A BAD CASE OF NOT KNOWING
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
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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