NOTHING quite dumbfounds like a punchy dose of idiocy presented to the public in a bite-size quote. Effortlessly it translates into an easy target for all that ever-present outrage. The mad quote — simultaneously a poison and a tonic. We have no shortage of them in SA.
If politics is the petrol that fuels these kind of things then the African National Congress (ANC) and its government run on the highest octane.
Certainly, 2015 was a bumper year. It’s hard to choose a winner but this gem from South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng must be competitive: "I’m an intellectual strategist. I’m an intellectual born person. No one can take that from me except God. No one can stop me to go up and up, because I have brain in me."
Others, perhaps, would argue the crown should go to President Jacob Zuma, almost always a finalist in these sorts of competitions. His assertion that "all continents put together will fit into Africa" won him global recognition, of a sort. That is, the sort you don’t want.
Then again, both would have to compete with Rural Development and Land Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwintini’s claim that the Great Wall of China, "was built in 10 months", as he effortlessly erased about 200 bloody, often deadly, years from the history books (that’s generous, the full monstrosity took closer to 2,000 years). He said the Chinese "work ethic" was responsible for the feat.
It took 40 days for the Presidency to rectify the mistake about Africa. Presumably it takes some time to measure these things. On January 18 it issued a statement titled, "Correction of error about size of continent".
Not a great way to start 2016. The South African public is still waiting on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. Unless it’s sticking to its guns. Both options are equally plausible.
However good 2015 was on this front, 2016 looks set to surpass it. It’s only February and already we have had a call from a member of parliament to burn people to death for putting up a poster. That is setting the bar pretty high.
"They must burn to death as it is life to them to keep it that way," said ANC MP Bongani Mkongi on Facebook in response to concern that his earlier call to torch a "Zuma Must Fall" banner might endanger the residents of building on which it hung.
The ANC’s contemporary intellectual vanguard really is the eighth wonder.
Free State premier Ace Magashule said of the ANC: "We are too patient and too democratic."
On the morning his comment was printed, barbed wire was photographed being rolled out around Parliament for the conclusion of the state of the nation debate.
No doubt it was freedom wire, forged in justice and fashioned in perseverance. You wonder what would have been rolled out were the ANC even more patient or democratic? Landmines, perhaps?
The debate itself offered up some humdingers. While the ANC presiding officer declared the word "faction" to be unparliamentary, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson put this profundity before the house:
"When a cow gives birth to a fire, that cow will lick that fire. You know why? When a mother gives birth to a fire, she will lick that fire, because she gave birth to that fire. When a fire burns, it rains, and the earth gets wet. Fire burns, but when it rains, the earth gets wet."
It’s the kind of sentiment you would expect Edward Lear to deliver were he ever to address the National Assembly.
Look, truth be told, it was difficult to hear if she said cow. The sign language interpreter seemed to think it was a cow, as she raised her hands to her head to indicate some kind of animal.
In summary though: something gave birth to a fire and then licked it out. Also, FYI, rain seems to have a detrimental effect on fire. All valuable information, now lovingly recorded in the official records of Parliament.
ANC Youth League deputy president Desmond Moela declared recently that, "It is wrong to have boyfriends and girlfriends in the oppositions. You must make sure that your boyfriend or girlfriend is within the ANC."
Tough on Graça Machel. She’s not even a South African.
Motsoeneng is up there too. At a The New Age breakfast he recently said, "I always argue with intellectual that, ‘look, as long as I see this nice degree but I don’t get exactly what you are telling me or influencing me to do, I will never recognise that’, because, it can’t be right, South Africans, to say people like myself, who don’t have matric, I can’t lead the organisation, it can’t be right, because the experience has shown that people have been there."
If that’s not enough for you he went on to this: "Our own leaders, even historically, even Jesus Christ, no, no, no, I am telling you the truth, when Jesus Christ, people were asking, ‘Who is this Jesus Christ?’ Some of them were intellectuals if you read Bible. And that was the person who saved people."
Yeah, Jesus, like Motsoeneng, didn’t have a university degree. Neither did Stalin, mind you. And he had a rather, shall be we say, hostile attitude towards intellectuals. But he’s not such a good example.
Anyway, you get the picture. The list is fairly endless.
We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to determine whether or not the president can actually read numbers. The jury is currently out on that one. ANCYL president Collen Maine babbles on about “monkeys” and “banana republics”, locked into a war of idiotic attrition with the Economic Freedom Fighters, which plays no small part itself in fanning the flames of petulance. No, the ANC is not alone on this one. But it sure does lead the charge.
It all necessitates the question: what role does idiocy play in South African public debate and the politics of the ANC? At face value it would seem to be a fairly big one.
That is putting aside ideology and values and politics itself. By idiocy we mean sheer, unadulterated nonsense. Sure, every society has its fair share of the stuff, but hardly a day goes by in SA without someone very senior, in a position of great power or influence, saying something that can only be plain and simply described as idiotic.
This week the ANC powers that be banned the word "rubbish" from parliamentary debate. Irony doesn’t come thicker than that. Rulings neither. The rules that govern our discourse mirror much of what happens in Parliament. We dare not be too rude about something obtuse or risk offence, but really there is so much idiocy out there we have effectively run out of options. "Ill-advised", "poorly conceived", "misconstrued", "poorly thought through", yes, yes, they are all those things too. But ultimately, they are idiotic and stupid.
SA is effectively an idiocracy.
An idiocracy is one step down from a mediocracy, the position we previously held. Next stop, as Malcom Tucker puts it in The Thick of It, is simply called a cluster f**k.
The reasons are now well documented. The ANC, under President Jacob Zuma, has been systematically stripped of any intellectual weight. Some abandoned ship; others walked the plank. One way or the other, no one’s at the wheel and the galley is running the deck.
Cows are licking fires, Jesus is in charge of the SABC, Africa has grown to enormous proportions, the ANC has become some sort of romantic dating game for like-minded ideological souls, the Great Wall of China went up quicker than a shopping mall and when posters aren’t burnt the call is for people to suffer the same fate. It’s just spectacular.
That famous adage has it, "Never argue with a fool, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." On that front, it’s game, set and match to the ANC. It has succeeded in reducing the majority of our national debate to an infantile exchange of idiocies. Bravo.
Where to from here? Motsoeneng has the answer: "No one can stop me to go up and up, because I have brain in me." Go get ’em Tiger.