In Tuesday’s editorial, the otherwise silent The New Age newspaper says the Gupta wedding controversy proves that South Africans are racist, xenophobic savages determined to bring down the new world order. RICHARD POPLAK wonders if it isn’t time for us to learn how to be mensches.
While the hacks who scrawl South African current events have been obsessed with the crappily named Guptagate crisis, The New Age newspaper has been covering real news: namely, the “wedding of the century” that caused all the hubbub in the first place – the pictures, the food, the celebrities, the whole wonderful pageantry of the thing. (A small diversion: can’t we come up with our own suffix for our own disasters? Must we borrow everything from the Americans? Keeping the spirit of Watergate, a legendary piece of real estate in which a genuine scandal unfolded, can’t all local government screw-ups henceforth be appended to the word “Nkandla”? As in: Guptnkandla.)
Finally, The New Age has rounded the old battleship on the obsession du jour, and penned an editorial that takes regular South Africans – you and me – to task for being unwelcoming, inhospitable savages. The newspaper doesn’t seem to think we have a situation in which the pals of President Zuma – the folks who bankroll his lifestyle – get to use the country as their own personal weekend retreat. No, we simply have bad manners.
“The handling of the issue and the disrespect shown to high-profile Indian guests have caused serious damage to our relations with an important member of the Brics bloc,” writes whoever writes the software that writes The New Age editorials. In other words, we have a responsibility to Bollywood stars, over-priced chefs, gangsters, businessmen and shady Indian politicians – a responsibility to give them free passage into this country without having to display a passport, while allowing them to land anywhere they see fit, and letting them get on with their carousing outside of the glare of cameras or scrutiny. Anything short of this counts as “disrespect”.
This is sort of like Atul Gupta saying, “I’m bringing some friends ‘round your house, we’re going to drink all your alcohol, shag your wife and use your fish tank as a toilet bowl. If you complain, you will undermine a multilateral body invented by a Goldman Sachs analyst and ruin the future prospects of the developing world.”
Yes, we are very selfish people. But what The New Age might want to take into consideration is the 3,000 years of precedent that governs the rules of international diplomacy for “high-profile Indian guests”, to say nothing of low-profile Indian guests, or medium-profile Indian guests. There are rules, and generally speaking, the higher profile the guest, the more stringent and onerous the protocol. Hundreds of Indian nationals enter this country every day through our various international airports – anecdotally speaking, many of them seem reasonably happy. For under R40, they can buy a Woolies sandwich and an Appletizer, and be on their way in a timely fashion.
Still, this whole Guptnkandla business, insists The New Age, is all a result of our innate, atavistic xenophobia. The editorial doesn’t wait long to drop the X word. In fact, it is the fifth word we read, given that the piece is titled “’Guptagate controversy tinged with Xenophobia”. Well, they’ve got us there. We hate people from other places. We go to their spaza shops and set their hair on fire – this is an established South African pastime.
But what The New Age seems to miss is that this country is as gapingly open as a porn mag centrefold. Straw poll: what is the percentage of foreigners in Sun City at any given time? That establishment, like so many in the country, is used predominantly by foreign guests who come from over 70 countries by the millions every year, to photograph and sometimes shoot our wildlife, to play our slot machines, to drink our wine, to drive drunk without consequences. The New Age is implying that the very bastards who spend hundreds of millions a year jacking up our GDP are at risk from a proper necklacing every time they step in the country.
But the New Age is wrong –we have no issue with rich foreigners gambling in our casinos and coming for blinged-up weddings. We vent our ire on poor foreigners fleeing meltdowns in countries that once offered us exile. The Guptas and their pals are safe.
“The over-reaction to the Waterkloof issue,” continues the editorial (because outrage due to an assault on a country’s sovereignty is always an “over-reaction”) “is an indication that the government and South Africans are not sure about our place in the world.”
Oh, we’re pretty sure of our place in the world – everybody hates us; we’re the Americans of Africa. The real problem is that we’re not sure of our place at home. On what side of the road are we allowed to drive when “high-profile Indian guests” come for a visit? How quickly must we move out of their way before they run us down in their ersatz official vehicles, blue lights flashing, escorted by off-duty cops that we’re footing the bill for? No, no – we know where we stand internationally. The problem is we have no standing as citizens at home, because rich courtiers like the Guptas dictate everything from our customs policy to our highway traffic act.
The editorial goes on to compare the wedding to the diplomatic snafus at the Durban Brics summit: “behind the scenes it came close to a disaster when an attempt was made to move the Indian prime minister lower down the speaking order to accommodate the Chinese president. Only high level-intervention prevented a diplomatic row. It has been claimed that the Brics business council’s inaugural meeting ended in shambles with the Indian delegation walking out.”
Believe me when I say that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) or any other government ministry couldn’t possibly be this organised in their xenophobia. If they meant to inconvenience and insult high-level guests, we’d currently be ducking intercontinental ballistic missiles. They just don’t know how to do their jobs. They didn’t try to be xenophobic. They were just, as usual, screwing up.
Now, The New Age ordinarily wouldn’t matter, because no one outside of the Gupta household uses it for anything other than for use in the toilet. (I find it a bit scratchy, but it works.) Sadly, the citizens of South Africa fund The New Age. Regardless of whether it slithers across your doorstep first thing in the morning – you bankroll the damn thing. Why? Because the parastatals the South African taxpayer underwrites are “encouraged” to advertise in The New Age. In other words – this is your newspaper, South Africa! Not only are we lousy hosts, we’re also responsible for the editorial lambasting ourselves for behaving so disgracefully in the first place.
How meta is that? A fake paper writing fake news for a fake country, bankrolled by that fake country’s fake citizens. The New Age is so vestigial that it institutes Twitter campaigns in which blatantly fake Twitter accounts tweet fake tweets that The New Age account duly retweets, fakely. It’s like a whirlpool in a sewerage plant, and we’re all in danger of being sucked in.
It comes to down to this: the Guptas bought a country, and now they’re unhappy with how the inhabitants are behaving. We’re racist and violent and uncouth – I bet they wish they bought Denmark. Regardless, Guptnkandla will certainly wind down in the coming days, and a new scandal will replace it. Until then, South Africa: remember your manners. You are the serfs in a fiefdom that exists to entertain the high profile guests of our president’s friends. When you see a blue light, drop to your knees and start polishing the asphalt. We must, at all costs, make a good impression. DM
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí