Review: Vivien Horler
50 People who F***ed Up South Africa – The lost decade, by Alexander Parker & Tim Richman, with cartoons by Zapiro (Mercury)
Authors Alexander Parker and Tim Richman are clearly feeling bolder since they’ve changed their series title from 50 People Who Stuffed Up (South Africa in 2010 and The World in 2016). Now they’ve upped the ante from “stuffed” to “f***ed”, although as someone once pointed out, if you want the questionable shock effect of “fucked”, why not just say so?
This fourth volume in their best-selling series focuses on the period between 2010, when we were cheered by the success of the Soccer World Cup, and this devastating pandemic year of 2020.
Like its predecessors, despite its zany cover and Zapiro cartoons, this is not a funny book. In fact it’s deeply sobering. In their introduction the authors say that much of what ails South Africa “marches in step with international trends”, such as inequality, the urban/rural divide, crony capitalism and the fact that across the word black people are generally poorer than white people. But, they add, “there is a distressingly tumultuous South African amplifications of all this fraught political upheaval”.
Narrowing the list to the 50 here represented was “impossibly tricky”. All 50 in the book have done great damage to an already struggling country. “Their greatest collective crime is the squandering of hope and potential.”
So who are they? A skim of the index reveals all the usual suspects, from Shaun Abrahams to Mosebenzi Zwane, and including the likes of Bathabile Dlamini, she of the “smallanyana skeletons”, Malusi Gigaba and his willie, John Hlophe, Markus Jooste, David Mabuza, Ace Magashule, Julius Malema, Andy Marinos, Baleka Mbete, Brian Molefe, Lucky Montana, Hlaudi Motsoeneng , Helen Zille and Jacob Zuma.
We know many of these people have been really bad, but there are others who would seem less culpable, like Cyril Ramaphosa, of whom they point out: “…President Ramaphosa pretty much nailed it when he described the waste of the Zuma years, his presence at the man’s right hand through so much of it notwithstanding.”
Another of the not-so-bad is the grim-faced Dlamini-Zuma, whose track record is “a patchwork of mediocrity, fleeting competence and occasional disaster”. The Covid-19 crisis brought out the worst of her authoritarian nature, and the authors point out we now have some understanding of the bullet we dodged when Ramaphosa beat her to the presidency of the ANC.
There’s a delightful quote from former Sunday Times editor Mondli Makanya, dated May this year: “A recent study by a reputable research institute compared the number of times [NDZ] smiled with the number of times former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus told the truth. The research, soon to be published in an academic journal, found that Niehaus told the truth more often than Dlamini-Zuma smiled.”
As for Carl Niehaus, while most of us see him as a running political joke, in some ways he is one of the more tragic of the 50 in this book, “someone who sacrificed much for the moral high ground in his young days, and who then sacrificed his reputation entirely with his subsequent behaviour. In so doing he represents the greater reputational downfall of many in this party.” They something of the same regarding Gigaba.
I’m not sure I’d rush out to buy this book, because we know so much of it already, but it does provide a useful summary of all that’s been going on. It’s not funny, although there are some funny moments, and the writing is light as well as hard-hitting.
The authors say it is an indignant book. Most South Africans are good and decent, “but politics being what it is, the real bad buggers have found their way into power”. Now things have to change, and that is up to us.