Simpler. Better. Smarter.
14 December 2017 21:00 (South Africa)
Opinionista Greg Nicolson

Maphatsoe IS an idiot

  • Greg Nicolson
    greg nicolson BW
    Greg Nicolson

    Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is just too clean. So to defend his president, MKMVA leader Kebby Maphatsoe did what he does best: talk crap. But calling Madonsela a CIA agent doesn't fly, with anyone.

In a country where no leader escapes scandal, where it's embraced like a right of passage, Thuli Madonsela hovers over a cesspool of governance like a cherub with a crossbow. She takes down ministers, top cops and scumbags. She's too perfect, modest like a Home Affairs employee of the month: just doing it cos' it's her job, a privilege to serve the people of SA. You get the impression she's foxing. That weave. Those pearls. Her hesitant, measured speech and the blushing smile. She's that kid your parents want you to be – perfect, TIME's 100 most influential list! – but there's gotta be another side, right?

I wish Thuli were an agent. It'd give her dreary speeches an edge. When she goes to Parliament, she's criticised by everyone. She's taken on the DA's utopia (Midvaal), Julius Malema, and most recently President Jacob Zuma and the upgrades to his Nkandla home. Still she won ANN7's person of the year by ANN7, even after she decided to investigate the Gupta family's abuse of the Waterkloof Air Base.

Bereft of scandal, with no mud to sling, Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) chairman Kebby Maphatsoe stood in a cemetery this weekend and tried to save his beloved president the only way he knows how: talking shit. “We can’t allow people to hijack the ANC. We’ll fight and defend the African National Congress. uThuliumele asitshele ukuthi ubani ihandler yakhe [Thuli must tell us who her handler is],” he reportedly said. “They are even using our institution now… These Chapter 9 institutions were created by the ANC but are now being used against us, and if you ask why, it is the Central Intelligence Agency. Ama [the] Americans want their own CEO in South Africa and we must not allow that.”

Heaven forbid he stop there. On Monday, Maphatsoe put the gun to his head and continued to denigrate one of the only South Africans most people respect. “She thinks she is God,” he said. “It is clear she wants the head of the president. She’s no longer playing the ball, she’s playing the person... Her actions leave us with no choice but to say her actions are that of enemy agents.”

After Madonesela's years with the ANC and working in one of the country's most high-profile jobs, did Kebby really think he caught her with a shoe phone in hand? Perhaps Maphatsoe thought we'd miss it, or wouldn't care, thought the US ambassador wouldn't call him out. Most worrying – maybe he actually believes that the only reason state institutions can conceivably be critical of ANC leaders is if they have a foreign agenda.

Maphatsoe is loyal (to his boss). In 2009, he threatened to “implement a militant programme” to take back the streets of Cape Town when accusing Helen Zille of racism. Later that year, he responded to criticism from former Cabinet member Kader Asmal by spitting, “We advise Kader Asmal to go to the nearest cemetery and die if that is the choice he had made.” In 2010, he undermined the judiciary and laws passed after 1994 while commenting on the “Kill the Boer” case. When Julius Malema fell out with Zuma, Maphatsoe and his MK vets were both vocal and physical in their fight with the ANC Youth League. When the EFF protested in Parliament last month, he was ready for war: “What we are saying, comrades, is that the MK manifesto of 1961 is still relevant even today because it says there will come a time of any nation where there remain only two choices, submit or fight; that time has now come to South Africa, we shall not submit, we will fight back with anything at our disposal in defence of our people, our future and our freedom.” To top it off, he's one of the MKMVA leaders fingered in reports of siphoning over R5 million from the organisation.

In this job, you hear a lot of people say dumb shit. Lying on the grass and watching the clouds, everyone sees the shapes they want to see.

Kebby Maphatsoe, however, isn't your average MK vet watching the clouds (who's rumoured never to have done a day's real fighting). When he's not fighting against the War on Zuma, he moonlights as deputy minister of defence and military veterans. This guy actually has a role to play in relation to the Army, Navy and Air Force. Imagine we sent the Army into Lesotho: Kebby would be in jodhpurs riding a horse (because it makes as much sense as the other stuff he does) ordering soldiers to engage imagined enemies.

To illustrate Maphatsoe's stupidity, even Democratic Alliance members are getting kicked out of Parliament. On Tuesday, David Maynier refused to withdraw his comment in the National Assembly: “Speaker, I shouted idiot because the honourable deputy minister of defence is an idiot for saying what he said,” explained the DA member, surely with a wink to Parliament's cool kids of late, the EFF. Maphatsoe wouldn't apologise in Parliament; that would be too respectful to the state.

The apology came only after he was slapped down by the ANC, presumably Gwede Mantashe who has done all he can to cast doubt on Thuli Madonsela, including trying to link her to the EFF's protest in Parliament. But Gwede's aspersions at least gave Zuma loyalists something to help them sleep at night. Maphatsoe shows they're living in a dream. “After consultation with my organisation, the African National Congress, it would seem as though my statements have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. I therefore withdraw those statements and apologise for any offences and hurt that would have been caused,” the MKMVA leader said in a statement on Tuesday night, trying to salvage something from his imploded reputation.

Forget all the other pressing issues facing the country: this is where we are right now. Bouncers dressed in suits are thrown into Parliament so that accountability is kept out. Henchmen aren't afraid to put targets on backs and claim they're doing it in defence of the Constitution. Maphatsoe is just a test-tube baby for the current predicament. What happens when the president thinks state resources were given to him in a goodie bag on inauguration day, and damn it he wants to keep those free chocolates whether he asked for them or not? Do those around him subvert or support the organs of democracy? DM

  • Greg Nicolson
    greg nicolson BW
    Greg Nicolson

    Nicolson left his hometown of Melbourne to move to Johannesburg, beset by fears Australia was going to the dogs. With a camera and a Mac in his bag, he ventures out to cover power and politics, the lives of those included and those excluded. He can be found at the tavern, searching for a good story or drowning a bad one.

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Reader notice: Our comments service provider, Civil Comments, has stopped operating and will terminate services on 20th Dec 2017. As a result, we will be searching for another platform for our readers. We aim to have this done with the launch of our new site in early 2018 and apologise for the inconvenience.