/ 6 May 2009

Missing the future more than the past

It is always difficult to write one’s final column. Do you start with a big serious topic and inform the readers with a big blob at the end that this is your last column? Do you use the whole column to reminisce about the road you have travelled with the readers and make them feel that the world is coming to an end because you are leaving? Do you just disappear from the pages without warning them and leave it up to their powers of observation to deduce that you are no longer part of the paper?

Clearly, I have chosen to tell you upfront. This is my last column in this esteemed newspaper read by the most intelligent South Africans and admirers internationally who, if they didn’t have better presidents, functioning football leagues, a white majority or stronger currencies, would have long settled here.

It has been a brief time with the Mail & Guardian but I’ve enjoyed every moment and the pay cheque too.

Judging by the letters to the editor and especially the responses to the online version of the column, I managed to grab the attention of about two-and-a-half people every fortnight. I even got a rare and sought-after complaint referred to the press ombudsman. Remember the column on the Chinese fah-fee men who run havoc in the townships? Well, for that my fellow black Chinese were unimpressed and the pot called the kettle black.

You see, the thing about being a columnist is that you tend to miss the future more than the past. It is sad that this column will not be able to comment on the Jacob Zuma presidency. I cannot imagine how many times I would have found myself referring to his smile, his use of the middle finger to fix his spectacles, his licking of lips and clasping of hands. As we say in township parlance, uzohlal’esinda (loosely, “he is lucky to escape unscathed”).

This column won’t be there when members of the Congress of the People (Cope) re-endear themselves to the ruling party. I mean it already started this past week when Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota hugged, kissed, guffawed, cajoled and held hands with anyone in ANC colours. You could swear he’d just crossed the floor back to the ruling party. But such is the nature of politics and the fodder on which we — writers and observers and satirists — feed.

This column won’t be there when the ANC is reduced to the opposition benches in Cape Town. If one thing stands out about the ruling party, it is their disgust at being dictated to by a white woman. And Helen Zille is going to have five years of that. Make no mistake, like the ANC tried in the city of Cape Town to unseat Zille at least seven times, they will try to remove her as Western Cape premier. And damn, I won’t be there to enjoy the circus and to see the making of Madam and Steve, the sequel.

The future is so pregnant with possibilities. I mean, we now have the clear and present danger of employing imbeciles in the new Cabinet and I won’t be there to poke fun at them. I also won’t be there to say goodbye to some of the worst politicians we have hosted in Parliament in the past 15 years.

Can you imagine the amount of copy Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, our erstwhile health minister and (hopefully) outgoing minister in the presidency, is going to provide the remaining columnists when she finally bows out to an olive-oily sunset red as beetroot?

Will IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi bow out this time and concede defeat to woody Julius Malema? And who will be there to capture that moment? Certainly not me. Will Patricia de Lille finally be cowed into focusing on by-laws and ordinances and leave bigger issues such as arms deals and corruption to big men such as Zuma? Will Bantu Holomisa go back to the ANC or join Cope and live to fight another day? Well, we don’t know. And I won’t be there to give you my humble take on it. But one thing I know is that this paper will be there to capture it for you. Because this remains the best paper to give you the official and unofficial story.

I enjoyed my time working for an esteemed newspaper with a great team. I also enjoyed the freedom I was given to offend — not many editors are that generous. As Ferial Haffajee leaves this paper soon, I hope the new bosses continue to allow others such as me to voice their opinions without fear or favour. Adios mochachos.

Rams Mabote will not be entirely lost to his devoted readers — his first book has just been released: Crisis? What Crisis? Public Relations not According to Thabo Mbeki. See www.crink.co.za