Watch him flee, off into the far blue yonder

Ideas

Watch him flee, off into the far blue yonder

Tom Eaton once watched Zuma's cavalcades in anger. Now he watches them in sorrow

Columnist

Four years ago I wrote a column about watching a convoy of black, bullet-proof, blue-light-flashing cars race into Cape Town, “bunched together like a phalanx of obese dung beetles jealously guarding a piece of shit somewhere in their midst”.
It was a comical image but the column was angry and somewhat bleak. Power, I suggested, has always enjoyed the petty pleasure of hogging the road. Whether they are ancient priests, revolutionary generalissimos or modern kleptocrats, there is a certain kind of bad leader whose limited intellect and neglected inner child demand a parade of expensive vehicles that will bring everything else to a stop. And four years ago, Jacob Zuma was the man bringing everything to a stop.On Wednesday evening I found myself behind the dung beetles again.
It was the same formation as last time: an urgent huddle of SUVs and shark-like sedans; a van bringing up the rear and, presumably, the heavy artillery. The blue lights sparkled like before. It was even the same stretch of road as last time.
But on Wednesday evening there was one fundamental difference.
In 2014, they’d been arriving. Now, they were leaving.
No, not leaving. Fleeing.
You could see it in their haste, the way they dived into corners and slunk out of them; how the van at the rear scrambled to catch up; how they anxiously muscled their way past motorists.Because, of course, that last bit wasn’t supposed to be happening. They should have been cruising through a city in lockdown, its streets still choked as a dress-rehearsal for the State of the Nation address the following day. They should have been gliding into an evening of self-congratulation, looking forward to the morning’s display of automotive kragdadigheid when they could sweep into a city paralysed for their pleasure.
But they weren’t, because it had all fallen into chaos and doubt. And now they were having to share the highway with other cars. Almost as if they were ordinary people.
The highway dropped towards its last clear bend, and there, waiting for all of us, was the tail-end of rush hour on Hospital Bend; four lanes of radiator-melting inertia.The convoy plunged in, hooting, bleeping, whooping, and motorists began to move out of the way. But it wasn’t the same.
It wasn’t kragdadig. It wasn’t even impressively antisocial. It was just a prick in a bulletproof car, being an arsehole on a public road.
I noticed that I didn’t feel angry. As the dung beetles reached the bottom of the hill and headed away towards the Newlands off-ramp and the presidential estate, all I felt was a sort of sad contempt for that millennia-old scene: a disgraced and despised man trying to avoid the people he has stolen from and lied to, hurrying into the night towards the temporary safety of his palace.

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