Unliked, unlikeable and unavailable

If Ronald “Ron the Con” Suresh Roberts had any spine in him, he’d have been present in court when Judge Leslie Weinkove threw as much of the book at him as he could during the Roberts defamation case against the Sunday Times. Instead, according to his lawyers, he was unavailable, maybe even out of the country.

The brattish Ron must have smelled a rat. Justice, he assumed, was not about to be done.
And, as the judge said, the snooty ex-Trinidadian makes the rules wherever he goes, including telling dispensers of justice what fines and prison terms they should impose on anyone who speaks out against Mr Ronald Suresh Roberts. So he performed his final act of arrogance (for now, anyway) and didn’t even come to hear judgement passed against him.

Just as well for him. The judge was almost more scathing about the permanently pouting Caribbean clown than the original article that the litigious “West Indian carpetbagger” had sought to claim damages for. In a word, he didn’t come out smelling too good.

Not that I’ve got anything against the man personally. He might well have defamed me in his own right for being “Nadine Gordimer’s media minder” in No Cold Kitchen, his trashy, badly constructed, unauthorised biography of the Nobel laureate. He may have got himself all confused with my role as an employee of the Market Theatre and the later invasion of that space by the pseudo-African Moyo restaurant chain. He may have said all sorts of other things about me and gotten his knickers in a twist for no clear reason in the process. But I have no reason to be vindictive about him.

The fact that he has lost this claim for defamation against the Sunday Times in no lesser place than the Cape High Court (Mr Roberts never aims low) says as much about him as it does about his sponsors in the new South Africa.

The offending piece in the newspaper was called “The Unlikeable Mr Roberts” and was subtitled “The carpetbagger in the Presidency”. (A “carpetbagger” is described in the dictionary as someone who seeks influence and advancement in a place where he (or she) has no natural constituency. Not a bad description for Ron the Con.)

The question is, has he used his legendary arrogance and, in the words of the judge, his “grandiose sense of self-importance” to persuade people in high places in this chaotic South Africa of ours to like and trust him, unlikeable as he is even the first time you see him from a distance?

There are allegedly documents sitting around that show that someone very, very high up indeed quietly made a deal with Absa bank to pay this Roberts a substantial sum, running to seven figures, to use as much time as he needed to write the official biography of President Thabo Mbeki. (This in the wake of other biographies, published or pending, that have not been regarded as totally flattering.) Other reports have told us that the man has been given unrestricted access to presidential documents and intimacies, and might even have his own private office at the Union Buildings.

Carpetbagger indeed. What’s it got to do with him? Why would the most noble of the land want such an untalented character with no charisma, no social skills and no background to the story to be the official chronicler of the president? Something is seriously out of place here and, as usual, we are not being given any information.

The suggestion is that there is no one in the country good enough to do the job. This smacks, does it not, of the old apartheid days, when Verwoerd and his gang of followers announced loud and clear that no native was good enough to so much as clean their boots — well, maybe clean the boots and wipe the bum, but not much further.

Which reminds me: it’s a long time since we heard anything about the Native Club, that self-appointed think tank that supposedly engaged, behind closed doors, with the most pressing issues relating to the formerly disadvantaged and was there to advise the president on the best way forward. It would not surprise me in the slightest to learn that Ronald Suresh Roberts was an honorary member, if not a leading light, in its deliberations.

So what have we here? The judge, in throwing out Roberts’s ridiculous defamation suit, described him as “vindictive and venomous”. Many people who have had the misfortune of crossing this particularly unsavoury individual’s path would call this an understatement, but a judge does have to use reasonably polite language.

Nevertheless, it is something of a landmark that the judge used so many colourful adjectives to describe just how odious he found the missing plaintiff to be. “I found [him] to be evasive, argumentative and an opportunistic witness … He was unconvincing, and his evidence was shown to be contradictory.” These words about a man who is proud to present himself as one of the finest legal minds on the planet, trained at Oxford and Harvard.

The bottom line for Roberts, who has gone into litigation in this country against numberless unsuspecting persons, be they natives or long-term settlers, is that his petulant reputation is being constantly attacked.

The judge had the last word: “I consider that any harm done to the plaintiff’s reputation was self-inflicted.”

The Bench has spoken. Roberts, unable to take it like he gives it, has taken the gap.

As I say, I have nothing personal against the guy. BUT IT’S PARTY TIME THIS WEEKEND!