It is February in South Africa. Trade unions and business people gather around their television sets to what the president has to say at his annual State of the Nation Address. The media spends days getting ready for the event and deciding who will report on the ground. Analysts are sucking their thumbs blue and and reading tea leaves in order to predict what the president is going to say. MPs arrive at the lavishly decorated houses of the National Assembly. Ruling party MPs stand arms-folded admiring the exquisite decor. Opposition MPs seem to be doing the same, but with a calculator in their right hands.
Eventually the MPs proceed to the house and take their seats. In the ruling benches, everybody practices having an interested face. In the opposition benches, notes are being exchanged for who will criticise the speech with the wittiest remarks. Also in the opposition benches, some MPs are waiting for the speech to be over so that they can agree with the president and have dinner.
Silence befalls the house and the Speaker announces, “His excellency the honourable President of the Republic of South Africa…” Ruling MPs applaud, opposition MPs defy.
Finally the president makes his appearance at the podium. He adjusts his glasses with his middle-finger and begins, “Honourable members…” Eventually he welcomes the VIPs, including the ambassador of Andorra, the Minister of Defence of Bhutan and Queen Rania of Jordan’s second cousin’s only child. While this is going on, the rest of South Africa are watching anything but SABC 2.
The president then states all the successes of his government over the last year. He continues by stating statistics that leave even his greatest adversaries in awe of how great he is. He states that under his government, they planned to build “a number of clinics” and that they have exceeded that number by 50%. Opposition MPs check his previous speech and see that 2 clinics were to be built, the government built 3. Knowingly these MPs look at each other and their eyes say the following: “the devil is in the detail.”
Finally, with tummies roaring in parliament, the president states that over the next year his government will focus on 10 issues. He then adjusts his glasses with his middle-finger once more and laughs sheepishly (more like a sheep really). He then spews out a bunch of terms that South Africans would not understand (not that they’re watching) like “key deliverables”, “medium-term”, “Asgisa” and “National Development Plan”.
He then lists the 10 key focus areas over the next year:
1. Infrastructure development
2. The Palestinian pork industry
3. Health care
4. The Swiss chocolate crisis
5. Housing projects
6. The derecognition of Pluto as a planet
7. The education system
8. The Lance Armstrong doping scandal
9. Job Creation
10. Establishing trade relations with San Marino
After half an hour of the president reading the list, syllable by syllable, those who listened to what he was saying, cannot wait to see how these irrelevances are going to be translated to government policy.
So, focus area by focus area, syllable by syllable the president continues
“The government has secured a R1-trillion loan for ESKOM’s new green coal-powered power station in Upington. R800-billion will be spent on on sports fields to keep children off the streets. R2-million is being provided for school development. 7000 new hospitals will be built over the medium-term…”
So the speech continues under this focus area. The finance wizzes in the opposition benches have passed out. The leader of the opposition had to chase in sugar water to calm her nerves. On the other side of the house are so focused on looking interested and capable that they could not bring themselves to listen to a word.
The Palestinian pork industry
The president then continues with a long intro into how Palestine is known for it’s excellent pork industry. Half the MPs look like sheep that saw fire. “It is comparable to the Argentine beef industry”, he continues.
He then adjusts his glasses with his middle-finger, laughs and says “boobs”.
The rest of the evening is characterised by him almost spelling out every word of his speech. “12000 houses will be built… Billions of rands will be made by establishing trade relations with San Marino… We will not tolerate any South African doping on the Tour-de-France… Pluto’s deregnition as a planet has brought great suffering to the people of Africa, since it was actually a great African, named Idi Ammin, who discovered it… The collapse of the Swiss chocolate industry has nearly destroyed the West but due to our measures and controls, South Africa was completely unaffected.”
This is followed by closing remarks and then the opposition gets an opportunity to reply to the speech that the president just gave.
“Unacceptable”, the indignant leader of the opposition states. “I found Alice in Wonderland more factual than your address.” This is followed by many other clever stabs at how ridiculous and “out of touch with reality” the speech was.
Another opposition gets up and thanks the president for the “much needed austerity measures” (of which he did not say a word) and thanks the for “[the] president’s stance on the Peruvian pork industry. It will go far in establishing good relations with Pakistan and we will benefit a great deal.”
The ruling party then thanks the president and does it short and sweet because the food is waiting.
Across South Africa, everybody is still busy watching anything but SABC 2. Oblivious to what the new year has in store for them. Not that they care to listen to works of fiction being read by the president. “If we wanted to listen to works of fiction being read by someone else, we would listen to professionals reading it to us. On audio books”, Sampie de Beer from Springbok remarked.
The next morning on the front page of every major South African newspaper one would read:
“President says b**bs” – The Citizen
“Outrage at chauvinist comment” – The times
“Gauteng ANCWL express concern about president’s remark” – The Star
“‘I said oops'” – The Daily Sun
“First for Women shares drop 8%” – The Business Day
“Presidensiële uitlating ‘n klap in die gesig van vroue” – Beeld
“‘Boobs’ sê die grootste tiet in SA” – Die Son
“Opposition parties slam the president about remark” – The New Age
This is a situation that I would like to call “Political ADD”. While, it would not be acceptable for a president to say that in the State of the Nation, it has defined the South African political landscape over the next 3 weeks. The trillions of rands of taxpayer money being spent on pointless exercises (in my piece) are not at issue. Government corruption is so run of the mill, that not a word is said about it. Those found to be corrupt are still in government and everybody is silent. No intelligent debate takes place.
South Africa as a nation has attention deficit disorder when it comes to issues that matter. We would rather make fun of shower heads and debate about a painting that was ugly to start with. “Beetroot and garlic” have become synonymous with government ineptitude. How many wives the president has, is something we talk about.
Do any of these things matter?
Should the minister of finance paint a penis on his budget before delivering the budget speech? Would we care then? At least then we would know that “Two ballsion Rand was being spent to crotch some crooks and protect the pubic.”
Children sleep without food, housing, health care and a decent education at night in our country and we as a nation have the audacity to lose our tempers over a painting. I am not taking a narrow view that would say that freedom of expression was not at issue with regard to the Spear, but why did we blow up like we did? We run to court to have the president’s dignity being protected but we don’t run to court to give a child (or an adult for that matter) his first ever true sense of dignity.
If we do not lose our political ADD soon, we are in for a very bumpy ride!