On Saturday night, GuptaVision, a.k.a. ANN7, named African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma South African of the Year at a 'glittering function' they call the SATYs. What, you’re wondering, has Dlamini-Zuma done to deserve such accolades in past last twelve months? Hardly the point. The Guptas know exactly where the powerful like to be scratched—right on the ego. By RICHARD POPLAK.
You were busy on Saturday night.
Perhaps you were huddled in a circle at the University of Witwatersrand, trying to explain to Education Inc. why, in a country of broke people, a fee hike of 10.5% is not the greatest idea. Perchance you were watching the Springboks tousle with Wales, whilst positing early Wittgenstein against mid-period Bertrand Russell. Maybe you were sitting in a pile of empty Klipdrift bottles, holding a gun to your temple, working up the courage to chew some lead.
Or maybe you were at the South African of the Year Awards, a.k.a. the SATYs.
Yeah, I had no idea either. They are, apparently, a ceremony broadcast on a channel that not even the dodgiest tenderpreneur watches during the longest of marathon coke binges. We’re talking ANN7, the Gupta family’s flagship media product: in just their second year, the SATYs have, according to a press release, “become a fixture on the country’s social calendar and a Who’s Who of South Africans blazing a trail in civil society, entertainment, sport, business and conservation.”
Who, then, is a Who?
The rapper Cassper Nyovest is a Who, and for his trouble cleaned up the “Trendsetting Celebrity of the Year” category. (The SATYs are slavishly committed to the idea of celebrating celebrity, and everyone—any corpse in a tuxedo dumped into the ceremony off the back of a bakkie—is accorded celebrity status, and thusly celebrated.)
“Campaign of the Year” was won by Nedbank, for their Ye Kona soccer development initiative. (In Guptastan, banks are most definitely a Who.)
“Conservationist of the Year” was owned—owned, I tell you—by Fundisile Mketini, CEO of SA National Parks. (Mketini is a Who. Just ask a rhino, if you can find one.)
Anyway, I know what you’re thinking—this is the weirdest awards thing ever. But it gets weirder. Last year, when it was hip in corporate circles to have Thuli Madonsela lull an audience to sleep with a speech about Honesty, Commitment and Faith, the Public Protector was awarded the inaugural SATY. When I learned this, I’ll admit, I was cynical. The Guptas have designed ANN7—and by extension the SATYs—to become a local version of Great Leader-loving North Korean state television, and I wondered if honoring Madonsela wasn’t a ploy to ward off a PP investigation into one of their numerous, sub-legal shysterthons. But no. Madonsela is a widely loved celebrity who certainly “blazed a trail” through 2014 by dint of her abilities.
The PP, I had to concede, was a Who.
About the recipient of the second SATY, I am not so sure. This year, GuptaVision decided to award the SATY to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the African Union Chairperson, and the president-elect of this beautiful country. One day in the not so distant future, after insisting she has no intention of running, and after the long knives are drawn for everyone’s favourite neoliberal corporate shill—Deputy President Cyril ‘CEO’ Ramaphosa—Dlamini-Zuma will walk off a stage, tears in her eyes, the invisible hand of the Guptas nudging her forward into a nuclear-powered utopia. She will be the first women president of the ANC, the first female president of South Africa, and only the fourth female president in African history, should the present stats hold.
This being politics, Dlamini-Zuma will not become any of these things because she’s awesomely qualified or innately talented. Instead, she is trapped in power’s slipstream, gliding on a thermal of hot air straight into the Union Buildings. Her post-Struggle, post-medical career is distinguished for how utterly forgettable it has been. There are the minor controversies—as Minister of Health she did a fine job of transforming one of the more gruesome legacies of apartheid, but backed the money-sucking sing-a-long Sarafina II, and was roundly derided for endorsing locally brewed AIDS medication that didn’t work. As Minister of Foreign Affairs for Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, well—Zimbabwe. And for Jacob Zuma, she was Minister of Home Affairs, from which she emerged unscathed and untarnished, which itself counts as a significant accomplishment.
Dlamini-Zuma’s political style is to appear to have no political style. While she can be fiercely partisan, she has a ghost-like ability to drift into position. By no means am I saying that this isn’t entirely premeditated—in fact, I’m personally looking forward to her piano-wiring Ramaphosa while he guilelessly replaces lightbulbs in Luthuli House. Her stint at the African Union both undermines and enhances a record that is impossible to pin down, mostly because she fades from view the more she is scrutinized.
“What has she done in Addis Ababa over the course of the past year?” you ask. Beats me.
No, seriously—I have no clue what Dlamini-Zuma has been up to, and I’ve been trying to pay attention. In a position that can make you the laughing stock of global geopolitics, Dlamini-Zuma has drawn zero chuckles. South Sudan burns, the Central African Republic burns, Burkina Faso burns, the Americans use the continent as a runway for their drones—Dlamini-Zuma speaks softly into a microphone hooked up to the universe’s largest vacuum.
I’m not ready to rule out the fact that this ability to deflect makes her either a genius or an X-Man. But South African of The Year?
Ah, why not? This, after all, is Guptastan, where military bases are wedding receptionist venues, and the president is… well, you don’t have a whole day, don’t you? Dlamini-Zuma beat out Bonang Matheba, Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, Bafana Bafana coach, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, humanitarian Imtiaz Sooliman, Miss World 2014 Rolene Strauss (I’m serious) and scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, and told the crowd that—and I’m quoting from the press release here—“ there are hundreds of thousands of South Africans who could [win a SATY] that are doing great things and are shining stars, and she called on them to remain stars because collectively they shine to give beauty to South Africa. She thanked the organisers for the award and noted she would donate her prize money to [the] NGO, Africa against Ebola.”
Yup, we’re all shining stars. Some, however, shine more brightly than others. Dlamini-Zuma is firmly ensconced in the Hermes handbag-padded walls of Extreme Power, where she is whisked from conference centre to private jet to tastefully appointed presidential suite, all while the Rasputins softly whisper sweet nothings into her ear, carefully moderating their demands with flattery. The SATYs are, I suppose, a taste of things to come—something handed over by the Guptas, with the expectation that one day, something will have to be handed back in turn.
Conflate celebrity with politics, throw down a red carpet, lace the invite with fancy logos, tongue-bathe the “winner”, put it on TV—happens all the time. And if you ask Rupert Murdoch, he’ll tell you why it’s become so common:
You buy power with razzle-dazzle, and razzle-dazzle with power. Cue Whitney Houston song. Roll credits. DM