Jolted awake by Patrice, Cyril zooms in on the billion-rand question
When Elephant One checks in with his brother-in-law, he can’t help bringing up the two bil from Stellenbosch
As Cyril Ramaphosa assumed his most commanding expression and waited for the call to start, he had to admit that he hadn’t had the ideal introduction to the video conferencing platform. Two days earlier, Patrice Motsepe, his brother-in-law, had asked him when he was going to try Zoom, and Ramaphosa had thought he’d said Zuma, and he’d spent five minutes explaining that he didn’t know when, exactly, he was going to try Zuma, because there were complex legal and political repercussions for doing so.
Now, however, all the wrinkles had been ironed out, except, he noted, for those on his face. Tonight he would try to get three hours of sleep instead of two. Now, it was important to check in with the family. But later ... Hmmm. Three hours. Three whole ...
He was jolted awake by Motsepe’s voice.
“Nothing!” shouted Ramaphosa. “Just resting my eyes!”
“You were snoring.”
“Clearing my throat.” He coughed for emphasis, and immediately regretted it as his secret service detail kicked open the door, the lead agent yelling into his sleeve: “Elephant One is coughing! I repeat, Elephant One is coughing!”
“Guys, I’m fine!”
“Elephant One claims to be asymptomatic!” yelled the agent. “Initiating evacuation and isolation!”
Motsepe leaned in close. His face filled the screen. Damn, he looked good for his age. He was probably getting four or even five hours a night. Bastard.
“I was just clearing my throat!”
“Elephant One suggesting he has upper respiratory tract blockage requiring immediate clearance!” yelled the agent.
Ramaphosa sighed and pulled the lever under his desk that opened the large trapdoor in the middle of the floor. The three agents dropped out of sight with a faintly disbelieving scream.
“Apologies, Patrice,” he said. “So. How’s everyone?”
“Ag,” shrugged Motsepe. “You know. Same same. The kids are bouncing off the walls a bit.”
“It’s tough, this lockdown.”
“No,” said Motsepe. “They’re literally bouncing off the walls. We have an antigravity room.”
Ramaphosa sniffed and toyed with a paperclip. “Must have cost a bit.”
Motsepe narrowed his eyes. “Don’t. Just don’t.”
“I’m just saying ... ”
“All I’m saying is ... ”
“Yes, it is,” snapped Motsepe. “It’s literally all you’ve said, every day for a week, every time we’ve spoken.”
“Well, if you’d just done the right thing I wouldn’t have had to have said it.”
Motsepe leaned in close. His face filled the screen. Damn, he looked good for his age. He was probably getting four or even five hours a night. Bastard. “Matamela,” he said. “I gave your fund a billion rand. A billion.”
“You did,” said Ramaphosa. “You definitely did. And I’m sure you had your reasons for only doing it a week after the Ruperts and Oppenheimers.”
Motsepe raised a finger but Ramaphosa cut him short. “All I’m saying,” said Ramaphosa, “is it was a bit embarrassing. I launch a big fund, the Stellenbosch crew peels off two bil, but my own brother in law takes a week to ... ”
“Do you know how difficult it is to access a billion rand at short notice?” said Motsepe.
“Isn’t it just retinal scans these days?”
“Oh sure!” snorted Motsepe. “Let’s all just press our eyeballs straight into a puddle of coronavirus, why don’t we?”
“Look,” said Ramaphosa, “I don’t want to turn this into a huge thing. I was just calling to say hi.”
“So ... hi.”
There was a long silence.
“It just looked bad,” said Ramaphosa softly.
Motsepe flung himself back in his chair and slapped his hands over his eyes. “Do you know how much money Oppenheimer and Rupert have?” he yelled.
“It’s not a competition, Patrice, I just felt ... ”
Those guys give away a billion, it comes out of their current account. I give away a billion, and next thing I’ve got almost as little money as you!
“R120bn! That’s Oppenheimer. Rupert is around R90bn. And do you know how much I’m worth?”
“Well, you don’t have to go all Trump,” muttered Ramaphosa. “I’m sure you’re ... ”
“R25bn!” shouted Motsepe. “Those guys give away a billion, it comes out of their current account. I give away a billion, and next thing I’ve got almost as little money as you!”
Ramaphosa swallowed hard. “That ... that was way harsh, Patrice.”
There was another long pause.
“Sorry,” Motsepe said again. “So. The ... the family’s all good?”
“So ... ”
Ramaphosa sighed. “I should probably go and let the secret service guys out of the basement.”
“Love to the family,” said Ramaphosa. Motsepe nodded curtly and hung up the call. Ramaphosa’s screen went dark.
He took a long breath in, and let it out in a shuddering sigh. He was asleep before it ended.