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Opinionista

The news cycle really is just that – the same merry-go-round with a different cast of characters

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The only difference is that last week, or last month, it was Ace Magashule, the week before that it was Jacob Zuma, the week before that it was Brian Molefe, and before that it was probably Tom Moyane. Next week it will be Zuma (again) or Dudu Myeni.

Last Sunday I had a long-distance video call with a cousin who works abroad. There was the usual family and football banter, and we touched on “investment” in cryptocurrency. I had a slight interest in Bitcoin (in my league, R500 disposable income is a fortune that needs to be treasured – or invested for when I keel over). After the football banter – he’s a Liverpool fan and I support the greatest club in North London; not the one with the empty trophy cabinet – we switched to “serious” stuff.

“So,” he asked, “what’s the latest news in South Africa? What’s going on?” Fool that he is, he figured I would be in the know. 

“Nothing,” I replied. “Nothing new, that is.” I explained that everything he read last week, and the week before, or six months ago, a year ago, was still in the news. It’s a tired old phrase, but it never loses its force: the more things change, the more they stay the same. The only difference is that last week, or last month it was Ace Magashule, the week before that it was Jacob Zuma, the week before that it was Brian Molefe, and before that it was probably Tom Moyane. Next week it will be Zuma (again) or Dudu Myeni. It’s like a massive stage play, with an alternating cast.  

I was more or less right. I had not started reading the Sunday papers so I was unaware of the Sunday Times piece “Lifestyles of rich, shameless: inquiry hears Gigaba ‘had more than 200 suits’ ”. I told my cousin that the news cycle was still about corruption, crime, cronyism, nepotism, prebendalism, lack of service delivery, pit latrines in schools, violence against women and children, and load shedding; that whites are evil, blacks are corrupt; blacks are innocent and whites are guilty; blacks are victims and whites are villains; whites “worked hard for their possessions”, while blacks wait for handouts and entitlements…. It’s always the same. We’re still fighting over who was more persecuted, and where on the sliding scale of pecuniary gain the different races should be placed to make up for past injustices. 

All this time, the Democratic Alliance with its umbilical relationship with the Institute of Race Relations (yes, Race Relations), still doesn’t see race. Oh, and Helen Zille found a hammer – the hammer’s handle is critical race theory and the hammer head is Wokeness – and everything has become a nail. I explained that the DA was leaking a black substance, and has resorted to sophomoric video-marketing strategies (about which Jonathan Swift, were he still around, may have remarked, they “made my flesh creep with a horror I cannot express”), and John Steenhuisen wanted change (probably for a parking meter, or something).

That, I added, was about it. The news cycle is really just that; the same things go round and round. You can spend several days and nights in bed with the blinds shut, wake up and go out into the fynbos, and you’ve missed nothing. It’s a bit like everyone in the country obsessing over, and thinking about the same things, but for different reasons. By the time I got to the report on the latest in the Gigaba Saga, the screwings and the doings of the couple known as Norma Mngoma and Malusi Gigaba, a little bile crept up into the back of my mouth.

On the rich and shameless, and why I will always be idealistic

Over the last few days, Daily Maverick published a tabulation of the amount of money that was lost to State Capture. We have lost a lot of money – R49,157,323,233.68 just to the Guptas, by one count. The numbers are astronomical – there is no hyperbole in saying that. 

Two things that hit me this week, on the back of some fellow telling me that “non-African blacks” fall upward (during the month that I earned about R8,000), were Malusi Gigaba’s 200 suits, and the reported claim by his estranged wife, Norma Mngoma, that there was “nothing in her life [that she] can do with R3,000”. We are obliged to insert the customary “maybe she was reported out of context”, and maybe Gigaba’s suit count is “a fiction” or “false news”. 

I cannot, however, wrap my head around the wealth that politicians and public servants accumulate. It really lies beyond the limits of my comprehension. As an idealist (not the romantic revolutionary type), I have this unflinching belief that public servants and elected officials should be humble, decent people with high, and unadulterated (not sure if that’s the right word) ethical values. And, if you do have a taste for the finer things in life, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself. This is especially important in a country with high levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, homelessness and overcrowded informal settlements. It’s also important just in general (to keep the twat-meter low). It makes you wonder what Gigaba sees when he looks in the mirror. 

Then there is Norma Mngoma. Norma, Norma, Norma. Do you know that there are people, entire families in South Africa who have to live on social grants of less than R2,000 a month? Do you know that the domestic worker who travels from Soweto to Rosebank spends up to R40 a day on taxi fare (while putting her life at risk)? It’s always problematic to generalise from personal experience, but do you know, Norma, that I can put food on the table for two months with R3,000 – and that that makes up about 25% of my monthly income? I imagine Norma is more in the R49,157,323,233.68 range of what she can do in her life. Malusi reportedly asked his wife not to spend more than R100,000 with the credit card he gave her. That, I am almost 100% certain, is more than the monthly income (after tax) of almost every public servant, and more than (I imagine) 80% of the population.

There is another issue, for which there is no limit to schadenfreude. What skills do Norma and Malusi have? I’m sure they’re highly qualified, but who dares to employ them? And, when the Zondo Commission is allowed to conclude its work, and the National Prosecuting Authority steps in to start rounding up the villains, where will the defence money come from?

There’s a Latin phrase that sounds more polite than the English version: Semper in excretia, sumus solim profundum variat. (We’re always in the shit, only the depth varies). On that note, I ended our Zoom call, and turned to earning my Norma (R3,000). As for cryptocurrency, R500 is a lot of money, it’s enough to feed me for a week. Imagine what I can do with a Norma. DM

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