There was a lovely story doing the rounds this week. A report appeared in a few of our local papers saying that our neighbours, Swaziland, had enacted a new law making it a criminal offence for witches to fly their brooms at a height of over 150 metres. Should they do so, they could get arrested and fined up to R500 000.
It seems crazy at first. It isn’t. The law was announced by Civil Aviation Authority marketing and corporate affairs director Sabelo Dlamini. It is not some arbitrary assault on the rights of free flying witches. The law has been enacted for the protection of the country’s airspace. It also prohibits people flying radio controlled helicopters or children’s kites at 150 metres. See. It’s all very sensible. And fair. Witches are free to do whatever they please below the magical 150 metre cut off point. It might be prudent of them to get their broomsticks kitted out with altimeters though.
This reminded me of a report that did the rounds a good few years back. I’m just going to cut and paste it, because it’s worth reading;
“The situation is absolutely under control,” Transport Minister Ephraem Magagula told the Swaziland Parliament in Mbabane. “Our nation’s merchant navy is perfectly safe. We just don’t know where it is, that’s all.” Replying to an MP’s question, Minister Magagula admitted that the landlocked country had completely lost track of its only ship, the Swazimar: “We believe it is in a sea somewhere. At one time, we sent a team of men to look for it, but there was a problem with drink and they failed to find it, and so, technically, yes, we’ve lost it a bit. But I categorically reject all suggestions of incompetence on the part of this government. The Swazimar is a big ship painted in the sort of nice bright colours you can see at night. Mark my words, it will turn up. The right honourable gentleman opposite is a very naughty man, and he will laugh on the other side of his face when my ship comes in.”
Funny, isn’t it? Here’s another funny thing. This is what a Swazi broom looks like;
Notice something missing? Like somewhere to sit, maybe? African witches don’t fly around on brooms. Swaziland does not have, and never has had, a navy. These stories are complete fabrications. The papers that print them do so with a bit of plausible deniability built in. The paper I read the witch story in started with the phrase “according to a report”. Which report? From where?
But print them they do. They are too funny to pass up. But they come from a pretty dodgy place. And they are there for a pretty dodgy reason. One of the apartheid government’s stock defences of the all-white government in South Africa was that black people were not yet ready to govern themselves. They were like children. Sweet and funny, and oh so cute when they acted all grown up, but only a madman would put them in charge of a country.
Why am I telling you this? I want to write a little bit about South African politics this week. Some of the stories I am going to tell you may sound like they are coming from the same place as these stories. They aren’t. The leaders of my country aren’t children. They aren’t stupid. Those at the top are very smart indeed. Probably smarter than yours.
Democracy doesn’t always work the same way. Here in South Africa, we don’t vote for people. We vote for a party. And those parties choose the people who will lead us. You don’t get to the top in a system like that by shaking hands and kissing babies. You get there by playing god’s own version of Survivor. You make alliances. You betray them. You gather influence. You serve the rich and powerful at the same time as you court the masses. Your political life is spent playing a game that makes chess look like tic-tac-toe. It’s not a game that can be won by fools.
The rules of the game are different to those in other places. You don’t lose if you don’t do your job properly. You don’t lose when you are caught having an affair. You don’t even lose if you are caught with your hands in the till. You lose if you fail to read the subtle ebb and flow of power and influence. You lose if you back the wrong horse. You lose if you step on the wrong toes.
Relax. Take a deep breath. Now exhale. I’m not about to become a political commentator. My blog isn’t going to suddenly fill up with tales of political intrigue and social injustice. Those stories are out there. You can follow them up if you wish. They will make you sad. I’m going to tell you the fun stuff. A system like ours has some fairly bizarre consequences. Those are the stories I will tell you this week.
I will tell you about the Minister of Education’s panties. I will tell you about the President’s naked portrait, “The Spear”. I might tell you about the State Security Minister’s wife, who was convicted of drug smuggling. I might share with you the bizarre saga of the open air toilets, or the tale of the communist with the million rand car.
But first, I will tell you about our President. Once you’ve met him, everything else I tell you will make sense. Or, at the very least, you will realise that nothing here makes sense.