Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Mosebenzi Zwane. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

I THOUGHT about Mosebenzi Zwane last week, a few days after Elon Musk’s Space X rocket carrying Facebook’s first satellite exploded at the space station at Cape Canaveral.

I imagined him waking up, shifting to the edge of his bed in his purple Y-fronts, wiping his hand down the front of his face, reaching for his phone lying on the table next to a jar of camphor cream and glancing at the notifications. Rockets. Space.

Then I imagined the whooshing sound this information made as it passed over his ears and eyes. Gone.

If you’ve never been to Warden in the Free State, where Zwane lords it over the long-suffering peasantry from a pinkish-gin palace, then permit me to latex-glove your suspense: it’s a festering bog, where very little works and even less makes sense.

It’s the type of place you leave, puzzling over what the town symbol should be before settling on the icon of a broken handle on an ageing public toilet.

Zwane was a massive fool even before he mischievously claimed to have secured a judicial inquiry into the "conduct of banks" in this country.

His elevation from rural obscurity to mineral resources minister was stagecraft; the stalking horse of Jacob Zuma’s axing of Nhlanhla Nene in December, the warmer-upper to the appointment of prime fool Des van Rooyen as finance minister.

Since the election, much has been said about the prominence of Zuma’s supporters, politely described as traditionalists. This group includes Zwane, Zuma’s own illegitimate son Edward, Van Rooyen, a cook, three warlords masquerading as premiers, and some neurotic women.

These are some of the people with whom Zuma has entrusted the safeguarding of his popularity until 2019 and beyond.

These pages regularly reveal insights into rural political mechanisms, and Jonny Steinberg’s analysis of the subject has, in my view, resulted in some of the finest journalism of 2016.

But while Steinberg and others have documented the contrast between provincial perspectives and those of the cities, few have explored the pace at which these divisions have widened, and why.

The theory that Zuma and his supporters care only for the rural vote is easily stripped by a mere glance at rural conditions in SA. "Caring for this vote" implies a favourable allocation of resources, concentrated service delivery, learning institutions, sporting academies, business and agricultural schools.

This is not the case. The lives of most of these people are so miserable, they remind me of children growing up in the projects of Camorra-ravaged Naples, ducking the bullets of the local neighbourhood psychopath. A doomed lot.

They are the same dust-road, tyre-pushing, city-hitchhiking, matchstick-chewing people who were there at the fall of apartheid; beyond patronage schemes that enrich only the administrations of these godforsaken places, nothing has changed.

This group of "traditionalists" are Luddites. Their pathological repulsion for progress and the way they have managed the provinces for the sake of the president’s future — the strategic food parcels given to communities, a few T-shirts, the gift of cattle to a village — is reversing the lives of residents in these areas back to polio and spinning wheels.

Metropolitan professionals are reluctant to admit this; fear of being accused of being too clever or having forgotten their roots enforces apathy. But it’s the advancing world that will ultimately expose what has happened to these poor bastards under the ANC guardians of "traditionalism".

This is a world in which in the same week that Zwane uttered his lie, a hacker from Pretoria discovered the first Nasa computer used to guide its vessels in space.

A week later, this same world featured two South Africans who claimed to have discovered more information about mysterious dark matter.

This is a world of shared economy in which applications can now deliver laundry, food and money, dimensions of mesmerising progress clearly provoking a kind of technological Darwinism.

The likes of Van Rooyen might call this a conspiracy and accuse the system of cultural bias. But then, he’d answer his phone because the cook would be calling, requesting a lift to a reed dance.

• Reader works for an energy investment and political advisory firm