Num­ber One is no longer with him

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

AC­CORD­ING to the ex­perts, and we’ve got all sorts here at the Ma­hogany Ridge, the ben­e­fits of the power nap can­not be overem­pha­sised.

They say a brief beddy-byes at the of­fice will do won­ders for alert­ness and mo­tor learn­ing skills. It boosts mem­ory, en­hances cre­ativ­ity and is good for de­ci­sion-mak­ing skills.

Only a churl would then be­grudge the Pres­i­dent recharg­ing the bat­ter­ies dur­ing Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han’s medium-term bud­get ad­dress on Wed­nes­day.

For those who missed it, a video is do­ing the rounds. It shows Ja­cob Zuma, eyes closed, head slumped, in the land of Nod as Gord­han rat­tled on seem­ingly un­aware that Num­ber One was no longer with him. So to speak. Gord­han nev­er­the­less im­pressed. If his ex­pected ap­pear­ance in court on Wed­nes­day to an­swer Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Author­ity boss Shaun “Scary Clown” Abra­hams’s fraud charges had weighed at all on his mind, he cer­tainly wasn’t show­ing it. Per­haps, un­like Zuma, Gord­han was get­ting plenty of sleep at night and his grey mat­ter wasn’t in need of recharg­ing dur­ing the day.

Awed call­ers to ra­dio talk shows ex­pressed sur­prise at his abil­ity to read from a teleprompter. It was cer­tainly a novel ex­pe­ri­ence, they said. Un­like other mem­bers of gov­ern­ment, he at least sounded com­pe­tent, as though he knew what he was talk­ing about.

More sea­soned com­men­ta­tors had even sug­gested that, at times, Gord­han had come across as “pres­i­den­tial”. One such mo­ment had come about an hour and 10 min­utes into his ad­dress, when he spoke of the col­lec­tive need to “re-en­gage” in tak­ing the coun­try’s hard-won democ­racy for­ward:

“Our cur­rent chal­lenges place an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­spon­si­bil­ity on all of us. This is a turn­ing point in which if we take the right choices, we can achieve faster, more in­clu­sive growth. It is a mo­ment in which we need ac­tion – eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal.”

Alas, it was then that the Sand­man came for Zuma and he took a nap in­stead. Was it the right choice? Well, not if you’re in the North Korean gov­ern­ment and the speaker is Kim Jong-un. But this is not Py­ongyang and here we laugh at the fail­ings of oth­ers rather than kill them. But it cer­tainly does be­hoove the head of a gov­ern­ment to at least ap­pear to be pay­ing at­ten­tion when his fi­nance min­is­ter is de­liv­er­ing a bud­get re­port to Par­lia­ment.

It shows re­spect for the guy charged with look­ing af­ter the econ­omy and in­spires a mod­icum of con­fi­dence in the pres­i­den­tial hand on the tiller.

Fall­ing asleep, on the other hand, does very lit­tle to dis­pel the wide­spread sus­pi­cion that one couldn’t care less about what he says be­cause, not­with­stand­ing the protes­ta­tions to the con­trary, one is en­gaged in a hare­brained plot to have the man ar­rested for al­leged crimes re­lat­ing to the early re­tire­ment of tax of­fi­cials.

Pay­ing at­ten­tion is ad­mit­tedly dif­fi­cult at such times. These bud­get speeches drag on, and they’re filled with all sorts of num­bers and stuff. How do you ap­pear fo­cused? One pos­si­ble sug­ges­tion comes from a mas­ter­piece of Ja­panese cin­ema, Takeshi Ki­tano’s Za­to­ichi.

In this tale of 19th cen­tury feu­dal Ja­pan, a blind but nonethe­less prodi­giously skilled swords­man has “eyes” painted on his eye­lids; when he does then get some shut-eye, it ap­pears that he is still star­ing out at the world, un­blink­ingly alert and poised for ac­tion. It’s done for comic ef­fect in the film, but so what? What’s one more joke in these parts, any­way?

On a per­haps less hi­lar­i­ous note, it must be galling for Zupta Inc that their ef­forts to re­move the one ob­sta­cle to un­fet­tered ac­cess to the Trea­sury has re­sulted in the very thing that South Africans want the most from pub­lic life – a bloody David and Go­liath type spec­ta­cle.

We do love a hero – es­pe­cially when the odds ap­pear in­sur­mount­able. How fit­ting then, that as for­mer Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela leaves the lime­light, Gord­han should step unto the breach to do bat­tle with the gi­ant slime.

We do for­get, of course, that he was a fairly lousy fi­nance min­is­ter the first time around, from 2009 to 2014. But hey, he at least gets a sec­ond crack at the job – so maybe bet­ter luck this time.

And speak­ing of sec­ond chances, what was it with the apho­rism about di­vided packs of lion fail­ing to hunt a limp­ing buf­falo?

Gord­han used it twice in his speech – as if we didn’t get it the first time round.

And we did. It’s not about who the li­ons are, or the buf­falo, but that it sounded good on the ear – and ex­actly the sort of thing that Trevor Manuel would say.

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