Number One is no longer with him
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.