It’s just a song and dance when it comes to taking hostages in South Africa

It’s just a song and dance when it comes to taking hostages in South Africa
A general view of the Saint George Hotel and Conference Centre. About 56 people were arrested at the hotel on 14 October 2021 after a group of military veterans allegedly held several government ministers hostage. (Photo by Gallo Images/Lee Warren)

There may be some confusion about why the charges were dropped against 53 military veterans who took  two ministers and one deputy minister hostage. But surely all of this is good news?

And they say there’s no good news coming out of South Africa! Why, just last week I read the good news that the charges against 53 military veterans who held two ministers and one deputy minister hostage for several hours have been dropped.

As Minister of Defence Thandi Modise would know, this has all the hallmarks of a special military operation successfully conducted. Admittedly, the reports are a bit confusing, because the reasons for the dropping of the charges are given somewhat differently in different stories.

This, of course, may be part of a sophisticated and orchestrated campaign by the mainstream media to confuse everyone involved, as well as the reader, but I will set down the anomalies anyway. Let every voice be heard, and let a thousand flowers bloom.

First, please note that it was in fact 52 charges that were dropped because one of the, er, participants has died since the, er, incident in October last year. Thank you for your service, comrade.

One report has it that 26 people, including the ministers and deputy minister, were held hostage. That’s a lot of people, but obviously the veterans conducting this operation were highly trained, even if it was 40 years ago, and of course following classic military wisdom, they were sure to outnumber the hostages by almost precisely two to one.

As Vladimir Putin has shown, it always pays to have the numbers on your side. Still, it can’t have been a walk in the park for the veterans, because if they really are veterans they’re not likely to be particularly young. We salute their courage.

Their demands were basically the same as any South African’s, in any situation, not necessarily a hostage situation — to wit, “Give us money!”

Then it gets confusing again, because some reports say the hostages did a bit of singing and dancing with the hostage-takers. Naturally, it wouldn’t be a public South African hostage situation without singing and dancing, so that’s nothing to raise your eyebrows at. And it can be explained, of course, by Stockholm Syndrome, or that the hostages agreed in some ways with the veterans, or just that they liked singing and dancing. (Please tell me they sang Bring Me My Machine Gun.) Certainly, it’s a way to pass the time.

Anyway, the 26 hostages were finally rescued by a crack team of police types, and 56 people were arrested. Again, a bit of confusion: somewhere along the line the policepersons realised at least three of those arrested weren’t veterans, so they only charged 53. Those three were members of the 26 and not the 53 (minus one).

Everything went quiet for a few months, then the charges were dropped. Deputy Minister of Defence Thabang Makwetla expressed his shock and bewilderment, because he hadn’t been a party to any deal said to have been made by the veterans with the ANC. Some party/state confusion there, but that’s common in SA.

Makwetla certainly wasn’t in a forgive-and-forget mood on that day, but Deputy President DD Mabuza had, in fact, just announced that a new pension payout to military veterans was about to be disbursed. Obstacles had been cleared, said DD. This pension was described as “long-awaited”.

Another story on the same day (18 May) said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had dropped the charges for lack of evidence. Now that’s more like it. This is the South African way. So 56 people held 26 people hostage for a few hours, did some singing and dancing together (well, probably not Makwetla), and nobody can remember who said or did what to whom during those hours. Basically, said the NPA, there is “no prima facie case because neither the identity nor the individual acts committed by each individual accused can be proven”.

Be that as it may, it did make me think that perhaps some selective kidnapping or hostage-taking of Cabinet members might help to move South Africa’s political programme(s) forward.

One would have to be careful, of course. If the nation’s biggest problem is a total lack of economic development, it wouldn’t help to kidnap Minister Ebrahim Patel and demand immediate and complete economic development. No. You’d have to hold him hostage for about 30 years for that demand to be met, and even then…

The idea of kidnapping Gwede Mantashe is, of course, attractive — as is forcing him at AK-47-point to revoke the licences of all those frackers and fruckers, repudiate any dealings with Russia or Turkey, and to sign on the dotted line of a unbreakable contract to allow South Africa to at least make an attempt at beginning the transition to a greener future before that future sets in and turns out to be about arid wastes where once the mielies bloomed and Cape Town is 10m underwater.

It’s an appealing scenario, but I foresee the problem: nobody really wants to spend a prolonged period of time with Gwede in a confined space, even highly trained hostage-takers. We’d possibly have to get the North Koreans in, but they’re expensive, even in Zim dollars. I’m beginning to rethink this.

Would taking Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi hostage speed up the queues at that notorious institution? Probably not. And he can probably talk his way out, anyway. How can you not feel sorry for the person trying to ride the anaesthetised hippo that is the Department of Home Affairs?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter which minister is taken hostage. Just keep the demand simple: “Give us money.” That’s what kidnappers do, right? They just want money. In this respect, almost all South Africans (I except anyone in government or the Stellenbosch mafia) are kidnappers and hostage-takers or wannabe kidnappers and hostage-takers.

One could go for any minister, then, perhaps based on whether they could do the necessary singing and dancing. Fikile Mbalula surely can’t be forced to make any progress in any ministry he occupies, but he’d probably be fun in a hostage situation. Lindiwe Sisulu, I’m not so sure. Probably worth trying Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, though.

And, of course, the minister we all want to kidnap and lock in a dank basement until he confesses his sins, or at least acknowledges reality, is Minister of Condolences and Congratulations Nathi Mthethwa. In a ministry of which it is required only that it hand out money, he screwed even that up. One wonders why the ministry exists.

If you locked Mthethwa in a dank basement for a few months, and fed him only dry bread (the water he could lick off the walls), it’s quite probable that nobody in the outside world would notice. But let’s see if he can do the singing and dancing. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25. 


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