Sona yet so far: In my great dream, Cyril spoke about the real state of the nation
If it were up to the Prez, he’d fire the Cabinet, including the Minister of Taxis, who couldn’t get a minibus through a roadworthy test if his overdressed life depended on it. Policing? Useless. Education? Waste of time. The others?
I fell asleep during Sona 2022. Okay, it’s not exactly unusual to fall asleep during a Sona. Thabo Mbeki’s Sonas, when he was president (oh, remember those golden days!), could cause one to drift off soon after he’d finished the “all protocols observed” part. I couldn’t stay awake long enough to get to the part where he rolled out all those numbers showing how well South Africa was doing.
And, admittedly, I didn’t even try watching Jacob Zuma’s Sonas. I knew he hadn’t seen a word of those speeches until he was standing at the podium trying to pronounce “R11,425,746”. (That, by the way, was the budget for one year’s worth of presidential protection.) I just waited for the funny bits to turn up on YouTube.
Of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Sonas – well, we’ve had one so far, or is it two? Is this the third? Like former president and present subversive JZ, I’ve become unable to count. Or perhaps all those “My fellow South Africans” speeches about Covid-19 have leached the drama from a presidential address, and we’re already bored to death by the notion of President Ramaphosa talking to the nation one more time.
But Sona 2022 was different. Not because I fell asleep. No. Because I dreamed a great dream while I slept through it. I dreamed the Prez actually told the truth, that he threw out his script (laboured over by teams of writers for weeks, then edited to within an inch of its life – all for nothing) and was blunt with his fellow South Africans. This was Cyril’s Bulworth moment.
The first sign that this was a dream was when the location shifted. Cyril was still greeting foreign dignitaries and congratulating Busisiwe Mkhwebane on her wonderful outfit when suddenly we were no longer in Cape Town’s City Hall but back in the National Assembly, with the Prez’s audience stuck between the blackened beams and drifting pyramids of ash, as a fine mist of Cape rain floated down from where the roof used to be.
One presidential hand described an arabesque, indicating our surroundings. “This,” he said sonorously (or perhaps it was Sonarously), “is where we are going as a nation.
“Yes, my fellow South Africans (and foreign dignitaries and so forth), this is where our democracy is headed. Ashes. And I know, because I drafted the Constitution and then I went on to draft the National Development Plan – our road maps to the future. We’ve been derailed. We’re off-script. Nobody has given the NDP the slightest thought for years – not even me. Nowadays I dare not even look at it. It’s just too depressing.
“When I feel depressed, which is usually directly after a meeting of the ANC’s national working committee, I just get a printout of my own bank balance, perhaps with a few numbers from Shanduka or one of my mines, and I linger over those. The only other thing that cheers me up is my coffee-table book about all the exotic cattle I own, but then I’m reminded that I still have a few hundred copies I failed to give away to local and international oligarchs, and I get depressed again, so I stay away from that too.”
Cyril paused. He seemed moved by his own recollections, and brushed away what might have been a tear from the corner of what might have been an eye. It was hard to tell, peering through the clouds of ash. The Speaker, wearing a hand-made hat in the form of an umbrella to protect her from the drizzle, allowed a small smile to play upon her military features.
“But,” said the Prez, “let’s not get too personal here. It’s not about me. It’s about the nation – its state, and the state of the state. Let me speak off the cuff. My cuffs have R5,000 cufflinks from Dolce & Gabbana, certainly, as behoves an oligarch and president, but still I speak, so to speak, off the cuff.
“I will take you into my confidence, as the pundits are always recommending. See this burnt-out space? That’s what our democracy will look like in a few years’ time. Symbolically speaking, of course, though in the case of various informal settlements it’s not symbolic at all. The only hope I can hold out to you now is that it doesn’t quite look like this yet.
“And I have to take some of the blame, even though right now I’d like to repeat what I said at the Marikana Commission and say this is no time to point fingers. If I’m honest, and in this dream at least I’m being honest, this is precisely the time to point fingers.
“First let me point a finger at myself. I’m not strong enough for this task. I can’t reform the ANC. I can’t reform the public service. The corruption and incompetence are too deeply set. They are now the very fabric of our public life. And the ANC Top Six is no help at all. At least three of them are actively hoping I’ll be gone soon and Ace will be the next president – then the smallanyana skeletons in their closets can grow into very big skeletons. At least Jessie Duarte now has a mystery ailment, like Msholozi, so she’s out of the picture.
“And, while we’re on the subject of the ANC, it can’t be fixed. I’ve bailed out Luthuli House personally a few times, and guess what? Waste of money. Rather let Luthuli House collapse. Let all those ghost workers go unpaid. I’m not spending my pocket money there any more. No, I’m saving up for the next ANC leadership conference, when I’ll need to buy a shitload of votes. DD Mabuza’s loyalty doesn’t come cheap, I tell you.
“As for the Cabinet, it’s totally useless. Even more useless than the time-serving ANC MPs who clutter up this once-august House, serenely picking their noses or playing games on their phones while some of us try to legislate – or try to answer some unanswerable questions from the DA.
“No, the Cabinet is useless. Let’s not even talk about a Minister of Taxis who couldn’t get a minibus through a roadworthy if his overdressed life depended on it. Or the Minister of Communications who not only can’t communicate but also can’t organise that set-top digital thing that’s running about 15 years late. The Guptas would have got it done faster. Let’s not talk about a Minister of Economic Development who has presided over a decade of no economic development whatsoever.
“Policing? Useless. We spend a fortune every year on the police (see the upcoming Budget), but they can’t solve any crimes. They can’t find, let alone arrest, the instigators of that looting last July. They can’t purge their ranks of the high-ranking crooks lodged there. They can’t convict a gangster of murdering an honest cop. They can only extort cooldrink money from the citizenry and oppress the homeless. I’m amazed the Minister of Police can even find his hat in the morning, but obviously he has priorities.
“Education? Waste of time. The future of this nation has been washed down the drain. Okay, many drains are blocked, so the future may bubble back up again, shit-stained but alive – there’s a little hope for you. But education, something else we spend billions on every year, is not getting any better. Teachers can’t teach and learners can’t learn. Poor Angie just churns out yet more unemployable matriculants every year.
“Let’s not even talk about housing, or tourism, or water, or any of those things. I blame Lindiwe, while we’re talking about pointing fingers, but I can’t even discipline her for breaking her oath to honour the Constitution, so I can’t exactly discipline her for not doing any of the Cabinet jobs she has been given over the last 18 years.”
The President paused to inhale. I’d swear he’d been doing some breathwork, secretly of course, over the last while, and he was doing the “God give me strength” technique. He exhaled slowly (did he count to four?) and continued.
“So let’s not talk any more about the Cabinet. Oh, hang on, let me just mention the Minister of Energy, who spends all his ministerial energy retarding any progress towards a greener future. If you think that I, as president, can give him any guidance, you are wrong. He doesn’t listen to a word I say, and he has never read the NDP. He’d rather his precious miners die at their posts, deep underground, than retrain to work on a wind farm.
“If it were up to me, I’d fire the whole Cabinet, except perhaps for Pravin, who at least can do long-division sums, and is capable of telling the truth about most things except SAA. And you know what? I don’t care if all those SAA planes actually fall out of the sky. Like Luthuli House, let SAA die. In fact, let all those SOEs die. They’re just pits of corruption, as the Zondo Commission said. We bail them out, but it’s like throwing money down a well.
“In fact, this whole government should be fired. All those bureaucrats who can’t do their jobs should be fired – and that’s 90% of them. That’ll save some money, and South Africa will probably get along just as well without any of us.”
Cyril took another deep breath and drew himself up to his full height of five foot four inches. “And now, my fellow South Africans,” he said bravely, “I’m going home to fondle my bank statements. You’re on your own.” DM168
Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.
This satirical column first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.
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