Our love will lead us astray
South Africa's collective crush on Cyril Ramaphosa shouldn't be a one-sided fling
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Doesn't love you.
I’m sorry. I am. I wish he felt about you the way you feel about him. But that's not how Valentine’s Day works.
I don't mean the cluster-bomb of weapons-grade schmaltz dropped on us every year by the Romantic-Industrial Complex. I mean the true Valentine’s Day: Anxiously rehearsed and shyly observed away from the noise of shops and the glare of cinemas, where brave adolescents offer their young hearts to another, and start learning what it means when someone is just not that into you.
No, in its purest form, Valentine’s Day is not a day for love and contentment. Instead, it is a stoic celebration of unreturned feelings; of being politely overlooked by the carrier of one’s hopes for happiness.
Which makes Cyril the ideal Valentine. Because right now all we know about him is that he’s split from Jacob’s gang and set up his own gang on the swings by the prefab, and he's smiling at us a little more often than he used to when he was still hanging around with Jacob. But the facts don’t matter. He’s smiling – OMG I THINK HE’S SMILING AT ME! – and it’s got us feeling all kinds of fluttery feelings in our tummies, and we think it might be love. Seriously. He might be the one.
I mean, yes, he didn’t help us when Jacob was being a total dick last term, and the term before that, and, well, ever since Grade 1, but it was complicated, see? Bullies are dangerous. You can’t just walk up to them and tell them to stop, especially if you need them to get you close enough to the swings by the prefab so you can set up your own gang. So I don’t blame him. In fact, I admire the long-term vision. Maybe it’s even genius. Oh God he's so perfect ...Which is why so many of us are doodling dreamily into our homework diaries, writing “CYRIL” over and over again in the margin and dotting the i with a heart, forgetting that 90 days ago we vowed never to touch anything ANC ever again.
Recently, I’ve been noticing this uncritical and completely unrequited love more often in South Africans’ dealings with their political crushes. Social media is moist with sighs, giggles and coos, with “Cyril”, “Mmusi” and “My CIC” all wooed with a sort of desperate longing that would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
Because, of course, it is sad. One-sided crushes always are. And there’s nothing more one-sided, more pathetically unrequited, than our love for politicians.
If you think I’m exaggerating about our collective crush, open a newspaper or a news website. The thousands upon thousands of words in front of you are proof of our desperate infatuation. We are obsessed with politicians: talking about them endlessly, reading about them compulsively. We have entire relationships with them – “Oh he’s a wonderful man, so genuine and brave!” – without them even knowing our name.
Are we fools? Perhaps not. If we can extrapolate from the work of primatologists, our fatal attraction to power might not be anything we can control, a weakness inherited from our ancient simian ancestors to which we (and our current simian relatives) remain hopelessly vulnerable.
A variety of recent popular science books have revealed the fantastically “human” politicking carried out by male chimpanzees trying to boost their status in the troop (we would call it “running for office”): forming alliances, deceiving, manipulating and, when the female vote is needed, kissing baby chimps. And, just as in human politics, the hard sell seems to pay off: chimps that a few days earlier were cowering in fear or seething with resentment suddenly agree that Mr Baby-Kisser is pretty presidential after all.
I enjoy these parallels because they strip politics of much of its pomposity. For example, next time the G7 leaders gather for one of those group photos, all earnestly heroic, just remember that they are great apes doing what great apes do when they want all the bananas. And when Donald Trump climbs up into the digital canopy and whoops angrily into the darkness, consider that his ambitions are simply to “Make Apes Great Again”.
The downside, though, is that it suggests our infatuation is not going to fade any time soon. Which is a pity, because when we’re hopelessly and mindlessly in love, we can end up doing some pretty stupid things, like believing that a smile is a promise, and forgetting that love is a two-way relationship.
Perhaps, in the end, our Valentine’s letter to our leaders shouldn’t simply be a declaration but a demand:
“Thanks for your letter saying you love me 4 eva. It was sweet and you’re funny.
“Just one thing, though: if you love me, don’t tell me.
“XXX from the people you work for.”