Monday, January 5, 2009



Sunday Times
Johannesburg, South Africa
By Fred Khumalo
Jan 04, 2009

‘When Zuma wins the court cases against you newspaper people, we will celebrate’
‘Mugabe is a good teacher of what Albert Camus would have called The Absurd’

Without any singing of it, as Alan Paton would have said, South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world — the people, the weather, the scenery and, of course, the politics. Especially the politics.

The splendour of the country is much in evidence during the month of December when people, most of whom don’t have to wake up early and head off to work, are in a jovial and relaxed mood.

Those of us who have families spread all over the country are lucky in that we get to visit our relatives during this month and are in the process showered with the richness of this country.

I was lucky to spend Christmas day in three different cities, thanks to that invention by the Wright brothers, the airplane. I had my breakfast in Johannesburg, enjoyed my first piece of braaied meat for the festive season with my parents in Durban and had oodles more meat later that day with my in-laws in Cape Town, where two sheep had been slaughtered for a traditional ceremony.

Apart from the beauty of the people and the traditional beer that followed me from Durban to the Cape, this loveliness expressed itself in their sense of humour and tenacious engagement with the future of the country.

No sooner had I told my parents that I wouldn’t be spending the rest of Christmas day with them, than a whole troop of neighbours was summoned to our yard to welcome the Son From Johannesburg, yes, him of the arrogant newspapers, to answer a few questions about where the country was going. Now, I am not a sangoma, and I work for newspaper that has the audacity to show The Leader with a shower head, but they come to me for answers about the state of the nation. I danced around the question, and instead started a traditional song. The group soon picked it up, we started singing rowdily. But no singing is complete in KwaZulu-Natal without someone invoking the machine gun. Inevitably, when the singing stopped, and we sat around the fire and turned those steaks around so they can be browned properly — someone had to revive the topic: “Real men don’t eat meat that’s overcooked, ask real men like Zuma.” Sigh.

“When Zuma wins those court cases against you disrespectful newspaper people, we will celebrate and have loads of meat,” someone said. Sigh!

I grew up in a culture where meat, traditional beer, women, soccer and a bit of fighting were favourite topics among our menfolk. Now, Zuma has taken precedence over all of the above. Amazing stuff.

So, off I jetted to Cape Town where I thought I would experience some respite from politics. It was not to be. Even in Cape Town, as we sat around eating meat and talking about issues of nationhood, ranging from why our men were shirking responsibilities as heads of their families to why our children were obsessed with TV at the expense of books, the topic magically veered off to Zuma. Is he going to be our president; if not, why not? What can we expect of his leadership?

When someone pointed out that our president was in fact Kgalema Motlanthe, there was momentary silence and all eyes turned to the speaker, and the stares seemed to suggest that he was demented. Even though I wanted to echo the speaker’s sentiments, I decided to shut up and allow the discussion — such as it was — to follow its natural course. And the tenor of the discussion was how the powers that be were out to get Zuma. Cope, they said, was a creation by the West to distract The People from their project of bringing true liberation to The Masses. There were conspiracy theories galore, so much so that I thought to myself: Aha, Mugabe is a good teacher in the school of what Albert Camus would have called The Absurd.

Tomorrow I fly to France, where I will be lecturing and writing for a month and a bit at one of the artistic institutions there. As I pack , my heart is suffused with the hope that this year will be politically saner than the year that was dominated by The One Who Was Dropped On His Head When He Was Young. Let’s think with our heads, and not with our hearts.

For what it’s worth, let’s take a leaf from Zuma’s book — sing and dance through our difficulties and challenges. After all, Zuma takes his lead from none other than Nietzsche, who exhorted his fellow existentialists: “Il faut danser la vie” — life should be danced. Without any singing of it, this country is wonderful, and this year let’s build on that beauty.