A week is a long time in politics

A week in politics is more than a long time, sometimes: it can mark the beginning or the end of an era.

It is hard to believe that it was just this time last week that the man who sold his country, former president Jacob Zuma, was flatly refusing to step down from office. By Friday, in the State of the Nation address, a new man, President Cyril Ramaphosa, was resetting the tone for the nation, and Zuma was toast. Those who had depended on Zuma’s favours, who had enabled his vices, who had grown fat and arrogant along with him, those whose dumb stupidity was enough to entitle them to high office, have looks on their faces these days of utter bewilderment as South Africans, with justifiable schadenfreude, await their fall from office and the day of reckoning.

Ramaphosa’s speech on Friday rose to the moment: he spoke of renewal, of hope, of the civic virtues; he put bad guys on notice and asked the good guys – men and women – to lend a hand, with an emotive and effective reference to Bra Hugh Masekela, the great jazz hero who has just passed on to the big blue jazz club in the sky. And if some of Ramaphosa’s speech was mere ANC pablum – the self-deluding soviet-style recital of targets supposedly achieved and miracles of revolutionary accomplishment – that can be forgiven, at least for now, as the nation feels the weight of nearly ten lost years lifted, if only a little, from its tired and disillusioned shoulders.

Perhaps the boiler-plate vacuity was necessary – a consequence of the shortness of time, the speed of events, the need to reassure the faithful and placate enemies. But sooner or later – preferably sooner – the new President is going to have to show what he is made of. As the great biographer of Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro famously wrote, in a paraphrase of Palmerston – ‘power reveals.’

His ascent to power will show us all, over this year and the next, who Cyril Ramaphosa is, and whether his presidency is simply an event, in the long chain of events, or the beginning of an era. But let’s be honest: as far as new beginnings go, SONA on Friday was about as good as it gets.

President Ramaphosa

We have a new President. Cyril Ramaphosa elected by Parliament today. A new tone in his remarks to the House of dignity, humility, respect and commitment. And not a word about his predecessor.

Needless to say, I watched his election and stood and applauded, along with millions of South Africans.

‘Inxeba’ – Distilled

Bergman-esque in its intensity, the South African film Inxeba – The Wound – has rightly won praise and awards around the world, along with the usual quota, for a film that speaks openly, and painfully, about homosexuality, masculinity, homophobia and ‘traditional culture’ in an African community, of threats and vitriol. In Cape Town, supposedly a bastion of the arts and enlightenment, the film was withdrawn by distributors Ster Kinekor, in an act of cowardice and betrayal.

All of which is to say, there is a moral imperative to see it, and a duty to support the actors and director. But over and above all this – the politics and cultural warfare – it is the film as a work of art, as a flawless exercise in controlled and yet passionate direction, acting by Nakane Toure, Bongile Mantsai and Niza Jay that is utterly invisible, and a story that transcends both its South African setting and its ‘gay’ narrative, that demands attention.

Inxeba represents the coming to maturity of South African cinema.

Director: John Trengrove

Verdict: Like the initiation into manhood which carries the narrative, Inxeba is painful to watch but a necessary rite of passage.

Five tipples. A half-jack of brandy is probably the most appropriate, with a quart of Castle to follow.

A Dozen Toms

The country has been busy these last days and weeks with the unedifying spectacle of Jacob Zuma’s slow prying loose from the carcase of the state he has so wounded and savaged – there will be a collective sigh of relief once he has gone, and not much sympathy, either, when he is finally hauled before the Commission of Enquiry into state capture, and hopefully, in due course, before the courts. Meanwhile the new man, Ramaphosa, has already begun to clean house, sweeping aside the old, corrupt Board at Eskom, wakening the long-dormant National Prosecuting Authority from its long slumber, putting the corrupt and venal, and the incompetent, on notice.

There is a hunger in this land for justice to be done, and the guilty to be exposed and punished. And before anyone rushes to say, but! we let off the criminals who enforced apartheid, let’s understand that we live in a democracy now, and we hold people to a different, and higher, standard. Nor are we in a perilous transition, from a cornered and dangerous regime – this is peacetime, folks, and what Zuma and his gang have perpetrated is not war but a mugging.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life goes on more or less as usual, while we wait for the other shoe to drop and Zuma to exit: life, love and family seem more important.

So here are a dozen Toms – images of my grandson, who is not only an entirely different kind of riot, but a wholly innocent heir to the future.