Clever columnist turns up the heat

Review: Vivien Horler

Is it Me or is it Getting Hot in Here? Great expectations and boiling frogs in South Africa.  By Tom Eaton (Tafelberg)

I worry about Tom Eaton’s blood pressure.

He’s a delightfully clever columnist and commentator, usually spot on, nuanced and often hilarious. Here’s an example, taken from his column in Times Select on Friday, September 11.

Referring to the disaster that is municipal politics in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), he says the appalling former mayor Mongameli Bobani managed “to achieve what almost no other politician in modern SA has, uniting the ANC, DA, ACDP, Cope, AIC and Patriotic Alliance in a motion of no confidence”.

The EFF however abstained from the vote, “perhaps because it had already flip-flopped several times that morning and was afraid of putting out its back”.

Here’s another, from the book: “For years, it felt as if, when presented with a good choice, a middle choice and a bad choice, the ANC would set fire to all three, blame the middle class for its own pyrotechnic tendencies, and then steal the insurance payout.”

I love that kind of writing. I think Eaton is brilliant.

But lately he’s been getting angrier. Of course everyone is angry, including all the columnists. But Eaton’s USP is that he is angry and funny, except now not so much.

And many of the essays in this book are very cross.

In the very first essay he writes about how infuriated the ANC made him. Why wasn’t it governing or apologising for its endless waste or contempt? Then one day the penny dropped: the problem wasn’t the ANC; it was Eaton himself (and most of us, for that matter).

“The ANC, I realised, is not a government doing a very bad job. It is a money-making scheme doing a very good job.”

And then he decided life was too short to waste emotional energy on getting upset that corrupt people were corrupt or that sharks were sharks. Shock, he says, is a recoil, endlessly preparing us only for the next shock. Anger, likewise, is largely useless as a tool for social change. We need to drop our expectations.

But he is, nevertheless, angry. Which is one reason why you can’t read too many of these essays at a go ­ – it becomes exhausting. But on the other hand, he is very clever, has a keen eye for foibles, and comes up with some remarkable analogies to help us see the truth about our country.

For example, we wonder why the ANC doesn’t seem to care about South Africa. His answer is that the ANC “doesn’t actually live in South Africa. It exists alongside it, much as the Vatican is in the middle of Rome but not technically part of it”. He adds: “Once you start thinking of the AC as the South African version of the Catholic Church, a great many things start making sense.”

For example both ANC and the church preach that life is hard, but loyalty, discipline and living in the church-prescribed way will lead to a time which is much better. For the Church that is after death; the ANC on the other hand is less specific when it promises ‘a better life for all’.”

He writes about corruption and how it is all-pervasive: the neighbor who complains about the government but buys undersized crayfish from poachers; he writes how strength in diversity is all very well provided we’re all broadly pulling in the same direction; he talks about wealth and hypocrisy and the bumper sticker on the back of a R2million SUV that read: “Live Simply”.

He wrote the book, he says, to figure out for himself different ways of reacting to the national narratives, and hoping his readers can find in these pages some new perspectives.

Hopefully you will. As long as you don’t get too angry.

2 thoughts on “Clever columnist turns up the heat

  1. Jenny Tait

    Brilliant review, thanks. Yep.. Not sure if have the emotional energy or resilience to read it in one go., but I’ll certainly buy it!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *