In a series of attempts to shred the fabric of the space/time continuum and poke a hole in reality, the ANC and its various organs have been writing press releases. All of them are on the Nkandla Report, which, it turns out, doesn’t really exist. Not the way we think it does. RICHARD POPLAK gets his Neo on, and dives into the matrix.
“The African National Congress is relieved that the Public Protector’s Final Report into the security upgrades at the private residence of the President of the Republic of South Africa, President Zuma, has finally been released to the public.”
Statement of the African National Congress following the release of the Public Protector’s Final Report into the Security Upgrades at President Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla, KZN.
Yesterday, after reading a series of emails with the subject line “ANC STATEMENT ON…”, I desperately typed “what is real” into a Google search bar. The first result, a dictionary definition of the word “real”, was unhelpful. “1. actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed. 2. (of a substance or thing) not imitation or artificial; genuine.” This was followed by a Wikipedia entry on “reality” – largely useless – and then a breakdown of idealist philosophy, which is “based on the assumption that only conscious experience in the Now is real.” Again, unhelpful.
A few entries down, however, I hit money. Google offered an extended YouTube clip culled from the sci-fi classic The Matrix, entitled “What is real?” It was just over two minutes long and, like finding Jesus’s face in a ham sandwich, it answered all of my questions on the Ontological Nature of Being, and a Bunch of Other Important Stuff.
The clip excerpts the film’s major reveal, delivered by wise, be-sunglassed Morpheus to baffled, cross-eyed Neo, in which it is explained that the world as we know it is a bunch of bullshit made up by evil machines. He proves this by plugging Neo into a piece of software, and showing him what is really real.
“Your appearance now is what we call ‘residual self image’”, Morpheus explains. “It is the mental projection of your digital self”. He then asks my Googled question: “What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, and taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” After which Morpheus shows poor Neo the bombed out husk of a planet that is the actual world, the one the awful machines have so callously turned into Bekkersdal.
“Welcome to the desert of the Real,” he says.
Anyway, it is now obvious that the South Africa we know and love – the one with tires burning in forgotten townships, where kids drown in school pit latrines and smooth tarred roads run through gated communities – all of it, in its manifold contradictions and glories, is nothing more than an app.
The actual South Africa is a smiling place of frolicking many-horned rhinoceroses, where grinning learners pour out of gorgeously appointed schools. It’s a country where protestors are shot with delicious candy out of clown shoes, and everyone has a square meal at the end of the day. In the Real South Africa, our own Morpheus – the President of the Republic – lives in a crib that the state did not pimp into a five-star, high security luxury resort, replete with remote-controlled chicken coop, by stealing R200 million or so from taxpayers. The home simply appeared out of the ancestral ground in a poof of smoke, and Zuma moved in forthwith. It’s that kind of place, the real South Africa.
We know all of this because, over the course of the past few days, the ANC has removed the digital blinkers. After Public Protector Thuli Madonsela vomited her Nkandla findings into the local consciousness, the ruling party, along with its hangers on and spin doctors, hit send on press release after press conference invite, in which they attempted to reintroduce us to the non-reality that is the real South Africa’s digital simulacrum, by way of revealing the actual South Africa shorn of any computer-programmed garnishing. (Matrix analogies quickly become confusing.)
Everyone has chipped in: the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League, the South African Communist Party and, of course, the party itself. Here’s one statement I’m pulling at random, which just so happens to function as consensus: “The African National Congress Womens League is emboldened by the release of the Public Protectors report which is substantially no different to the Inter-Ministerial Task Team report already in the public domain.” (I’m cutting and pasting here, so just consider this parenthesis as one big sic that applies to everything else in quotation marks).
Now, the ANCWL is fully conversant in different forms of reality, having camped out at the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in support of Reeva Steenkamp, who Oscar says he shot because he thought she was a black guy. They have not camped at the Farlam Commission, where the families of dead miners are trying to figure out whether the state killed 34 miners because, you know, that’s what governments do – shoot people. The ANCWL have chosen the realness of a celebrity trial over the dim unreality of a massacre. And who can blame them?
The ANC North West are similarly conversant in ontological matters. “[The] report comes too late”, they say, “and is almost a replica of the government security cluster report on the security upgrades at the president’s house. Critical to note in the report is that the report vindicates the President from any wrong doing and that there was no political interference in the execution of this project.”
The report comes too late? (Too late for what?) The report “vindicates” the President from any “wrong doing” and “there was no political interference in the execution of this project”?
Personally, I love the real South Africa. It’s a place where, “the timing of the public protector’s report remains suspect; least to say intended to confuse and cast doubt amongst the people of our country on the president and the ANC. Clearly, the public protector has played to the political gallery, thereby undermining the very same institution and the constitution of our country that she claims to uphold and respect.”
Yes, doubt was cast. Unfairly. There are those that, unlike Neo, refuse to listen. “The timing of the release of the report,” claim the ANC, “remains a source of concern in terms of the disruptive effect it will have on the election campaign of all parties. We have already observed from the reaction of many of the opposition parties that the report has provided some ammunition to many of these parties that have nothing to offer to the electorate.”
Non-reality has gotten bad for these parties, and we’re all in on it. Said the ANC, in a release entitled “ANC Statement on Negative Campaigning by the DA”, which is worth a read:
“At a media conference in Nkandla near the homestead of the President, Musi Maimane, the national spokesperson of DA, whilst casting his eyes and gesturing violently towards the homestead he said referring to the President’s homestead ‘this was in exchange for the houses of the poor, hospitals and clinics for the underdeveloped areas—and abuse of privilege’. This is clearly a desperate and opportunistic character assassination of President Zuma who is the face of the ANC elections campaign. This is meant to discredit him and ANC in the eyes of the voters on the eve of the 7 May elections. This is in contravention of the code of conduct for all political parties participating in these elections as set out by the IEC. We are in the processes of registering our complaints with the Broadcast Complains Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman as the malicious and defamatory remarks by Maimane were carried by all media platforms.”
In the matrix, casting one’s eyes and “gesturing violently” toward the palace of the king is a crime, because any and all “wrong doing” in blowing R246 million (and rising) has been dismissed as a glitch in the software. The 433-page Nkandla Report, which is the unreal world is about the worst thing that could happen to a sitting president short of him mistaking one of his wives for an intruder, is actually an anodyne brochure that reveals our perfection. It is “almost a replica” of the “government security cluster report”, even though its language, length and comprehensiveness are not in the least bit similar. According to ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, “This project is a sample to say we should look at whether prices aren’t inflated in other areas.” Well, exactly. It’s an inflation thing.
It’s certainly no one’s fault. In the software written (or is that unwritten? – I’m totally lost here) by ANC press releases and press statements, Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla Report is nothing more than a bug. In a future upgrade, coming very soon, the bug will be fixed and everything will work again. We are led by a legion of Morphei, who can alter the programme to suit their needs, spinning us through multiple versions of reality until, when we ask “what is real?” the answer becomes, nothing. The spoon, as we learn in The Matrix, is not a spoon.
That is Jacob Zuma’s South Africa: a botched app on a feature phone that was recently dropped in bog water, spitting up pixel after pixel of garbled information that only a slew of press releases from Luthili House can help decipher. After all, the Nkandla Report simply “acknowledged that the President’s dwelling was not built by monies from government and that the President and his family paid for their dwellings and everything occupied by the family. [All criticism] is evidently done to rubbish and drag the name of President Zuma on the mud.”
On the mud his name has been duly dragged, and that is clearly a “wrong doing”. Why are we worrying, citizens of The Matrix?
Stay calm. Reboot. DM
Photo: Dear Wachowskis, please forgive us.
Stephen Hawking held a party for time travellers. He sent the invitation out the day after. Nobody attended.