Take your nickname to heart, President Cupcake
Think of it as the cherry on top, Cyril
So former President Zuma resigned just an hour before midnight on Valentine’s Day, precisely like a man with five wives who has lost track of the days and realised almost too late what trouble he’s in and has gone scrambling to the Shell Shop for his Valentine’s Day gifts, managing to hand them over with only minutes to spare. There were times during the speech when I was convinced he actually had two speeches – one resigning, one defiant – and had randomly shuffled the pages into each other like some kind of impish performance artist.
Happily it ended on the right page. “We’ll meet somewhere,” he said, which is either an incredibly lame anticlimax or a darkly sinister promise or an uncharacteristic effort to remember the lyrics to a Vera Lynn song from World War 2. He went chuckling off stage left and just like that we were left with President Cupcake.Nicknames are difficult things, especially for the one being nicknamed. You can’t make them happen, and once you have them they’re difficult to change. George Costanza on Seinfeld decided he should be called T-Bone by the fellows at work, so took every opportunity around the office to declare how much he liked eating T-Bones. This is not a good way to be known as T-Bone; this is a good way to be known as the guy who wants to be known as T-Bone, which is an altogether sadder thing.
I’m sure in time there’ll be others, but right now Cyril Ramaphosa has two nicknames in the ether – Buffalo and Cupcake – and I doubt he much likes either. Buffalo, currently favoured by the EFF, sounds nobler but is probably more aggressive, designed to try remind us that Cyril is a fatcat who bid more than R18-million for a buffalo cow and her calf at an auction in 2012, shortly after Marikana. Cupcake was the alleged term of endearment allegedly used by one of his alleged girlfriends in the allegedly sexy alleged e-mail leaked last year by the alleged newspaper the Sunday Independent.In retrospect, that e-mail should have been a warning to Zuma and his orcs. For most men being called Cupcake would have all the aphrodisiac effect of a crying baby. Any fellow who can still seek sexy times despite being called Cupcake right to his face is clearly a soldier of greater subtlety, strategy and singlemindedness than your average adversary.
In my university residence almost everyone had a nickname, but not all nicknames had clear origins. Howard Donninger was called Bart because he looked like a Bart. Bart Simpson? No, just a Bart. My friend Chunko is called Chunko because his sister once wrote him a letter from home addressed, for no good reason, to “El Chunko”. Someone, poking through the pigeonholes, chanced to read it. I can’t remember Chunko’s real name – I assume his wife does, but that’s only because she met him after he left university.
It’s unclear whether Chunko minded being called Chunko, but in a men’s residence that doesn’t matter. The surest way to keep a nickname you don’t like is to let people know you don’t like it. There was a guy called Foxcroft who came from Port Elizabeth, or maybe it was East London. Normally nicknames arise organically, almost invisibly, but this one was consciously fabricated one bored afternoon in the common room in study week when everyone was just sitting around because otherwise they’d have to be studying.
Someone, maybe Browsie, cast an idle eye at Foxcroft and said that since he came from the Eastern Cape he should be called Skom. Deliberate efforts to coin a nickname seldom stick but Foxcroft, being from the Eastern Cape, didn’t have the wit to realise that. In an early instance of the Streisand Effect, he moved swiftly to stamp this out.
“I’m not Skom,” said Foxcroft.
“Yes, you are,” said Browsie.
“No one will call me Skom,” said Foxcroft.
“Yes, they will,” said Browsie.
“You wanna bet?” said Skom.
I was always secretly sorrowful that I never had a nickname at residence.I like to persuade myself that this was a mark of people’s respect for my slightly aloof qualities of solemnity and dignity, as though I were a kind of homespun Thabo Mbeki, without the cardigan, but really I know this was a sign of never being taken to anyone’s heart. When a group of people gives you a nickname, it means they recognise you as part of the collective, as a woof or warp in the tapestry. It doesn’t necessarily mean they like you, but even a villain of a piece is still a part of the piece.
As far as nicknames go, “President” is a pretty good one, but President Cupcake is the cherry on top.