I have been doing a fair amount of research to re-orient me with the South African zeitgeist. Apparently you don’t read that much, but I am taking the liberty of updating you on this impoverished wretch-in-exile’s progress.
I came across one Dina Pule the other day for the first time. You do remember her, don’t you? The one you fired only recently for having too much fun with the SABC where, I am told, laughter – along with truth – is in short supply.
Being something of a fashionista, what really caught my attention was the fact that it was Dina’s Louboutins that caused her to topple from grace. You don’t have to have read any Shakespeare to concur that this is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions (“Is this a pair of Louboutins I see before me?”). Poor Dina metaphorically stepped into the political proverbial with those fab red pumps.
While I was thinking about the significance of Dina’s heels, about using them as a literary device to contemplate upon morality, greed, the 11th Commandment etc, lo, a few google clicks later, I came across this picture of you, all skins and sweat – and white tekkies. And it occurred me that those tekkies were perhaps an even more profound metaphor for life’s lessons than Dina’s Louboutins.
You see, Mr President, what struck me was the incongruity of you wearing those tekkies in your full tribal dance mode. They showed you up as being, well, a warrior with soft soles. An ersatz warrior.
Now I remember so clearly those rousing childhood tales of bare-footed Zulu impis on forced-marches across a veld of sharp stones and thorns to toughen them up. This mythology runs deep in a schoolgirl’s veins. So when I saw that photo of you in your skins and tekkies, despair washed over me like gray ink. A faux warrior was not the symbol I was hoping for.
Had you instead been wearing Dina’s red Louboutins, I think my mood would have been more sanguine. It would have, at the very least, demonstrated a broadmindedness about gender stereotypes and perhaps even tempered some of that frightful gay-bashing you occasionally fall into after a Black Label or two with Jon Qwelane.
But like you, Mr President, I too am a conservative. I love tradition. One of the most vivid and treasured memories I have is attending a Shaka Day Memorial at the invitation of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi more than a decade ago.
I had flown out from London where there was a damaged El Greco sky, grey and low, into the klieg bright, clear light of Africa. The sight of thousands of Zulus in tribal outfit transported me into an ancient world. A world of mystery and dignity and strange ceremony.
Under the huge cerulean bowl of the sky, the praise singers chanted.
He is Shaka the unshakeable,
son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness
He is the long-strided pursuer
son of Ndaba
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown …
Their voices could bring bodies up from deep waters.
I danced alongside these warriors and was so proud. For a few hours I became part of the dreamweb of the Zulu nation. I felt among a great and noble people.
Recently I watched a documentary on the ten greatest military strategists of all time. Shaka ranked up there with Attatturk and Napoleon. Shaka is without doubt the greatest commander to come out of Africa (yes, I know that a few deluded Trotskyists think it was Ronnie Kasrils, but they have no material sense of history, do they?)
I can’t help thinking that the Zulu nation under Shaka was like ancient Sparta, or the Samurai. They had warrior mindsets, tight discipline and rigid codes of honour.
Spartans, history tells us, looked down on the Greeks whom they thought to be self-indulgent and hedonistic. It pains me to say this, Mr President, but I fear there are many who look upon you in the same way. They see a leader without self-discipline, a leader with insatiable appetities. They see a leader mocking the spirit of the Zulu warrior, sapping the energy and vitality of the entire nation. In short, a leader with soft feet.
Now I understand you have impressive struggle credentials. I also understand that you have no formal schooling. Therefore how miraculous and fitting (in liberation terms) that you should become President. But those who see you as a hero, they need to consider those tekkies …
I am honoured to count Vusumazulu Credo Mutwa as a friend. He once encouraged me with an old African proverb: “The Day star does not fear the angry night.” Thus I must take my courage in both hands and remind you, Mr President, of what Credo once wrote.
Credo said many of us go through the swamplands and deserts of life swathed in a glossy kaross of self-delusion. We deceive ourselves into believing we are wise, strong and invincible. We believe this until the day we have to stand and look down upon the false image of ourselves lying shattered at our feet. And on that day we discover we are the exact opposite of what we thought we were.
There are some, Mr President, who say you are swathed in such a glossy kaross of self-delusion.
Comparisons are usually odious, but sometimes they are mandatory. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who played a key role in the ANC until he eschewed violence, has always maintained his statesman-like demeanour. I have dined with him at the Savoy Hotel in London. I remember the quiet respect he commands. International statesmen like Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Helmut Kohl and Shimon Perez were all impressed by his intelligence and gravitas. Not the kind of cheap charm like a sunbeam entering a tinsel factory, but rather the kind of charm that comes from deep authenticity, compassion and a quick, scalpel-sharp mind.
I have known Prince Buthelezi for over a quarter of a century. We have talked and shared poetry. He is a man of letters and generosity with a deep sense of history. Of his, and of other nations. Once we recited together the Legend of Amergin:
I am a wind on the sea, I am a wave of the ocean, I am the roar of the sea, I am a powerful ox, I am a hawk on a cliff, I am a dewdrop in the sunshine…
Prince Buthelezi, despite suffering deep personal tragedies, is to my knowledge unsullied by the tales of impropriety that seem to shadow you daily. No Shaiks, no Guptas, no philandering, no spy tapes, no Nkandlagates, no family members slurping the gravy …
Now I don’t wish to take up more of your time. I know you have a lot of reading to catch up on … but in the spirit of Ronald Reagan’s now famous call to Mr Gorbachev about the Berlin Wall, I urge you: Take off those tekkies, Mr President.