dwell a moment on previous times in your life where what first looked outlandish later became workaday.

Now comes the point where, if we were at a table and someone says “so what is this site of yours about, Denis?” and I say “oh, just about making a better world”, people start pushing their chairs back surreptitiously, fearing that insanity has become contagious. (One never knows, in this changing world.)

The case this site makes is that if you have a truly right political structure, you can forget all your worries about people. It doesn’t matter how educated they are, what gods they believe in, how much conflict is in their history; nothing. And the structure that is truly right is a structure that takes leaders out of the driving seat, for voters, people, you and me, to get in.

You know how all your life you have been hearing (and probably saying) “the ordinary black/ white/ Muslim / Catholic/ Someone is fine, but the fanatics/ priests/ ideologues/ mullahs/ someones will never let the ordinary people come into their own.” Well, what you have here is a structure that puts the ordinary people actually genuinely in charge. It puts them/us cast-iron solidly in charge. It puts us so firmly in charge that – breathe deep, clutch your credulity – from the moment that a society installs D2, Democracy Version Two, it is impossible for coups, civil wars, revolutions, major riots and most brands of corruption, to exist.

Now, while you’re thinking “how can he say that, is he alright in the head?” I sneak in a quick uppercut and say, like a Verimark ad, “but that’s not all.”

Among other things that this D2 will cause to happen is an inexorable march towards an equilibrium of social justice.

Nice big words in there. “Inexorable” means that this result is going to happen regardless. You could not change this result even if you had all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and all the tea in China stacked in the scale behind you. It has to happen, like water has to run out of a hole in the bucket.

“Equilibrium” means that the Have-Mores will bid a reasonably cheerful farewell to a portion of their More, considering it a modest price for peace of mind, and the Have-Lesses will be okay with their Less, reckoning that the guys who work harder or work smarter are welcome to the Ferrari, and nothing’s wrong with Toyota.

You’ll meet both those words quite often on the site, plus another, rarer, ultra-word: “consentience”, the place at which society is at rest.


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I want to see razor wire become a museum exhibit

It is time we stop our country following the crumbly trail of Africa.

Our local Community Police Forum (CPFs) asked me to speak at their AGM, and wanted me to propose a topic. I said I’d like to address why, in this crime-obsessed society, the annual meeting of a police precinct containing some 50 000 adult people would not have more than 0.03% attendance.

I got keen on that question, as I thought round it, and I’d like to submit a condensed version of the speech:

* * * * *

Riparile, goeie naand, molweni, shalom, namaste, sanibonani, goeie naand, dumelang, salaam aleikom and good evening. When CPFs came in 15 years ago, this was wonderful exciting new-age new-world empowering news. Imagine, we the mere people could actually meet the police, be involved, influence them.

At an early CPF function I shared a platform with Mary Metcalf. Mary – herself a wondrous phenomenon, ordinary person became a high-ranking policymaker – had a firm message: Carpe Diem, seize the day. The time had come, she said. This was the Carpe Diem era.

I was on a CPF for a while. I didn’t see a lot of Diems getting Carpéd. I heard a term called “Area”, being in-group shorthand for “Area Commissioner”. Whenever we raised a suggestion for the police to do (as opposed to suggestions for us to do, such as repaint the station, again) the answer was “no, Area’s orders are…” We could talk to the police, but it was Area that got heard.

We the people mainly got our knuckles rapped, every meeting. We were still forgetting to lock our car doors. We were still leaving our gates unlocked. We were still leaving our alarms switched off. We were a delinquent public; tsk!

This switched me off. I don’t want a society where I’m okay if I have great security. I want a society where I’m so okay that I need no security. When I was a child, gates and fences were waist high. You could sit on your stoep and greet people walking by. I want that again. I want to see razor wire become a museum exhibit.

I know I am not acquiring that tomorrow. I know it’s not top of the police agenda today. But it must be part of what the CPF and the police are about. If your vision is to mitigate extremes of badness while taking basic badness as for granted forever, you lose me.

But that is not what keeps 49 850 people away from this hall tonight. What is it that does keep them away? I offer one big unhesitant enormous bald-statement categorical answer, and then I tentatively, deferentially ask some polite questions.

The big answer is this: that all or nearly all local community endeavours are eternally under-supported is because they don’t have power.

Some of you know that I have, since Noah was a baby, been punting a notion of an upgraded democracy where the people actually “rule”, as the branding claims. I am not going to fling that at you now – be relieved – but I am firmly say that to the next generation, or the one after, the notion of local communities sharing power with national parliament will be as self-evident as shrink-wrapped cheese or twist-off beers are to us, causing (i) a more contented nation and (ii) CPF-type activities never again wringing hands and wishing the hall was fuller.


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AA, BEE: A New Racism that Boomerangs

I stiffened the sinews, clenched my teeth and tackled the 134 comments addressed to two recent columns. One was by me: “if today’s fashion is ‘give the job to the black oke!’ tomorrow’s fashion will be ‘bring back the whiteys!’ “. The other was Frans Cronje on Politicsweb saying much the same thing, though better researched: “the cliché of South Africa’s future and irony of its recent past [is] that affirmative action disempowered its greatest proponents while empowering its most fervent critics.”

I expected wading through these 134 comments to be sewer-repair work, clothes pegs on the nose. How nice to discover that no, comment-lines are not only populated by bile-and-imbecility merchants, there are real people with sincerity and ideas, exploring ways out of decline, in to respect and confidence.

I’d had a wrong idea, I confess, but I claim that it’s not an irrational wrong idea to have. The last few times I’ve checked Moneyweb’s comment lines I’ve been struck by racist scorn (two-way, I add, though sometimes I see bilious black responses as almost forgivable in retaliation to bilious white derision.)

Racist insults are like squashy turds on a footpath; when they recur a few times you cease to notice the nice flowers and upright plants; you get a yecch impression of the footpath. I’d become quite deterred from writing this column, loath to be linked to Neanderthals looking for put-downs.

But now, finding all those real people, I take heart and I also redefine. I declare that henceforth this column is for those people, the ones interested in discussing ways towards a strong, sound country. It is not at all for the delectation of the scorn brigade. Bigots who burn for excuses to whack the blacks can feel free to scoot away. A click or two should deliver them a more congenial home, with the same initials daarby. And for the funnymen yearning to scrawl their witty and entertaining “Yawn” over any place that requires time out from spleen-venting for brain-using, here’s a friendly tip: this column hereby becomes yawn, yawn, all the way. Wander away now, and stay awake.

Let’s now go through some aspects of this proposition that Frans and I have – rather uncannily and with nil consultation – presented to you simultaneously. We each say in essence that the new racism, whether defined as AA or BEE or BBBEE or what, boomerangs. It damages the cause it is meant to help.

Thereafter I suppose we part a little. Frans argues that the whiteys benefit but I’m cautious about that. Yes, it does mean the whiteys, or non-Africans in general, again becoming artificially favoured in the job queues. But that isn’t really “benefit”; it is just another perverse twist in the racism tango, sowing the seeds of the next pile of disillusion and reversal. And while Afrikaners who used to wield rubber stamps are overjoyed to have been pushed into starting their own mini-businesses, they are as un-beneficially affect by the collapsing civil service as anyone else.

I’d say that no one benefits from BEE, except short term. Sudden fortunes must be fun. But we know where sudden fortunes end. We also see lots of evidence now of the pains they cause even while they ride high. The new mansion and the new supercar get an ashen taste when your peers are sniggering behind your back.

Proposition One, for today: I put it to you seriously that there is no real beneficiary from the new racism, and there is a categorical loser; the regular humble South African who needs a growing economy. That person – child or granny or parent, worker or work-needer or grant-receiver – loses because of the iron law that for your economy to select its players on grounds other than ability to hone its cutting edge is sabotage.

Even when you focus solely on choosing the best person for the job, you get it wrong half the time. A policy that condemns a nation to restrict the candidate pool is a policy that’s betting on the other side. That’s why you hear of BRIC, Brazil, Russia, India and China as the up-and-coming. It’d be BRICSA if our nation was not being stabbed in the back by its own government. Basic net effect: we enter an era where central decisions affecting SA’s life are made by people who have no intention of being in SA while the consequences of those decisions play out.

That’s bad news, not for “blacks”, not for “whites”, bad news for people who want to live here permanently and peacefully. That’s why I thump this tub. We’ll get nowhere while BEE is a race war. We start getting somewhere when we agree that we all want an unchained economy, and when no one fears it’s un-black to say so.

Proposition Two is: the enemy is distortion; the enemy is not people’s colours.

Reading these single-digit IQs shrieking abuse — “go back to swinging in your tree” and the ilk – I wonder what death-wish is at work. People right here in Africa get hysterically hostile to everything about Africa; does that add up? You can see their frustration. They see BEE appointments meaning jobs not done, half-done, done wrong. They see people with half their service and a third of their capability being promoted above them. At the office they must put on shit-eating grins, it’s not surprising that they turn to vitriol under the anonymity of the internet.


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We must move beyond race, or we’re doomed

The worst, the deepest, the most indefensible sin that a columnist can commit is to say “I told you so”. It should be in the contract: “I told you so” means instant beheading.

Unless you use the dreary phrase “as I said in my column of nineteenvoetsek…” For that you get water-torture first.

You now know that I am about to say “I told you so”. And I claim Beginner’s Exemption because I don’t believe (!?) I’ve ever done this thing before.

As I said in piles of nineteenvoetsek columns: when we started to thrust melanined people into roles that they wouldn’t fill if they didn’t have the melanin, we guaranteed that melanin would later become a handicap.

Let me say that in plain Seffricenglish: if today’s fashion is “give the job to the black oke!”, tomorrow’s fashion will be “bring back the whiteys!”

Tomorrow is upon us, it seems to me. Not that the ship of state has switched course yet. It’s still drifting in the same wrong direction but only momentum is taking it there. The engine-room has shut down. People who deeply believed that freedom unleashed a 900% bigger pool of managers and engineers to make us a 900% richer country, now confront what they could not confront before: what we actually get is holes in the road, broken robots, reduced activity and personal tragedy.

Thus, the debate welcomely changes. We get towards a better basis, certainly from the pro-transformation side.

Indications? Here you go:

* THE new mantra, spreading like a rescue-blanket. It goes “there must be a balance between the demographic need and the need for capacity”, and it is now on the radio whenever a mayor/MEC/minister explains why their department dysfunctions. Fifteen years ago you’d be shot (as in the big word for “ostracised”) for talking like that. The doctrine said that transformation raised capacity. Since then, “capacity” has become a one-word code for “sorry, no output here; new staff, not yet trained”.

The “balance” mantra is a staging post towards the inevitable next step, which is when the idea of “a demographic need” disappears in favour of a human need, for everyone’s prospects to be ceiling-free and staircase-supported, with no selective escalator rides.

* WE’RE past the point that we could ask “might SA go the route of Africa?” We know we’re on “the route of Africa”, that once seemed so vital to avoid. What’s funny is to see it in the twin clichés, pot-holes and robots, a.k.a. traffic lights. For half a century those things have symbolised African states failing. For the last state to let them go wrong seems like a bad script, over-obvious. But so it goes, and manhole covers walk away and tap-water acquires creepy-crawlies and hospitals run out of swabs and airplanes run out of pilots and the no-nevers are here and happening.

So now it’s not as if alarms and warning notes are just whitey being grouchy. It becomes clear that there is a problem, and that switching Van der Merwe for Tshabalala is not a comprehensive answer.


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At the “Africa for Haiti” Media Gig

That I made it to the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the lunch of “Africa For Haiti” was thanks to cabin fever. I’d had seven days chained to a laptop and I needed human buzz or I was going to need a straitjacket.

Up pops a short-notice invite to a press conference, and hey, why not? I’m only a sometime taker for Very Politically Correct functions, but sometimes is right, like it’s sometimes right to hear the other lot too.

Moreover, there’s no nicer corner of PC-ness than the Mandela Foundation. The vibe is great and so is the kitchen. Occasionally they trundle the old man in, too, to smile at everybody for a minute or two. And I’ll tell you this much: nobody, not even the webcretins with their anonymous bigoted bile, fails to feel dew in the eye and a lump in the throat when the old man bestows that smile.

So I get over to Central Avenue, Houghton, feeling mildly fraudulent because (a) I’m not a real journo any more and (b) I have nil thought of writing Haiti.

I know Haiti is the toughest disaster ever, and if I put myself in the heads of those guys pulling boulders off their grannies I feel the stomach tangle. But it’s far, and there’s 42 beggars on my shopping block, and the big ous are on the case, US and UN and UK and EU and so on. What is Africa going to do, send beads?

Nobody knows I’m a fraud, and I love meeting the new media gang. They got out of school in about 2008 and you can’t believe they’ve lived long enough to grow the heads of hair they sport, but they’re amiable and open hearted and you get to know them without the sniffing-out and status-gauging of money-minded professions.

Journos are good at that, as a breed. So are smokers and so are Africans, and here are lots of African journalist smokers whose days are made by an Ubuntu that comes naturally. How nice that some good things persist in this world of somersaults, even if they get a bit stressed hiding their smokes like contraband.

Africa for Haiti carries the blessing of lots of large names, including no less than four archbishops, but only Graca Machel represents the nomenklatura right here right now. She is pretty much chairman, and makes a delightfully unpretentious speech about how it’s one thing to cough up bully-beef while shattered waifs are all over your screen, but there’s also a problem with reconstruction after the world’s attention has moved off. So this effort is not about disaster relief; it’s about medium- to long-term reconstruction over the next six months.

From those TV scenes I’d think they’ll still be clearing debris in six months, but fair point, Africa for Haiti isn’t talking soup-kitchen. It’s talking the caravan of normality getting back on the road.

Graca is endearing. Not that she comes across wrong on screen, but that you tend to assume haughtiness among screen-people with big claims to status, such as being the only person who ever married two presidents. Live, that assumption evaporates, in her case.

Still, I’m ho-hum about the project, and the support-messages from dignitaries don’t always help. We owe Haiti for anti-apartheid sanctions? Or because God says so, as if He had to tell someone to tell us or we couldn’t guess?

But… then, reservations vanish:

Trevor Ncube is a guy about whom I have already revised my ideas. He took over the Mail & Guardian while media owners were shovelling shares at anyone who had indigenous features and an excellent tailor, and nice guy though he was — no question, but so are they all — one was bound to assume that this was a case of more of the same: another trumpeted advance that would wither into stagnation.

I don’t think so any more. The media empire he is building is, I’m reliably informed, the real thing, with actual building actually happening and at the actual hands of the actual chief exec. That’s exciting in its own right.

And now here is Trevor on Haiti, making a speech a paragraph long, with the punch of the Gettysburg address.

He says in effect that let alone Haiti’s acute current need to receive, Africa has a big chronic need to give. “It is time that we stand and be counted as Africans. We have received much from the world. We must show them and ourselves that we can give as well as receive; that though we may not be rich we do have a heart.”


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Seffricans STOP bitching and whining, and be proud of our film industry

I have consumed more of the planet’s oxygen than most of you, so I have realised some big things. Like: few joys are greater than watching Impossibles turn to Achieveds.

I have just seen three brilliant Seffrican films in a row, and for many decades I would have bet you that was Impossible.

Not long ago if you saw two consecutive Seffrican movies at least one would make you cringe. And we were making one movie per five years. Prognosis was not good. Let alone that the cheeky Strylians were flooding our cinemas with stuff that turned us green.

Ja, well. How lekker to report that some things get so conspicuously better that even the webcretins have to zip their dreary whingeing lips.

True, District 9 is only Honorary Seffrican, and not without a cringe factor. But it’s not cringe for the movie. You burst with pride for the movie, claim the movie eagerly, even while knowing the claim is a big con. All we did was deliver unto daylight the guy who made it, before he did the E-word, Emigration.

Still, he liked us, if liked is the word, enough to site his work of grim comic genius right here in Jozi. You can be pretty damn sure that if you were Bjørn or Inge in Uppsala this movie would not boost Africa’s place in your holiday plans. But hey, there is a point at which too bad for Bjørn and Inge, we can wallow in a solid wry painful in-joke against ourselves.

Our son saw us heading out and said where we going. We said District 9 and he klutzed: “That’s not your movie! That’s our movie! It has car chases! Things blow up! There’s Effects!” We said we’d heard there was social satire. He shrugged ho-hummishly and said “a little”.

We nearly diverted, but we’re good Seffricans at heart and know it’s our duty to monitor the lies that the world is being told about us, so we got there.

And we saw why he was ho-hum. For young people, like distant people, the satire must surely wash past.

For people who lived the era of the Amptenaar with his snor and his do-it-by-the-book formalities and his delicious did-you-got-a-licence English and his love-hate for the bulk of his countrymen, the laughter is harmful to your stomach. (Although it is true, be warned, that it recedes in the second half under an orgy of Effects and things blowing up.)

A moment that re-runs in my head is Wikus the main ou, in a cellar beneath a squatter shack, coming upon a majestic enormous Star Wars command centre, shining and gleaming and intimidating as hell. He peers in horror and speaks as a township superintendent: “Fok. No, man. This is verry notta loud. Therre can be a fine.”

“Fok”, incidentally, constitutes half of Wikus’s word-count, proving that this is a genuinely 21st century film.

Then there’s White Wedding, by Jann Turner.

I haven’t met Jann and I’ve never written her name before and I have to clear some air here by recognising that while in her own right she is abundantly a person of renown, she is also the daughter of a father of renown, who was murdered in our name by a bullet that, we are sure, was paid for by our taxes. I’m sorry, Rick, RIP.

I see via Google that White Wedding has scored a bagful of triumphs, plus loot. You could have fooled me. I hardly heard of it when it was on circuit, and what I did hear gave me a vaguely gloopy feel – oh dear, back to bloody Black & White and all that.

Next thing it was off and I had to dig it up in the video store. Duty, y’know.

Well, what a pure innocent gem it turned to be. The “White” doesn’t even mean “white”, really. It’s virtually exempt of race baggage. It’s a clever feel-good tale, told with vooma.

If I bring up District 9 with the veiled intention of reassuring old toppies that they can cope with it, I bring up White Wedding with the secret plot of waking up the neurotics who try to live in Little Pale Island. I think here of my friend Pete: “no, Denis, our world is shrinking, our people are leaving, everything is declining, because of the blacks. The last thing I want is to watch movies about them.” Aaarrgghh, numbskull, no wonder you’re miserable, closing up on yourself. Engage, man; open your eyeballs and embrace your compatriots. Not least, when you acknowledge things that go well you’re the better able to confront things that go wrong.

Last, The Silver Fez. Some people would say “no, this is not a movie, it’s a documentary”. That to me is like saying this is not a column, it’s a blog.

The Fez is on screen and it’s entertaining. Isn’t that what a movie is?

This one is entertainment-plus, not sommer ha-ha. Ha-ha comes in all right, but so does thought and joy and pity and tension and whodunit and a sense of being a little more connected with your world and your nation than you were 90 minutes ago.

Silver Fez is made by Lloyd Ross with Rian Malan, (who my autocorrect turns into Rain; I have to beat it back). Rian’s role is partly on-screen, with guitar. Lloyd’s is off, with camera.

Lloyd was makhulubaas-cum-bottlewasher of Shifty Records at the same time as I had the same job on Frontline magazine. Shifty lives on where Frontline is long deceased (mind you, Tony Sutton in Toronto has started a Frontline retrospective, http://coldtype.net/frontline.html) and Lloyd has gone on to be a RUC, Really Useful Citizen, and a unique one at that. This project, for instance, he deals grippingly with current life in South Africa without a mention (well, one, 5 seconds long) of the dreaded national politics. How unique is that?


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