If you could get a Safta for bad optics, Bheki Cele’s book case at home would be unrecognisable. John Steenhuizen’s wouldn’t be much better, maybe with enough room for an actual book, perhaps a signed copy of Helen Zille’s “Stay Woke – Go Broke”.
Steenhuizen made an early charge in the Bad Optics stakes with his Kim Jun-un video for his virtual rally, that was matched by the Eurovision-esque song and dance atop a Cape Town municipal building with a superannuated Idols contestant afterwards.
He never stood a chance when Cele, South Africa’s self-styled strongman, decided to get into the game. Renowned for many things, none of them actually fighting crime with a bluster that’s only pipped by Fikile Mr FearFokkol/ Mr Fixit/ Mr Fokop Mbalula, the man who is politically in charge of our police service really put down a marker last weekend.
To start, he slashed the budget for crime fighting but then upped the number for VIP protection. Then he announced there’d be a new draft law banning private gun ownership for self-defence.
It’s an amazing conceptual somersault, redolent of George Orwell’s seminal 1984: there is no crime, so we can spend less. No, there is crime; our politicians (of the ruling party) must be protected. Ergo, the best way to cut down violent crime is to deny private citizens the right to own guns.
It glosses over the uncomfortable truth that many of the firearms used in violent crimes are stolen from police stations or confiscated guns sold by corrupt cops. But then again, this comes from a cabinet minister from a party that finds no contradiction in taking to the streets and protesting against policies imposed by a government, which its members have run for the last 27 years.
Cele dresses like a Hollywood spoof of Al Capone, talks like Al Pacino in Scarface and is often seen on “official” duties at roadblocks surrounded by police armed to the teeth and clad in body armour. Jacob Zuma used to appear in public like Joaquin Phoenix in The Gladiator, flanked by phalanxes of Praetorian guards. His minions mimic him. Now he’s retired and we can’t even get him to court.
Last year when we were in the throes of lockdown, Cele was determined that couples shouldn’t kiss in their own bed in their own homes – to prevent the spread of COVID 19. Instead women got beaten to death as GBV skyrocketed. The victims couldn’t make it to police stations and, even if they could, the cops would have been too busy sending them home or checking the boots of their cars for cigarettes and open toed sandals.
One of the enduring curses of Africa is Big Man politics. It’s straight out of that other Orwellian playbook, Animal Farm; some of us are more equal than others – exponentially by the number of blue lights around your car or stooges carrying your boutique store shopping for you in the mall.
We’ve comes a long way from 1994, then Nelson Mandela was quite happy with a single bodyguard and a clapped-out Corolla.
Originally published by the Saturday Star on 29 May 2021.