DAILY MAVERICK 168 - SATIRE
Tarina Patel, Sorisha Naidoo and Nonkanyiso Conco – The Real Housewives of State Capture
The National Prosecuting Authority may have found an ally in its bid to prosecute those who benefited from State Capture: reality TV.
Daily Maverick apologises to Sorisha Naidoo
This article has been the subject of a Press Ombudsman complaint.
Sorisha Naidoo, the wife of Vivian Reddy complained to the Press Ombudsman that in the article headlined Tarina Patel, Sorisha Naidoo and Nonkanyiso Conco – The Real Housewives of State Capture, the publication intentionally misled and created an unwarranted negative perception of her, unfairly and incorrectly associated her with state capture; and that the article made a remark that was derogatory to both her and her husband, Vivian Reddy (insinuating that she had married him for his money) and adds that the reportage has caused them reputational harm.
However, the ombud ruled that the publication had breached the press code and directed it to to apologise to Naidoo for:
- unfairly implying that she had married Vivian Reddy for his money; and
- unnecessarily tarnishing her dignity and reputation in the process.
Daily Maverick apologises to Naidoo for the implication and for any harm caused.
Read the full judgement here
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
“Is life a do-over? Do we get a second chance? How many chances are we given? Uughhhhh life is for the living, let’s not overthink it all, what say?!”
These were the questions posed by actor and model Tarina Patel in early June on Instagram. What appeared to have prompted these existential musings was the arrest of her husband Iqbal Sharma, in connection with a R24-million fraud and money laundering case in the Free State. Sharma has since been denied bail, suggesting that second chances may in fact not be forthcoming – but, as Patel would say, let’s not overthink it all!
Sharma was, of course, a key lieutenant in the Gupta empire. But to the viewers of local reality show Real Housewives of Johannesburg, he will be better known as Tarina Patel’s husband.
When the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) seized the keys to Sharma and Patel’s Sandton property earlier this month, as part of its crackdown on Sharma’s assets, the prosecutors were withdrawing access to a home intimately familiar to Real Housewives fans.
The house may also have rung a bell for viewers of the now defunct lifestyle programme Top Billing, which lovingly showcased the property and its contents a few years ago. In fact, sleuths for the Investigating Directorate explicitly stated in their court affidavit that the Top Billing feature on the house basically amounted to a Which Valuable Stuff To Take guide for the NPA.
You can still find the Top Billing tour of the property online (added below for your convenience). It is riveting viewing, by which I mean that if you bear in mind that this mansion was probably furnished largely with the proceeds of State Capture, you will be rooted to your chair out of sheer fury.
“This is really an extension of who I am,” Patel tells the camera at one point, implying that she is part of an ancient Indian dynasty, because the place looks like Mughal royalty threw up on it. It was in this space that Patel would record cosy observations for season two of Real Housewives of Johannesburg, sandwiched between antique marble elephants and mosaics copied from the ceiling of the Taj Mahal.
If you’re not familiar with the Real Housewives TV franchise, a brief detour: these are reality TV shows that began airing in the US in 2005, featuring over-privileged and under-employed women in semi-scripted situations. Another way of describing them: TV shows where rich women dress up and fight with each other. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem has referred to them as “a minstrel show for women”, and it turns out that pretty much the whole world has an appetite for minstrel shows for women. There are now Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, Athens, Auckland, Nairobi – and Johannesburg and Durban.
Globally, the shows share certain common features. The most important is that the women cast in the series have to be rich. They need to be filmed in lavish homes, wearing designer clothes, and they need to have enough time on their hands to obsess for days on end over the kind of tiny drama that even pupils at an all-girls’ high school would reject as too trivial to bother with. One woman not greeting another with sufficient enthusiasm, for instance: this was, I kid you not, a major story arc for around three episodes of Real Housewives of Durban.
Our local versions of the show are doing South Africa proud. We are unquestionably holding our own on the global stage: our “housewives” are women as dripping with money and malice as any of their international counterparts, and it makes the heart swell with patriotism.
But what is quite hard to avoid noticing is that a number of our Real Housewives appear to be benefiting from money from questionable sources. Of course, Marxists would say that all wealth is from questionable sources – but I’m talking specifically State Capture vibes here. On the cast of Real Housewives of Johannesburg, as previously mentioned, we have Patel lounging around in the love nest she shares with Sharma. Real Housewives of Durban, meanwhile, stars both Sorisha Naidoo – wife of better-known businessman Vivian Reddy – and Nonkanyiso Conco, also known as the former fiancée of Jacob Zuma.
Reddy, to remind you, is the Durban mogul who lent Zuma money to pay for Nkandla. He has financially supported the ANC since the 1980s and, entirely coincidentally, has also benefited from lavish state contracts – including a R1-billion tender from Johannesburg’s City Power in 2012. Reddy’s wheeler-dealings with ousted ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule are compellingly recorded in Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State.
With this background in mind, watching Naidoo give the camera a tour around her house becomes a rather grating experience. She and Reddy live in a home that makes the Palace of Versailles look drab and unambitious. You can’t swing one of Sorisha’s 30-odd pugs (seriously, she has a pathological number of small dogs) without hitting either a chandelier or a statue of a rearing horse crowning a fountain. The forecourt of the house is chock-a-block with Rolls-Royces and car brands that only rich people know.
Talking about Reddy at the beginning of the series, Naidoo purrs: “We met at an opening of a casino. Not his own, though. It wasn’t an instant connection…” This is no shocker, because Naidoo is literally a former beauty queen two-and-a-half decades younger than Reddy, who has the face of a man who needed to become a billionaire to get laid.
One of the most fascinating scenes in the first series of Real Housewives of Durban showed Naidoo meeting Zuma’s then-fiancée, who goes by the name LaConco. They eyed each other in a knowing way, before Naidoo queried: “I’ve never seen you at functions, though?”
The nature of LaConco’s relationship with Zuma was a focal point of the whole series, with the ambiguity around it enthusiastically stoked by the woman herself. “Just Google [me],” she told the other housewives at the outset, but then refused to answer any further questions relating to Msholozi.
“The biggest misconception the world has had is to assume my age, and look at [Zuma’s] age, and then just conclude that I am here for the fame and the money,” she tells the camera, while draped in white tulle. Rather than dressing ostentatiously, LaConco announces later, she prefers “to smell like money”.
It is, objectively speaking, quite enraging that these women are swanning around fanning themselves with banknotes allegedly swiped straight from state coffers. It’s also a little bit irksome that the producers of these shows see nothing amiss about presenting their lifestyles – which may or may not be derived essentially from the proceeds of criminality – as aspirational.
But here’s the thing: the women themselves are frustratingly hard to dislike. If I had to, I could probably work up a bit of a lather over Patel; it’s difficult to imagine relating deeply to someone who says, like a Morningside version of Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess: “I do not have a nine-to-five. I don’t know what that is.”
But over the course of the first season of Real Housewives of Durban, I found myself reluctantly – and then passionately – warming to Naidoo and LaConco, both of whom ultimately come across as smart, funny, interesting, and deeply ambitious. It was possible to weave around them both a comforting feminist fantasy in which they were knowingly milking their male partners for resources and connections while planning a swift exit when the Hawks came knocking.
This is, of course, not the case – according to them, at least. Naidoo made a point of stressing in practically every episode her devotion to Reddy, who may have been punished enough for his alleged corruption by being forced to appear with her in a few Real Housewives scenes.
“Culture is something so important today,” Reddy said in a totally natural and not at all wooden way, when Naidoo announced her intention to host a Diwali party for the other wives. JZ, sadly, does not make an appearance in LaConco’s scenes – and, since the shooting of the series, those two lovebirds appear to have parted.
Indeed, producers may have to look for a number of new cast members in the near future. With LaConco and Zuma having split, and Sharma and Patel being separated by metal bars, these are tough times for our Real Housewives.
Then again, one gets the distinct feeling that these women have cores of pure steel. I’m pretty sure they’ll all be fine. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.
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