Diagonal Street Déjà vu

Twenty five years ago on January 8th I was told by my editor to write a front page interview which was to be entitled Jani by Jani. In those days the Sunday Times cost R1.61 +19c tax. Many of the key players in this storm in a thimble are dead. Hopefully the other haters are dying off. I write this for a different generation and for those with a sense of the ridiculousness that has always been a hallmark of many things South African. Cf Nkandla, Malema, Zuma etc. 

Jani by Jani

Hot on the trail of South Africa’s most-wanted journalist.

Photo credit: James Soullier.

Photo credit: James Soullier.

Roll up! Roll up! It’s the Jani and ET show. BOM. Bring own mud.“Broedertwis! Blondine!”

Credited with the honour of single-handedly destroying the weerstand of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging is the liberally loathed, much adored but alas not ignored Sunday Times columnist, JANI ALLAN. The mask of theatre never drops – even in journalism. Behind one mask there will always be another. Unless Jani Allan – sound of ripping canvas, interviews Jani Allan Face to Face.

I track down the Bitch to her lair.

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! Better still unleash the baying newshounds. They’re far more vicious. Skewered on a spotlight, the private muse – at last! – is public domain. It’s open hunting season. Track the bitch to her lair in the Diamond Building in downtown Diagonal Street, Johannesburg.

Her kennel is of such modest dimensions that if a dog were to occupy it, it would have to wag its tail up and down.

Glamorous building. An architectural hybrid, part Gothic cathedral, part Concorde. The painted pariah herself looks glamorous too (I grudgingly concede).

A human hybrid, part Gucci, part Guinevere, she is wearing – sharp intake of breath – haute khaki and colour co-ordinated Polyfilla. Is the haute khaki courtesy Out of Africa. Or…raise one eyebrow – Allan with ‘Blanche?

She’s a dangerous woman. A gevaarlike vrou, they say.

Ask Magnus. (Malan. Minister of Defence.) Or ask Pik Botha. The Foreign Wotsisname. Thing. She’s interviewed them. Or you can ask the big Huge. Euge…well perhaps not now, not so soon, not at this time.

Anyway. I’ve never liked her. Not that I’ve met her. People who know her slightly say that she has a surprising sweetness, gentleness, that she always makes everyone laugh.

The few who know her better say she’s actually shy and vulnerable. Poignantly solitary. Children and animals adore her instantly.

But you can’t trust children and animals. Can you?

Jani is sitting cross-legged on a swivel chair in front of a computer. The asana she’s held for ten days in the eye of the storm that has raged about her since the alleged affair with the AWB chief hit the headlines.

The pressure has been daunting. Even to a virtuoso in survival. Reporters and photographers have kept vigil outside her Sandhurst apartment. Local and international television and pressmen have jammed the switchboards of the Sunday Times. Paparazzi lie in wait when she leaves the building. Floods of abusive letter have poured in. Demands that her editors ‘take action’ against her.

There have been requests, too, to appear on TV, as well as offers to publish The Complete and Unexpurgated story of Me and ET. There have also been dozens of calls from those incensed by her crucifixion by the Fourth Estate.

And yet somewhere out there is an army of Jani fans. Strangers who send her a hundred yellow roses. Old ladies who write in for autographed photographs. Students who want to “be like you.’’

Disarmingly charming, forthright and frank, even in the abyss, she isn’t experiencing SOHF -Sense of Humour Failure. How annoying.

Why, she’s as unruffled as a mirror-lake on an iced Christmas cake.

It’s only if you dare gaze long enough into the reflection that you run the risk of drowning in some unfathomed haunted depths.

In such charted waters did Excalibur lie till Arthur claimed his birthright. Is this ethereal being an eietyd Lady of the Lake.

Is she an agent for the AWB. Or is she, in fact the State’s most powerful weapon against the Volkstaat.

Um. What a wonderful notice board I gush, meaninglessly.

Mementos of a life of frivolity and flash. The celebrity journalist at work and play.

Jani arriving at Rome Airport. Jani in Mauritius. A fan letter addressed to Princess Cool. A plumpish pretty girl with Roger Moore in Corfu. (Jeez has she aged or what!) A photograph of Jani riding a Lippizaner stallion. A newspaper cutting listing the fifty most admired people in the country.

I ponder the imponderables while she fetches coffee. I gaze at the Piero della Francesca print of The Baptism of Christ and the iconic images of Milano Cathedral which are jigsaw puzzled into the jet-setting memorabilia.

And what is this tiny scrap of yellowing paper?

I have always belonged to the public and the world not because I was talented or beautiful but because I never belonged to anything or anyone else.

From the unfinished autobiography of Marilyn Monroe.

She’s been writing her column for nine years. That’s more than four hundred Sundays. More than four million readers each week. That’s stamina. That’s success. That’s the deadliest sin for those who have a touch of the Green Eyed Monster.

What price fame?

The column is the needle that pulls the threads of my life together, the focus of all my energy. Striving for the summit is the only escape from the chasms of emptiness.

“How GALLING!” wag the tongues. “She’s got everything. Blonde hair. Sports car. Diamonds. Picture in the newspaper every week…! Who does she bloody think she is?”*

Jani knows. Always did. Current circs prove that Jani Allan has forfeited the right to be a real person. She’s a marketable commodity. She sells newspapers. Not only her own.

She’s learned too, that tricky part of success is finding someone who’s happy for you. Didn’t DH Lawrence dub success “The Bitch-Goddess?”

In Real Life, the mundane is taken to the highest art form. Nights spent at the computer in a deserted newsroom. Happiness is anywhere far from the madding crowd. Preferably on a horse.

Ja-Nee Alleen.

Still, the scandal-mongers are having a field day. The columnist you love to hate, is now the Lady in Hating.

From frothy social columnist to pulse-taker of the politico, psyche-analyst of the powerful it’s difficult to pin-point the exact time that Just Jani was transmogrified into the ticking time bombshell called Jani-Allan-Of-The-Sunday-Times – a means to an end.

Pieter-Dirk Uys once said:

“Jani Allan is like a Statue of Liberty made of pure kryptonite standing in the vast bay of South African journalism and melting all assaulting Supermen into submission…”

Will the kryptonite crumble.
I can’t wait to see. Can you?

*I no longer have diamonds, a sports car or blonde hair. I am living quietly and happily in a blaze of obscurity in New Jersey.

ends

This column was originally appeared in the Sunday Times on 8 January, 1989.