Gwede Mantashe carries a big contender for a national symbol in front of him

Gwede Mantashe carries a big contender for a national symbol in front of him
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

Once the minister was a lean and fiery activist but now his bulbous belly represents the state of SA today.

You probably know that the king protea is our country’s national flower, the real yellowwood our national tree and the springbok our national animal — but developments suggest we have other worthy additions to our list.

Look, our eight national symbols reflect the diverse beauty of our country’s landscape, culture, flora and fauna, and I am proud of them. But something’s missing.

You see, these symbols were decided upon in those days of our national collective honeymoon just after the end of legislated apartheid. And those who decided on them were no doubt buoyed by a collective sense of patriotism and optimism for the future. We all were, weren’t we?

After all, many of those people that made up our first post-apartheid government were men and women of good standing in their communities, freedom fighters who still knew their prison numbers by heart; activists still drenched in the crippling, nauseating smell of teargas from the guns of the oppressor.

PW Botha and FW de Klerk were fading away into the dustbin of history. Eugene Terre’Blanche was falling off horses more often than he spewed racist bile in public.

Adriaan Vlok was washing the feet of the very people he sought to permanently remove from society just years earlier. Nelson Mandela had moved from being the world’s most famous prisoner to the most famous president.

Gwede Mantashe, now Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, was still a fiery trade union leader on the mines, fit and strong with no sinister signs of umkhaba.

But times and circumstances, as Mantashe’s umkhaba blatantly testifies, have changed drastically.

Whether the changes are for good or bad is a matter for another day. But this fact of the massive change in the anatomical make-up of some politicians has not escaped ordinary citizens like the Soweto resident who took aim at Mantashe’s umkhaba on national television the other day.

The Sowetan was among a crowd of residents marching to the Joburg mayor’s office to express their displeasure at being without electricity for months on end. A journalist from eNCA innocently asked the resident to comment about the reason for the protest.

What was meant to be an issue about electricity soon turned into a matter of the stomach — with Mantashe the main protagonist.

Gwede Mantashe

Gwede Mantashe sporting his impressive umkhaba. (Photo: Supplied)

“Have you seen the stomach of Gwede Mantashe? Have you seen how big is he?

“You should have seen him before he came into office but now he’s like this because of our votes. We are sick and tired of this. Soweto is tired.”

The video went viral on social media, and many of the comments exposed the national attitude towards activists turned politicians who appear to have completely forgotten and forgone the principles of serving the masses.

Mantashe’s stomach should perhaps be added to the list of national symbols to illustrate what has become of many former activists who, instead of using their positions in government to serve, have in fact found a platform for amassing wealth through contracts dished out by corrupt businesspeople.

Mantashe may not have been convicted of any corruption, but the matter of his stomach, which reminded me of some of the Ankole cattle spotted at the Phala Phala farm auction, is a metaphor for the state our nation finds itself in these days.

Perhaps darkness should also be added to the list in honour of load shedding. Add in bullets representing crime and political assassinations that have become part of our grim, daily reality as a nation under siege.

I have been reluctant to express my proposal that South Africa should add umkhaba — the bloated stomach that dangles down most of our politician’s bodies — as the new national symbol.

If you have kept your eyes open for the better part of the past quarter of a century, you would have noticed that some politicians and the politically connected have undergone a rather bloated transformation around the waist.

Well, being a humble son of the soil who respects the elders, I have quietly debated this weighty matter with myself for some time now. Remember we are from that generation that was taught to afford the elders respect. We were taught that elders never lie but err, that they are never late but delayed, not fat but, rather, blessed with good health.

Which reminds me of an uncle back in the day who enjoyed taking this reverence for adults to another devilish level with a bucketful of stories.

If you’ve been following the change in image among, especially, ANC politicians who were once freedom fighters you will agree that many of them have undergone a massive transformation of their bellies through the democratic years.

If the stomach is so bloated, one wonders, what of the bank balance? And if the bank balance is equally bloated, how did that come about?

Men, and some women, who during their fiery activist days were a picture of healthy leanness with not a trace of the trappings of indulging excessively in things that lead to umkhaba, have now become almost unrecognisable.

But in the streets of our townships, villages and informal settlements, citizens are getting leaner and thinner from rising food and fuel prices and high unemployment.

With the ordinary folk continuing to bear the brunt of these challenges, it may not be long before a hungry citizen tucks into Mantashe’s stomach one of these days. DM168

Mr Styles is the former president of the Organisation for Stylish People of South Africa (Osposa). He is against anything and anyone unstylish.

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


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