CityPress - - Voices & Careers -

And so it came to pass that an­other an­i­mal has en­tered the po­lit­i­cal fray. Daria Roith­mayr, a promi­nent Amer­i­can scholar of race, class, gen­der, iden­tity and many other things, re­cently posted a de­light­ful and timeous ar­ti­cle by Teju Cole on Face­book.

Writ­ing in the New York Times Mag­a­zine re­cently, Cole tells of the play Rhi­noc­eros writ­ten by Eugène Ionesco, which warns of the na­ture of fas­cism, in his case ex­pe­ri­enced in his na­tive Ro­ma­nia in the 1930s. Cole uses this mas­ter­piece to de­scribe and warn of the creep­ing cul­ture of fas­cism in the US to­day.

Un­der Don­ald Trump, the threat of au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and the rise of racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, misog­yny and other re­ac­tionary ten­den­cies is a re­al­ity that the coun­try’s pro­gres­sive forces must now en­gage with.

The play, an ab­surd, sur­real, but de­li­cious drama in which a French town is vis­ited by some rhino, even­tu­ally leads to all the in­hab­i­tants of the town, bar one, be­com­ing rhi­nos them­selves, through be­ing in­fected by “rhinoceri­tis”.

There are those who re­sist, but even­tu­ally, nearly all are over­come by the ill­ness, just as the herd seems to be fall­ing ill in the US due to the crude, proto-fas­cist dis­ease of Trump­ism.

Here in South Africa, we have had to deal with our own at­tack of rhinoceri­tis. Of course, the rhino is a unique, much loved and fiercely hunted and pro­tected an­i­mal in our coun­try. Far from be­ing a sym­bol of the sort Ionesco thought of it, the rhino to us is a con­tested sym­bol of unity of pur­pose that is about pro­tect­ing our re­sources, our her­itage and the en­vi­ron­ment, and of pro­gres­sive devel­op­ment in South Africa. But to some peo­ple, its horn, for sym­bolic rea­sons that are less sub­tle than Ionesco’s, is thought to be a source of male viril­ity. Such as­so­cia­tive magic, not un­com­mon in all so­ci­eties, has meant the near death sen­tence for th­ese ma­jes­tic if some­what can­tan­ker­ous beasts. For the poor in Africa, a des­per­ate strat­egy to sur­vive through poach­ing has made the rhi­noc­eros a sym­bol of po­ten­tial wealth.

For this, and count­less other rea­sons, the case of State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter David Mahlobo, clearly a vic­tim of our South African ver­sion of rhinoceri­tis, is even more sur­real than Ionesco’s play.

For starters, like pre­vi­ous in­tel­li­gence min­is­ter Siyabonga Cwele, Mahlobo claims to be obliv­i­ous to the go­ings on of al­leged crim­i­nals right un­der his nose. Cwele stated that he did not know that his wife was a drug dealer. Mahlobo says that if his not-friend, the owner of the mas­sage and beauty par­lour he fre­quents, is a rhino horn traf­ficker, he knows noth­ing about it.

Or­di­nar­ily, one could not hold some­one to ac­count for the be­hav­iour of their friends, busi­ness as­so­ciates or ser­vice providers. But given that Mahlobo played a role in the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity in Mpumalanga be­fore his ap­point­ment as min­is­ter in 2014, this surely points to a wor­ry­ing lack of in­tel­li­gence on his part.

Given his po­si­tion and given the se­ri­ous threat of rhino poach­ing, it is in­con­ceiv­able that he did not know of the cloud sur­round­ing his host at the spa. Even if he was not friends with him, not know­ing about his rep­u­ta­tion as a rhino poacher is as big a fail­ing as Cwele’s.

He ought to have known that as­so­ci­at­ing with this al­leged killer of th­ese mag­nif­i­cent crea­tures is a no-no – no mat­ter how good the mas­sage.

It begs the ques­tion, who is Mahlobo and where does he come from? How did he, from seem­ingly nowhere, be­come the min­is­ter of state se­cu­rity? It is not un­usual to have some ju­nior min­is­ters in any gov­ern­ment, but the Cab­i­net cho­sen by the pres­i­dent seems to be one filled with many ju­niors and un­knowns, es­pe­cially those in key po­si­tions.

It has been said that th­ese lead­ers were mostly cho­sen for their loy­alty to Num­ber One. Maybe so, but what of their other qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence? Was this our ver­sion of rhinoceri­tis, where all must turn a blind eye and be blindly loyal to the pres­i­dent’s ques­tion­able af­fairs that were al­ready ram­pant in our coun­try prior to the un­for­tu­nate ex­po­sure of Mahlobo’s prox­im­ity to the dis­ease of the beast? If we look at the ap­palling per­for­mance of many of our min­is­ters, one can only con­clude that se­nior­ity, ex­pe­ri­ence, com­pe­tency and abil­ity were not high on the list of cri­te­ria. In­stead, our state in­sti­tu­tions, our po­lit­i­cal dis­course and our or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture have been slowly but sys­tem­at­i­cally eroded – not for fas­cism, but for poach­ing. The cul­ture of greed, theft, cor­rup­tion and gen­eral prim­i­tive ac­cu­mu­la­tion, which we thought the ANC would be the an­ti­dote for af­ter years of it un­der apartheid, is alive and well. It’s the “not know­ing” of those who should know and those who should know bet­ter that is killing our coun­try, the revo­lu­tion and ru­in­ing the fu­ture for us all. Of all the min­is­ters who should know, Mahlobo is the most ob­vi­ous one. But he says he does not know. If he did, he should have writ­ten re­ports on all of th­ese things – the Gup­tas, the nu­clear bid, the arms deal, the SABC sale of ar­chives and bonuses, the loot­ing of Op­ti­mum, the money laun­der­ing and of the epi­demic of rhinoceri­tis. He didn’t, so he does not know. It is no won­der then that he does not know that his place of plea­sure and pam­per­ing is prob­a­bly a front for the slaugh­ter of our scarce and valu­able wildlife. But at least we now know that it is not crim­i­nal­ity that makes our lead­ers blind; it is not their lack of con­cern for our peo­ple and our coun­try; it is not ide­ol­ogy – it is this strange dis­ease of not know­ing. That’s our rhinoceri­tis. Dex­ter is a mem­ber of the ANC

TALK TO US Do you think State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter David Mahlobo didn’t know his ‘friend’ traf­ficked rhino horn?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the keyword RHINO and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Guan Jiang Guang, who claims to be a friend of State Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter David Mahlobo, shows an un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Al Jazeera a pic­ture of him­self with a man who ap­pears to be the min­is­ter

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