Denis Beckett is pale and male but by no means stale. He has again extended his shelf life by simultaneously authoring two books that together tell an extraordinary tale of how to ride two horses at the same time. Although the ride ended painfully, and he found himself “treated like a horse-thief”, he unwittingly confirmed that the biggest challenge facing SANRAL’s leadership does not lie in engineering public acceptance of e-tolling, but in an organisation-wide rehab after a decade-long intoxication of power.
Let it work;
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an’t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.
Hamlet: Act 3. Scene 4.
I doubt even Shakespeare would have had the genius to script in fiction what veteran maverick Denis Beckett has just done in fact.
He has managed to get a paid commission to write a book for the most dystopian, autocratic company since Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company, while simultaneously writing another book that rivals Thomas More’s Utopia for its vision of a perfected, democratic, and contented society. The generous commission from the company, which epitomises “oligarchy” (rule by a few), effectively cross-subsidised the writing of a book that epitomises the complete opposite – “the rule of all”. There is not even a word for the latter, so Denis had to coin one: “Demogarchy”.
Both books attest that he is an extremely talented writer motivated by a Dickensian vocation to bring about a society of just mercy and merciful justice. He defected from law to journalism because he wanted to be paid to search for truth “where I thought I might find it” rather than “come to a conclusion pre-determined by a client or employer”.
Denis is quite open with potential clients that “you buy my time, not my pen”. Still, I feared that if the oligarch knew that Denis was donating some of his left over time to mentoring/tormentoring me in the craft of authoring books, they might show hesitation, notwithstanding his reputation for truthfulness and honesty.
“I give a sympathetic hearing and tell the truth as I see it” he states upfront. “That’s what everybody wants, in advance, but when they get it they have been known to rebel. Besides, I’m never wholly sure that I’m seeing the same truth as I would if the other side was paying. There’s a minefield, with ambivalence.”
It’s a pity Denis didn’t go one step further and become a social worker. He would then “delve one yard below their mines”. Social workers have a professional duty to search for and articulate truth from the perspective of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Even so, in the process of challenging social injustice, and levelling the unequal power equation, mercy, compassion and healing must blend. Pain untransformed will become pain transmitted. If the powerful have too much untransformed pain and too much power, when detonated, landmines are wont to be all the more lethal.
It has now been publicly disclosed that Denis spoke approvingly about my book The Promise of Justice: King Mpondombini Justice Sigcau’s struggle to save the kingdom of Mpondo from unjust developments at the launch. An entire chapter is devoted to Denis adventuring with me in Pondoland gathering evidence of the injustices of the developments against which King Mpondombini Sigcau struggled – notably the N2 Wild Coast Toll Road. The index reveals that Denis Beckett is named in 12 of the 402 pages. That’s only four citations less than President Jacob Gedleyihhekisa Zuma with 16. But he is not the chief villain. That dishonour goes jointly to Cecil Rhodes (41) and Nazir Alli (37).
Despite my effort to convert him to the cause of social work, maverick Denis got himself counted among the villains by taking money from Nazir Alli to write a book that champion’s e-tolling and defends SANRAL!!!! Therein lies the twist.
Herein wags the tale.
I knew Denis was “sleeping with the enemy” because a year ago Wayne Duvenage and I had been wooing him to come inside OUTA to ghost write the truth about OUTA. He turned us down because he was already possessed BY SANRAL. He had already entered the mine field.
Professional prudence dictated that I should leave Denis undisturbed for the duration of his tenure in service of SANRAL, lest he be summarily exorcised and left penniless. Seven months elapsed without our customary beer and budget lunch. I wondered how Denis was faring inside the belly of the beast.
By June the Oligarch was disgracing itself. The eviction of homeless families of Lwandle during the first cold and driving Cape winter rains was the first post-election explosion. Then on Friday 13 June 2014, intelligence came through that another land mine had been detonated. One of the leading local residents from the Wild Coast (whom Denis had met during his trek with me) called to say that she had been admitted unrecognised into a somewhat clandestine meeting at the Wild Coast Sun resort. Nazir Alli and Vusi Mona were meeting with Zanuzuko Sigcau, a government-sponsored claimant to the Mpondo Kingship. Alli, with Royal honorifics and salutations, informed him and his followers that construction of the N2 Wild Coast shortcut was soon to commence, and that SANRAL would soon be arranging helicopter flights for “His Majesty” and his subject chiefs to see where SANRAL planned to span the gorges. This was in blatant contempt of the Constitutional Court judgement handed down in June last year that had set aside President Zuma’s illegal certification of Zanuzuko as king of AmaMpondo (my book relates the saga). The fact that the North Gauteng High Court was still due to hear arguments asserting unlawfulness of the approval by lawyers representing local residents did not constrain Alli from making promises that he had absolutely no legal authority to make.
The effect of these detonations was to stiffen my resolve to ensure the most grandiose scheme of them all, “e-tollgate” was opened more widely to interrogation.
Arrogance is tolerable. Perhaps a dose of it is necessary for anyone to make it to the top echelons of leadership and institutional power. However, Nazir Alli’s behaviour was showing an ever more alarming likeness to that of Cecil John Rhodes before his nemesis, the Jameson Raid. The road agency was becoming a ‘rogue agency’. I decided that it was time to alert Denis lest there was worse to come.
Respecting his professional duty to his client, I didn’t press him on what I thought he should do with the information, nor did I pry on the progress of his commissioned book.
Two months later he gave me a draft under embargo for fact checking and to afford me a right to reply (having included Denis in my book he had returned the favour of including Wayne and me in his book). He said he hoped the book would help span the ever widening gulf between SANRAL and the world and open up some space for compromise and engagement. He hoped that Nazir Alli would duly authorise the book to hasten the breaking out of peace.
The draft was titled “The Truth about SANRAL”. The finished work was renamed Drowning the Lifesaver: SANRAL from the inside (and out). Denis had thrown Nazir Alli a lifeline. He could not see it and would not take hold of it. Denis was shut out, similar to my own experience eight years ago when I naively tried to broker peace between Nazir and Bishop Geoff Davies over the N2 Wild Coast alignment controversy.
Nevertheless Denis’ unauthorised book still advances the case for e-tolls with an eloquence that Nazir never could. It defends SANRAL with more insight than Nazir Alli ever would – because SANRAL had no defence against the greatest threat to its future, which is to say, Nazir Alli’s overweening pride and extraordinary self-righteousness, starkly exposed by the book.
“Nazir is both the hero of this tale and the villain” Denis explains. “That does not allow you to mentally aggregate him out as 50%, a neutral figure or average. The things he has been heroic about, like playing straight, are big and important. The things he is terrible at tend to be rather less central, matters of style, you may say, though these have quite extreme consequences as in where he gets so infuriated by false criticism that he can’t answer the criticism. As you’ll see, where he and I start parting company is an episode where – observe closely the pronouns here – I bring up evidence that startlingly demolishes a large ground of attack on SANRAL, and he wishes to stop me mentioning this evidence.”
Such perverse manipulation of information is symptomatic of something far more worrisome than whether the criticism was fair. It signals a “loss of contact with reality” and “progressive isolation” symptomatic of a narcissistic personality disorder, and/or an acquired personality disorder that British elder politician, medical doctor, and specialist neurologist Lord David Owen terms The Hubris Syndrome.
Owen educates that people who rise to prominence in business, politics and the media display qualities we tend to associate with successful leadership. “Charisma, charm, the ability to inspire, persuasiveness, breadth of vision, willingness to take risks, grandiose aspirations and bold self-confidence”. However, there is a dark side to the profile of successful leaders: “Impetuosity, a refusal to listen to or take advice and a particular form of incompetence when impulsivity, recklessness and frequent inattention to detail predominate. This can result in disastrous leadership and cause damage on a large scale.”
Owen has in collaboration with US Psychiatrist Jonathan Davidson formulated a diagnostic framework of fourteen symptoms that speak of the acquisition of the personality disorder that results from what Bertrand Russell termed “the intoxication with power”, or what the ancient Greeks termed Hubris. They carefully studied the record of British Prime Ministers and US Presidents over the past 100 years to see if their language and behaviour in office revealed an emergence of the critical symptoms of the syndrome, especially if their terms of office extended beyond eight years.
Owen counsels to especially watch out for contempt as reason to sound the alarm. Consider this excerpt.
Denis vainly tries to reason with Nazir Alli. Alli reacts:
“Even when we won an award for becoming the first interoperable system, the first – and so far only, I can say – country where one tag covers all gantries, the press just completely ignored that, while they go on and on about the Wild Coast road that doesn’t even exist yet, that should long ago have brought some activity to that poorest part of the country.
“That road will reduce Durban to East London by 75 km, this in an area where 70% of the people live on social grants. You know that 90% of mine rock-drillers come from Pondoland? When they’re retrenched, there is nothing for them to do, just sit, the rest of their lives, sit and watch the sun come up, the sun go down. And when we’re ready to bring a road there is protest. Protest! Can you believe it? Who are those people, protesting? People who own illegal cottages, they make their money in the city and go down there for tranquillity, where the starving natives are grateful for their leftovers. And they get them to protest that we are putting a road over their ancestors’ graves.”
“Um, Nazir, I met a most impressive young woman down there recently, who had very strong feelings of her own about her ancestors’ graves.”
“She’s lying. We know where the graves are. We are respecting the graves.”
“Her view is that all the land is sacred, it has hundreds of years of graves, all over.”
“She’s with the protesters, the tiny few, holding up the capacity for wealth, the capacity we are bringing to the many. Who is funding them? You think they have money for courts and interdicts? Why don’t they make it public who is funding them? We are bringing them the capacity for wealth. In the 14 years that we have been stalled, they have got poorer.”
The spiritual writer Richard Rohr cautions “arrogance combined with ignorance is lethal”.
The evidence of Denis’ book is enough to show that Nazir Alli is beyond arrogance.
Next month the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam will be featuring a newly completed film The Shore Break. This award-winning three-minute trailer is enough to show that Nazir Alli is ignorant.
The “impressive young woman” whom Nazir Alli dismissed as a “liar” is Nonhle Mbuthuma, who features most prominently. It was the same Nonhle who was present to bear witness that Nazir showed contempt for the judiciary by courting a false king on Friday 13 June.
Drowning the Lifesaver confirms that Nazir Alli has the syndrome. How much longer must we all suffer from it? DM
For a fuller explanation of The Hubris Syndrome see Notes on the Hubris Syndrome and the Dopamine Effect available on my blog site Social Dialogue.
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John Clarke hopes to write the wrongs of the world, informed by his experience as a social worker and theologian, to actualise fundamental human rights and satisfy fundamental human needs. He has lived in the urbanised concentration of Johannesburg, but has worked mainly in the rural reaches of the Wild Coast for the past decade. From having paid a fortune in toll fees he believes he has earned the right to be critical of Sanral and other extractive institutions, and has not held back while supporting Sustaining the Wild Coast (www.swc.org.za ), the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (www.safcei.org.za) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (www.outa.co.za), in various ways. See his blog at www.johngiclarke.co.za for past articles, his YouTube channel for films featuring his work https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg42uQEUdiuKmuAt6_-ij8g, and order his book The Promise of Justice on www.thepromiseofjustice.co.za.
Towns near Fukushima are now being plagued by hordes of rampaging radioactive wild boars. Where are Asterix and Obelix when you need them?