Opinionista Marelise Van Der Merwe 9 March 2018

The Other News Round-Up: For services rendered

Each week, Daily Maverick brings you some of the world’s stranger occurrences. This week: Nails in the coffin of “selfless efforts”?

This week, it was announced that former president Jacob Zuma would be honoured with an award for his “selfless efforts” in making South Africa better. If someone is currently performing the Heimlich manoeuvre on you, I apologise. I’m sure your breakfast was great before I got hold of it.

The award will be given to Zuma, among 17 others, reportedly for playing a “major role economically and socially during his time in office”. Well, yes, if you count “major role” as maintaining a bloated Cabinet, looting state coffers at the expense of taxpayers, sparking a slew of ratings downgrades… That is “major”. It’s just not “selfless”.

But ja. Apparently, although a great deal of “controversy” followed Mr Zuma around during his tenure as president, he did his bit for service delivery and radical economic transformation.

The award, by the way – if you want an extra touch of surrealism – is being given by the National Funeral Practitioners’ Association of South Africa (Nafupa SA). It always gives that added layer of perspective when you’re thanked for your service by the folks bringing your people home in body bags.

It’s also fitting because more confidence is just what the former president needs. Zuma mos wants us to tell him if he did anything wrong. There seems to be a lot he didn’t read during his time in office, am I right? Even as he stepped down, he pointedly said he disagreed with the decision to tell him to get stepping. So what else can we say to him?

Yet Nafupa isn’t alone in wanting to honour the former president. Bang on Valentine’s day, the Presidency issued a media statement titled “Achievements and milestones during the tenure of President Jacob Zuma”, the shortest paragraph of which was, unsurprisingly, headed “crime and corruption”. (“Land reform and ownership” wasn’t very long either.) But unfortunately for the former president, he really can’t claim his failures weren’t pointed out to him, either. As the aftermath of state capture continues to be dug up (poor choice of words?) they’re still being pointed out to him.

Issuing awards and honours to unexpected recipients isn’t unusual, though. A few examples spring to mind, though the list is by no means exhaustive. Remember when the WHO had to reverse its appointment of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador after an international outcry followed the announcement? The decision was made by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whose own appointment as director-general of the WHO raised eyebrows after he was accused of participating in the cover-up of a cholera epidemic.

Then there’s Greece’s former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who received several accolades during his long political career – fine, fine – but was given one particularly perplexing award after Greece’s hugely unpopular bailout. Yup, the man who brought the IMF to Greece, publicly called his citizens “tax evaders” and who resigned after 73% negative scores in an opinion poll by Public Issue in 2011, received the Distinguished Leadership Award from the International Leadership Association (ILA) in 2017.

One better for you: India’s Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa (great initials) was honoured by India Today with the “Fastest Mover Award” in the Law and Order category. On receiving the award, Yeddyurappa responded: “It gives me immense satisfaction on being conferred the award, and it has elevated our morale in the field of law and order maintenance in the State.” Which would be just another dull politician’s thank-you speech, except this came from the same guy busted for helping his son score massive land deals that cost him his ministerial position and landed him in jail. Fast mover in the law and order arena, oh yes.

Oh, and remember the time Kim Jong-Un received an international peace prize? Yes, that happened. I’m not talking about the piles of North Korean awards he essentially gave himself, or the time he was given the “Sexiest Man Alive” title for jokes.

Grab yourself a vomit bag, because the Bali-based Sukarno Education Foundation saw fit to place Kim alongside the likes of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi and India’s Mahatma Gandhi in receiving a statesmanship award for his “peace, justice and humanity”. It’s not a blip on their radar, either, considering they gave the same award to his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, posthumously in 2001. You know, the guy whose birthday is still the most important holiday in North Korea, and whose reign was characterised by “brainwashing and horrific human rights abuses” and “frequent use of enforced disappearances and deadly prison camps to inflict fear and repress any voices challenging his rule”. Peaceful guy.

What’s going on? Did everybody have a bowl of crazy for breakfast? (Not you, though. I know you already choked on whatever you were eating when you read about the Nafupa award.) Why are people persisting in dishing out validation like this, when it’s already so difficult to convince certain individuals of their wrongdoing?

As for the recipients, I don’t even have words. Can these people even look at themselves in the mirror? That’s assuming, of course, that they still have a reflection. DM

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