Lies are the lie of the land in SA
They're all the same, these purveyors of endless fibs for the purposes of power
On Sunday evening, Jeff Radebe told eNCA that there is no deal with Russia to build nuclear power stations in South Africa. I imagine that moments later, wild celebrations broke out all over the Kremlin, with Vladimir Putin sending a case of caviar to the head office of Rosatom with a handwritten note wishing staff a safe flight to Waterkloof.
After all, this is the same Jeff Radebe who told us that the Seriti Commission wasn’t a whitewash of the Arms Deal. The same Jeff Radebe who explained that the renovations at Nkandla were totes legit. The same Jeff Radebe who told Jacob Zuma it was a great idea to make Menzi Simelane the head of the National Prosecuting Authority – an appointment described by the Supreme Court of Appeal as “irrational” and “unconstitutional”.
Yes, Jeff has a said a lot of things over the years, like in 2014 when he told us that Zuma would complete his second term as president, or like in 2015 when he stood up to defend the Gangster-in-Chief against a vote of no confidence, citing the R1-trillion the Zuma administration had spent on infrastructure. OK, yes, quite a lot of that was spent on firepools and Gupta trains that didn’t fit on our rails and dairy farms in the Free State and keeping the Saxonwold armoured personal carrier oiled, but it’s all infrastructure, right?
At the end of his passionate defence – few politicians have sung as sweetly for their supper as our Jeff – he told the opposition to calm down about the prospect of removing Zuma.
“At the end of this debate, after much noise from the opposition, as sure as the sun will rise from the east, President Zuma will be the president,” he said.
Since that day I’ve double-checked every morning to make sure that the sun has, in fact, risen in the east. Because when Jeff says it’s a sure thing, you know it’s not. Not even close.Hence the likely celebrations in Moscow: now that Jeff has told us there is no deal with Russia, you’d be forgiven for believing as gospel that there is a deal with Russia, or will be in the near future, or at least the bits of a deal that will still see important people get paid.
This isn’t pure paranoid speculation. It’s no secret that this government remains keen on nuclear power. In Sunday’s interview, Jeff almost glowed in the dark with enthusiasm as he outlined his dream of South Africa supplying nuclear medicine to the rest of Africa. (Nuclear medicine, is, of course, radiation and so on, not the radioactive suppositories Putin makes you insert when you renege on your deals with him.) It seems fair to suggest that, at some stage in the future, South Africa will hire somebody to build us another nuclear power station. Which country’s nuclear industry is most likely to win the tender? Well, that is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma …
The bottom line, however, is that we just don’t know. And how can we, when we are led by a government that seems pathologically unable to tell the truth?
This isn’t unique to South Africa, of course. To become a successful politician you need intelligence, fantastically thick skin and a predator’s instinct for identifying weakness. But to survive as a successful politician you need something more: the ability to compromise on literally anything. You must be able to swing with the prevailing electoral breeze, unencumbered by baggage like non-negotiable beliefs.
It’s how Julius Malema was happy to become a colleague of Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the last leader of apartheid’s ruling party. (In 2014, Malema told parliament that the sight of Kortbroek on the ANC benches had helped galvanise him into forming the EFF, but oddly enough it didn’t seem to weaken his resolve to become ANC Youth League president first.)
It’s how the DA could actively court the white supremacists left politically homeless by the end of Van Schalkwyk’s NNP (the DA would offer independent opposition, wrote Helen Zille in 2005, “and we invite all former NNP voters to join us in this endeavour”) but, a few years later, claim the legacy of Nelson Mandela as its own.
And it’s how Jeff Radebe is still in government, telling us that the deal that wasn’t on is now off, until it’s on again.Like most South Africans, I don’t have the information required to tell politicians’ barefaced lies from mere fibs or mild manipulations. Like most South Africans, I no longer have the energy to try.
Which is why, these days, I’m sticking to a basic rule of thumb. It’s crude, but I think it works.
It is, simply, this: if you have ever publically defended Jacob Zuma or his enablers, or tried to ally yourself with white supremacists, and you are currently in parliament, and your mouth is moving, I’m going to assume that you are lying.
More importantly, I’m going to assume that you do not have the best interests of this country at heart. I don’t know whose interests you are serving. It doesn’t really matter. All I know is, I trust you about as much as a Jeff Radebe denial, a Julius Malema vow about who he will or won’t work with, or a Mmusi Maimane opinion on leadership.
Oh, and just in case: congrats to the Comrades over at Rosatom. Don’t spend it all in one place.