Opinionista Evita Bezuidenhout 1 August 2018

Please let us work your land, Comrade gardener

Catering for official banquets and dinners is when people’s defences are down and so much of real story is muttered over lists of guests and confused introductions. I just love being among those political gods on the Olympus of power, serving my bobotie and koeksisters to the good and great, and realising how lucky we are to be South Africans.

Feeding the superstars of BRICS was a nightmare. The Brazil party wanted Banting, the Russians demanded that all their dishes first be tasted, the Chinese brought their own food, plates, toilet rolls and ENO’S fruit salts, while the Indians smothered my bobotie into a curried coma. Then a Zuma, who will remain nameless, hid in my Luthuli House kitchen because a certain Comrade Putin wanted his money back. What a week! It ended in the fifth birthday of the EFF. Those rowdy little five-year-olds were easier to feed with jelly babies and ice cream than the important adults round their tenth Summit table.

Catering for official banquets and dinners is when people’s defences are down and so much of real story is muttered over lists of guests and confused introductions. I just love being among those political gods on the Olympus of power, serving my bobotie and koeksisters to the good and great, and realising how lucky we are to be South Africans. No one in the world cares about what happens in our sphere of influence.

The recent visit to our democracy by former President Barack Obama filled me with emotion – sadness because Nelson Mandela wasn’t there to hear the speech celebrating his legacy, but also relieved that he was not there aged 100, wired up to whirling machines, bound by gargling tubes and incapable of saying “take me home and leave me alone!” The only ancient institution that seems to ignore its age of 107 years is the African National Congress and I’m still trying to find out what they are on to keep up with the rat race.

It was a joy and inspiration to just listen to Barack Obama speak and be reminded that, yes, there was once a president in the White House with a brain. Donald Trump is so many things to people from the left and the right, but the muddy footprints he leaves behind on the Oval Office carpet will frighteningly have to be filled by the next president who will have to choose: Follow The Donald over the cliff? Or dust the imprints of that African-American man who, against all expectations, entered the White House by the front door, only to be erased when he went.

Recently, sitting near Mrs Theresa May at her recent speech in Belfast (they wanted my bobotie as an alternative to the Tory bread and butter pudding) I could only admire this beleaguered British Prime Minister as she tried to spin the impossible into the ordinary. She had tried every texture, from the soft, through the medium to the hard, while dreaming of a full English Brexit. She must know that the whole caboodle is a mess, but how can she get away from ‘the will of people’? There was a majority vote to leave the EU; she has to stick to it. Nonsense. Reinvent and win. We did that after the freedom of Nelson Mandela when chalk had to become cheese.

Is there a political party in the UK with the courage to stand solidly for remaining in the European Union? The Conservatives are as confused as always. Labour are facing the wrong direction. The Social Democrats are a local Liberal Freedom Front Plus. Not being wedded to the negative, I did have a thought that I will share with you, but don’t tell anyone you heard it from me. What if Prince Charles, now 70 and still waiting in the wings as the future King, abdicates and steps out of the Royal Family, leaving his son William to become the monarch when the late Queen can only be seen on Netflix?

As “Charles Windsor”, he can form the much needed political party to stay in the EU and so protect the unity of the British Isles. Leaving the EU will encourage a disintegration of the union, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland going their own way. It all makes me so pleased to be a South African. We don’t have a Trump or that Brexit. We don’t have Putin or Kim or Assad. We just have Malema. Which brings me to the local issue of the moment: will the EFF expropriate my land without compensation?

That seems to be the big question round dinner tables that allows food to go cold as guests guzzle their third glass of wine, desperately trying to change the subject. This is not a new crisis of opinion. I remember so clearly how way back in the dark days of separate development, that question would come up at parties and around the braai. Would the blacks eventually rise up against us whites? Would our maid and gardener kill us and take our house? It always ended in forced laughter when someone made a feeble joke about letting them try to fight our army and police. We all knew that would solve the problem.

I even recall a strange conversation I had with my favourite kitchen supervisor, Cookie our cook. I said one morning while arranging the flowers, something I always insisted they leave for me to do: “Çookie? Tell me. When your revolution happens …” And we both giggled at that silly fantasy. “…. would you kill us and take our house?”

Cookie shook her head wisely. “I love you and your family. I even call myself Cookie Bezuidenhout.” I was so relieved and allowed her to drink tea out of one of our cups.

Oh Cookie, I never ever thought you would do something so terrible. To kill us and take away our land?”

She washed the cup carefully. “No,” she said, going back to polishing the silver, “You are so good to me. No, I will go down the road to where my cousin Beauty works for the Potgieter family. I don’t know them, and so I will kill them while Beauty, who doesn’t know you, can come and kill you.”

Goodness me, I remember how we laughed, me and liewe Cookie, at her wry wit.

On 27 April 1994 millions of South Africans queued up to vote for the very first time, and many voted many times. Cookie’s cousin, Beauty, didn’t need to kill me, because she became an ANC MP and my taxes bought her a house in Constantia, while Cookie, as we all know, became the South African Consul in Bangkok. Taking land without compensation is just the polite way for a handful of well-connected people to describe the theft of property. We saw it happening in Zimbabwe and it sent ripples of terror through many households south of the Zambesi. Now we see the present regime in Harare asking the deposed farmers to come back and help resurrect the farms.

As a member of the ANC, I of course support the President’s focus on the urgent redistribution of land. There is no question about that need, and while it was discussed at Codesa and at many other occasions during the last 24 years of majority rule, very little has happened – other than the nouveau noir’s annexation of properties and land for themselves as the new elite. The government owns more than enough fallow land that could be adapted for urban development. I also realise that most of the political talk today focuses on urgent issues just to cash in on the fact that the majority of voters who are poorer than ever before, would passionately support any party who will promise improve their lives.

The EFF knows this and is most prominent in their demand for land occupation and annexation, and encouraging the illegal setting-up of shacks on private property in order to get the headlines. Let us hope that this is not all happening only because of the 2019 general election, never to be heard of again after the event.

Seeing the many community meetings throughout the country is a good indication of the health of our democracy. So let the people contribute their opinions for and against. And if we listen and execute the will of the people carefully, your comrade gardener with his red beret won’t have to kill you for the land. He might even let you eventually work in his garden. DM

Evita Bezuidenhout will be airing her views in the company of among others, Mrs Theresa May and Chancellor Angela Merkel, in the Fugard Theatre Studio from 7 to 25 August in When in doubt say Darling presented by Pieter-Dirk Uys. Book online at thefugard.com or phone 021 461 4554

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