Daily Dispatch

Hyenas are part of nature — not a name for the predatory elite

- Tom Eaton

I understand if you didn’t get to the sixth paragraph of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “From The Desk of the President” letter on Monday.

For starters, there was the bit right after “Dear Fellow South Africans” where Ramaphosa, or whichever of his consulting gaslighter­s actually write these letters, promised that Covid-19 profiteers “are going to be dealt with decisively and harshly”.

In theory, starting with a joke like that isn’t a bad idea. But then it has to be a funny joke, not one that makes you vomit in your mouth or throw your computer across the room.

Still, that paragraph was probably better than the next three, in which the president devolved before our eyes from an admirably confident seller of snake oil into a kind of worried, dithering philosophe­r-priest of the ancient world, muttering and mumbling impotently about the unknowabil­ity of everything. “It is difficult to understand” this sort of corruption, he sighed, apparently poking disconsola­tely at the entrails of a dove. “Nor can one explain,” he murmured, perhaps fondling a piece of lead that had inexplicab­ly failed to turn into gold, “why a councillor would stockpile emergency parcels”.

Indeed, he added with a despairing glance at the sun, happily orbiting the flat earth, “it is impossible to discern what drives an entire family” of tenderpren­eurs to go on spending sprees. (I’m guessing the answer to that last conundrum is a chauffeur in a Maserati SUV, but I digress.)

As I said, if you made it that far you’re either a glutton for punishment or an ANC voter, which I suppose is the same thing.

But it did make me wonder if we’ve reached the next phase of Ramaphosa’s dogged campaign not to lead SA, and are about to see him abandoning eternal, wide-eyed “shock” for a more sustainabl­e brand of abdication.

To be fair, the whole shock shtick worked pretty well for a while. But the trouble with claiming to be shocked is that you are implying two things — that you have received alarming facts you didn’t previously have; and that once you have recovered from your shock you will act on those facts.

Pretending to be confused and confounded, on the other hand, makes no such promises. On the contrary, it makes action quite impossible.

After all, before you can prescribe a remedy you must understand the ailment. And if the feeding frenzy of looting by the bureaucrat­ic-mercantile complex is “difficult to understand” and its motives “impossible to discern”, how can the state be expected to act against it?

All of which brings me to that sixth paragraph, the one you probably didn’t’ reach, which went thusly: “Attempting to profit from a disaster that is claiming the lives of our people every day is the action of scavengers. It is like a pack of hyenas circling wounded prey.”

As paragraphs go, it was fairly unremarkab­le.

Satirists have been comparing looters to hyenas for years. I ’ ve done it myself. Certainly, much of our news has started feeling like a nature documentar­y narrated by David Attenborou­gh


“It has been a lean winter, but now it is Covid season, and at last the tenders have returned. In one of the planet’s greatest spectacles, these billions of rand will stampede unchecked across the savannah for months. And the cadres are waiting.

“Here, in a crumbling backwater, two young Magashules have caught a tender. At first they are tentative — what if there are Hawks about? Their father, keeping a watchful eye over his cubs, reassures them that the Hawks are over at the Gigabas.

“Cut off from the group, the small tender bleats, franticall­y calling for a journalist or an auditor. But it’s too late. The first bites are small — just over R2m — but in time, these cubs will take the place of their father, to continue the great circle of extraction, as it was before and as it will always be ...”

It works, in a grim sort of way. And yet on Monday, as I read that sixth paragraph, having got to it through a swamp of abdication, euphemism and impotence, something struck me for the first time.

We need to stop referring to the ANC and its co-conspirato­rs in the private sector, now bound together in an unholy and perverted knot of excess, as hyenas; as if they are healthy, natural, necessary inhabitant­s of the wild. Because if we do, as Ramaphosa’s scriptwrit­ers did on Monday, we are implying that theft from the poor is a natural phenomenon.

It isn’t. There is nothing natural about what the predatory, all-too-human elite is doing to this country. And if it is allowed to stay in power, SA will die of unnatural causes.

You want to see something happen “decisively and harshly”, Mr President? Then just keep doing nothing.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest letter shows how his quest to understand corruption paralyses him

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