By Kevin Ritchie
Spare a thought for the nation’s nanny, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma (NDZ).
Everyone has been lauding the life and times of Andrew Mlangeni, the last of the legendary Rivonia trialists, and rightfully so.
But on the day the nation bade him farewell, there on the Newzroom Afrika feed (endlessly retweeted), three SANDF warrant officers assigned to the funeral party stepped away from the hearse before the service began to have a quick puff.
Nobody can begrudge the warrants their fags; many soldiers still smoke to break the tedium, not just for the “after action, satisfaction” as Lexington used to enjoin us.
The problem, as the all-seeing eyes on social media were quick to point out, was that these cigs must have been the best husbanded ever.
Not even kids keep their Easter eggs as long as this and Easter was a fortnight after Uncle Cyril imposed the lockdown.
When Mlangeni was laid to rest on Wednesday, South Africans had been unable to buy cigarettes (legally) for 125 days, thanks to the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs’ abhorrence of smoking and her now immortal opinion that: “When people zol, they put saliva on the paper, and then they share that zol” – because smokers are obviously far more susceptible to infection than when they and the rest of the country travel in 100% full taxis.
Yet, according to recent studies, illegal cigarette sales are through the roof and the number of people sharing cigarettes has skyrocketed 430% because these illicit smokes cost 250% more than they did in March.
The government knows this. Bheki Cele, our Minister of Police and NDZ’s most faithful enforcer of lockdown breaches, famously warned on May 30 this year that police would ask anyone smoking to produce receipts for their fags, because obviously by then all honest smokers would have run out.
It was a capricious regulation in the first place. It has denied the government billions of rands in sin taxes and neither miraculously cured the addicts nor stopped the trade. The only person who has pushed for it appears to be NDZ, famously overruling President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Wednesday was supposed to be a moment for a nation to honour a man who paid an incredible price for his beliefs and never stopped speaking truth to power, right to the end.
Instead the smoke break was just a vignette in what is becoming the government’s train crash handling not just of the pandemic but of the corruption that obviously never ended when Jacob Zuma was forcibly retired.
Mlangeni’s funeral was given to a politically connected company, already flagged by investigators after pocketing R76 million for three other veterans’ funerals. The VVIP mourners, including cabinet ministers, who gathered at his house beforehand brazenly flouted the government’s own funeral regulations, when many ordinary South Africans can’t even attend the funerals of their own family.
But nothing compares to the choice of the ANC’s chief mourner at its own virtual memorial service last week: the Nkandla crooner himself.
Ritchie is a media consultant, a journalist and a former newspaper editor.