In a world not so far from this one, TONY JACKMAN wonders what it might take to make Jacob cry.
It was a slow day and Jake was feeling really low. So low that when Bathabile came across him in the park, she had to pick him up and put him back on his bench.
“Eish, sisi,” he made to wave her away. “I am not good company today.”
“But what are you doing here in this park, far away from your well-lit door?”
He scowled and pouted his lips. “Escaping,” he said simply.
A pack of dogs chased by, a terrier brushing against his shin. “Voetsek!” he said. “I don’t find this stuff amusing any more. Get these mutts away from me!”
The dogs ran off. The other people in the park seemed not to notice Jacob. They seemed lost in their own worlds, as if the man on the bench was of no consequence to them.
“Who are these people?” Bathabile asked him.
“The voters!” he spat out.
She picked up the bottle of Jack and put it on the bench next to him. “What’s this, baba? You don’t drink!”
“It is true. Jacob Zuma does not drink. But if I put the bottle there next to me and still I do not drink despite the calamities that have befallen me, sisi, then I feel like the lion. Like I can defeat these people.”
“Ah yes, the voters.” She pulled a face.
“What is wrong, Bathabile?”
“I know what you mean.”
“Some of them are a little bit unhappy I think, baba. There in New Brighton … aikona.” She shook her head and let slip a tear.
“But you must not cry, sisi. How can they vote for us if you cry?”
“You don’t know what it was like, Jacob. They were like, ka-ka-ka! Shouting all the time. I don’t know where they get that from, it is very un-ANC.”
“Undisciplined! It is not like the old days.”
“Some were screaming in my ears. They won’t listen to me, they just want to shout.”
“Some roly-poly little batfaced girl called me a mampara!”
“No! She must be DA!”
“It was ANC voters, Jacob.”
They both shuffled and let their shoulders droop a little more. Jake turned to Bathabile.
“We must win them back, sisi!” he said. “I need a photo opportunity! I want a shot at redemption!”
“Ja, but you don’t want to end up in a Zapiro cartoon again, Jacob.”
A man painted a picture of people playing in the park. A group of young people in blue shirts were throwing a frisbee. A clutch of young men in red berets kicked a ball around. Jacob was becoming agitated.
’There are incidents and accidents, sisi!”
“It is true, Jacob. These people, they’re all, ’Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!’ What are these impeach tendencies? Where was this impeach before?”
“It is a Johnny Clegg song, sisi.” He got up and started singing and swaying. “Impeach! Wo ‘nans’ impi iyeza, Obani bengathinta amabhubesi? Impeach! Wo ‘nans’ impi iyeza, Obani bengathinta amabhubesi? All along the river, Chelmsford’s army lay asleep…”
And for a moment, the old Jacob was back, the Jacob who could stick his chest out and laugh in the world’s face even when the slings and arrows were raining down on him. He chuckled and chuckled. The blue-shirted group frowned. The clutch of red-bereted young men stopped kicking their ball around and stared. One spat on the ground. Jacob went quiet. Bathabile patted his hand.
“Pull yourself together, Jacob.”
“It is Presidential Humour.”
“You cannot use song and dance to solve everything, baba.”
Jacob was becoming agitated again, annoyed at the attention of the other people in the park.
“What do they want with me?” he griped. “Settlers! Colonialists! Vainglorious generals! DA voters!”
The blue-shirted people stared again.
“Eish. We need them too now. We must woo the settler, Jacob.”
“The DA voter is not us, sisi. He doesn’t speak the language, he holds no currency. He is a foreign man.”
They both looked at the ground as if it might hold the promise of an answer. A boy in a bubble floated by. A baby with a baboon heart wailed in a pushchair, ignored by its mother. Jacob shifted himself on the bench.
“These were meant to be the days of miracle and wonder, sisi.”
“It is too much, baba. The way the camera follows us in slow-mo wherever we go. Especially you, Jacob. You cannot escape.”
“It is true. There are lasers in the jungle, eyes in the trees.”
His cellphone rang in his pocket. He handed it to Bathabile. She answered.
“The Leader’s phone? Yeees…?… Yeees?… No.” She ended the call.
“What is it?” he asked.
“They say it is decided. I said you were not here.”
“It is time, baba. I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued, but…”
“But I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free, baba…”
“Struggle? We won the Struggle! We, the ANC, won! Viva ANC, viva!”
“It is the long distance call, Jacob. It is time.”
“Eish.” His shoulders drooped even lower. She stroked his head.
“Don’t cry, baba,” she said. “Don’t cry.” DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma is seen during a visit to the Kwanyamazane township with the ANC’s 102nd birthday celebrations in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, Wednesday, 8 January 2014. Picture: SAPA stringer
With apologies to Paul Simon, Johnny Clegg, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.
Tony Jackman is a journalist and playwright, and is Chief Sub-Editor of Daily Maverick
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