Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

A lot of words that say little


It’s day 399 of the Covid-19 national lockdown.

Like many of my fellow South Africans, I spent a fair part of day 398 watching Cyril Ramaphosa make his long-awaited — and long-winded — appearance at the Zondo commission in his capacity as the president of the governing party. 

Like many of my fellow citizens, I was left feeling a tad underwhelmed — perhaps even robbed — by the ANC president’s day on the stand.

Ramaphosa spent the bulk of his first day of testimony using a whole lot of words to tell us very little. The ANC is sorry for its previous leadership being captured by the Gupta brothers. The party is also sorry for taking money stolen from the state by the Guptas, the Watsons and various other bent party funders, and for generally gutting the civil service by appointing cats to jobs they had no reason to be holding. 

Oh, and yes, the party is taking action against former president Jacob Zuma and some of his fellow till-raiders, so please be patient with us on election day, 27 October.

Sorry for the missing billions. 

We won’t do it again.


For the rest of his evidence, the president used the platform provided by the Zondo commission as something of an impromptu manifesto launch for the ANC in the upcoming local government elections. 

As the president reeled off the steps the ANC was taking to clean up its act and its proposed reforms in local government, the comrades hit social media — hard — with copies of his speech and selections of quotable quotes sprayed all over the internet by the time the commission broke for lunch.

Cheesy, cheap-shot stuff, perhaps, but then again one hears things are bad, money wise, at Luthuli House, so Ramaphosa can be forgiven for trying to turn his day at Zondo into a freebie election campaign launch. 

Kicking the election campaign off at free cost courtesy of the Zondo commission makes sense. This way, it’s one less party event for which Ramaphosa and the other lahnees in the ANC will have to cough up from their own pockets. 

The block is hot, to use a colloquialism from the Kingdom, so the traditional ANC funding channels — bent municipal, provincial and national tenders — are not currently accessible. 

There’s another level of value for Ramaphosa — and his New Dawners — in using the whole of Wednesday to tell us nothing. In football terms, it’s called running down the clock, denying the opposition the ball while waiting for the final whistle.

Every second spent rambling is one second less Ramaphosa would have to spend answering questions about his 2017 ANC presidential campaign and what he did — and didn’t do — to try to stop the looting while deputy president of the party.

Thankfully Ramaphosa’s deputy, David Mabuza, didn’t invade Swaziland while Ramaphosa was at Zondo, like Mangosuthu Buthelezi did to Lesotho when Nelson Mandela left him in charge of the shop, back in the day.

I had been hoping that the Cat would dump the draft Cannabis for Private Purposes Bill — which outlaws the commercial cannabis industry, instead of regulating it and helping the country cover up some of the looted billions — and deal with the situation before Ramaphosa got back on Friday. 

No joy so far.

Perhaps Comrade Rizla will strike when Ramaphosa comes back to Zondo in his capacity as president of the Republic, when the state coffers are even more empty.


Like many of my fellow South Africans, I’m a touch baffled by the silence of Carl Niehaus these days.

The Zeerust Che Guevara has been tjoepstil since the ANC national executive committee closed him and his radical economic transformation comrades down for running a party within the party.

Told him to shut his mouth. Took away his cellphone allowance.

Perhaps Niehaus has seen the error of his ways, given the flurry of suspension letters in recent weeks. 

Perhaps the story about the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association special forces being deployed in Cabo Delgado was for real and our man is leading from the front, smiting the insurgents — mightily — while chanting “We are Zuma and Zuma is us.”


The last I heard from Carlito was a friend request on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.

I haven’t accepted the invite as yet, for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps I’m the target of an elaborate 419 scam, some Spiritual White Boy thing — like Tokyo Sexwale, but with way less ego and even less money.

Perhaps it’s Carlos the Jakkals himself, with my call-up for a cross-border incursion, while hunting my PIN number.

Either way, I’m not accepting shit.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

Related stories


Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

ANC confirms it will oppose Magashule’s court application

The ruling party has briefed senior counsel Wim Trengove to head the team that will contest Magashule’s bid to fight his suspension and oust Ramaphosa instead

Magashule defies suspension order and KZN leaders’ advice that he...

A strategy by the KwaZulu-Natal ANC to control the narrative coming out of former president Zuma’s court appearance for arms deal corruption and fraud was thwarted

Landmark Deadly Air case: 10 000 deaths annually can be...

There is no legal mechanism in place to implement and enforce measures to prevent toxic air pollution in the Highveld

No masks. No Covid. But problems do abound

With no cases of Covid-19, a Zimbabwe informal settlement’s residents are more concerned about making ends meet – and their imminent eviction

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…