I was very impressed with Tim’s take on the news a couple of weeks ago, and thought I should do something similar on the South African scene. I do have a problem, however. I’m enough of a snob to get most of my news from the New York Times, where it’s well written and has an international perspective, rather than from the local newspapers, which tend to be in the league of the Oshkosh Observer, and believe that good writing means that a sentence often contains a verb. So my local news tends to come from spotting newspaper headline posters as I drive to work. Some of them make no sense to me whatsoever. I presume a headline like VAN DER SPUY EXCELS has something to do with a sport in which South Africa is a world leader. Biltong eating competitions or disabled swimming would do it. (Actually we’re pretty good at abled swimming too.) Or SWEDE VICTORY FOR STENSON which I guess has something to do with growing vegetables. However, some of the others make perfect sense to me and I thought I’d share a few of those with you.
Last week I saw: ZUMA INSULT LAW MOOTED. Now I have to say I’m opposed to this. While there is plenty to insult Zuma about – infidelities, enough wives for a hotel and enough children for their own school, various rumors of improprieties of the financial kind, and a quaint attitude to AIDS – I think that the man has been insulted enough. He is after all the president of our country. Why should we be compelled to insult him? Following his rather charming comment that he didn’t mind having unprotected sex with an HIV positive lady – make that woman – because he had a good shower afterwards, he never appears in cartoons other than with a shower head halo, with the pipe uncomfortably stuck down his backbone. Surely this insult should keep him going for some time? (He considered it significant enough to sue Zapiro, the cartoonist, and the newspaper concerned, but recently withdrew the suit. I had the pleasure of sitting at the next table while the newspaper celebrated this triumph with good food and wine.) Furthermore, how is this law to be enforced? Will Zuma police knock on your door in the middle of the night and demand an off-the-cuff insult?
We already have a variety of laws which are good in principle but impossible to implement in practice. For example, you are not allowed to use a cell phone while driving. Yet people do this all the time and even use smart phones to watch Youtube clips while casting occasional glances at the traffic. No prizes for guessing what sort of clip appeals.
Yet this was followed the next day by an even more surprising revelation. I can’t wait for the NYT to give us the details: I’VE BEEN PAINTED BLACK – ZUMA. Now this is a biggie. We’ve always been rather proud of the fact that we had a black president here before it became so fashionable to do so, and no one has ever suggested that Mandela is anything but black. But it seems Zuma is actually only colored black. Come to think of it, he looks pretty white in those cartoons...
This is amazing news, and suggests that all the black economic empowerment contracts which have gone to members of his family need to be withdrawn. Perhaps some of them are black, but are they black enough if he isn’t? He was already struggling to get re-election as ANC president next month. I suspect this may be the last nail in the coffin. I don’t think South Africa is ready just yet for a president who has come out of the color closet.
Moving off politics, the Star newspaper has a supplement called VERVE directed at women. It, too, trumpets headlines along the lamp poles as I drive to the university. On the same day we were threatened with compulsory insulting, Verve announced: MEN – SIZE DOES MATTER. Now this one I understood at once. Clearly they are referring to the new cell phones. As they get smarter (in inverse proportion to our ability to use them), they also sport larger screens. With the Ipad, at least Apple doesn't pretend it's a phone. Samsung has a phone about the same size. This makes you look a total idiot if you get a call – rather similar to walking around holding a dinner plate to your head. You have to shout so that your voice reaches the mike. (That’s no problem; people always seem to shout at cell phones.) Alternatively, of course, you can use Bluetooth with Ice Cream Sunday or Gingerbread or some other variety of dessert and wander around looking like Mr. Spock. So why was this article directed at MEN specifically? Presumably your girl is impressed if you can hold the phone up to your head long enough to make a date. Keep working on those biceps, guys.
My final offering is from Verve the next day. This time it proclaimed: THE RETURN OF CHEST HAIR. I didn’t even know it had left. Hopefully this one also refers to men! Or maybe there’s a new South African pop group out there – just back from abroad – that I’ve never heard of. I’ll keep you posted.
Michael – Thursday.