Great statesman’s death prompts terrible memories

One Paul Walker died in some sort of car accident recently. I had never heard of the guy, but the news was everywhere, along with references to something called ‘Fast and Furious’, which I had also never heard of. Just as I was about to despair – maybe even click on one of these millions of links to find out who this nonentity was – Nelson Mandela, liberator to the last, comes to the rescue.

I was in South Africa at the time of the first anniversary of his 1995 election win and donning-of-rugby-shirt. White middle-class Jo’burgers proudly recounted standing in mixed-race lines for hours in order to vote. Blacks and whites drank and danced on the tables together in a place called The Shebeen for a show by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens.

But every eight-foot front gate in Sandton (I wasn’t hanging out in Soweto) had a sign stating that the occupants were armed. Labourers on the sidewalk stepped aside murmuring “sarry baas.” And at a big shed-like restaurant in some dusty settlement near the Botswana border, a few whites sat at tables indoors while blacks clustered round a small barred window outside at the back. The food was some sort of meat with some sort of starch – about as plain, graceless and unlikeable as the scowling Afrikaner owners.

Crap food. Apart from the drunks driving pickups everywhere, that must be the most memorable thing about South Africa. A cuisine built on the culinary traditions of Dutch Calvinist pioneers, Brits and warthog-chewing nomads. Vilest meal: a middle-class fiftyish suburban matron had given Eve the night off and tried cooking by herself, with husband doing the peeling, the result being half-raw chicken legs in a gummy, pinkish-gray sauce with watery, over-boiled potatoes and (at last, something edible) canned peas.

That was a different era. Today, many South African blacks find themselves enjoying a similar economic status to whites. And globe-trotting celebrity chefs on YouTube show us hip up-market bistros in Cape Town serving up cutting-edge, world-class cuisine to such icons of glamour and trendiness as, well, Margaret Thatcher’s son. Mandela, as the obituaries say, saved the place.

It was especially good to get back to Hong Kong.

A quick flick through today’s China Daily

Hong Kong’s democratic development has been an orderly and gradual process since the handover. The reason it has been so instead of one big leap to the ultimate goal is that Hong Kong had been under colonial rule for so long it needed time to get used to “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong”…

The writer is Permanent Honorary President of the Hong Kong Federation of Overseas Chinese Associations – one of a thousand United Front obscurities. After 20 years of nothing but cosmetic change to the political structure, we need a reason to explain why Hong Kong suddenly faces the possibility of substantial modification. ‘Run out of other ideas’ and ‘lost patience’ won’t do, so here it is: ‘needed time to get used to concept’. Got it.

And who can resist a little smirk on reading…

The Financial Services Development Council (FSDC) was established and funded by the government a year ago “in response to the financial industry’s aspiration for a high-level government advisory body on the topic” (FSDC factsheet). Translated, this means using taxpayer’s money to establish an industry-lobbying group, administered by industry. It is in danger of being seen as a talking shop for rich people to talk to other wealthy people about how to become even richer

Ouch. You won’t find writing like this in the South China Morning Post. (They’re all listed here – mostly as well-known as Paul Walker.) The key phrase here is, of course, “in danger of being seen as.” As in: “I overslept by two hours, so I am in danger of being seen as late for work.” Or: “After managing to choose the most socially and economically ruinous and least publicly popular policies throughout the last year, the government is in danger of being seen as disastrously incompetent and unfit to govern.” Etc. “I am in danger of upsetting the wrong people if I criticize a bunch of establishment oafs, but if I insert the phrase ‘in danger of being seen as’ everything should be fine.” The rhetoric of risk-free insulting. You can’t go wrong.

I am in danger of being seen as declaring the weekend open.


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13 Responses to Great statesman’s death prompts terrible memories

  1. Joe Blow says:

    …half-raw chicken legs in a gummy, pinkish-gray sauce with watery, over-boiled potatoes and (at last, something edible) canned peas…..

    Hemlock, you are an Englishman: you should have felt right at home.

  2. Stephen says:

    Yes we are led to believe the historical factors of running free and fair democratic elections in Hong Kong in 2017 are far more difficult than in South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994. Of course this is utter horseshite but, being a ‘united front person you have to twist yourself to this contorted logic, as if the rest of the world isn’t there.

    RIP Mr. Mandela.

  3. gweiloeye says:

    It will be interesting to see, now with Mandela gone, if there is now an even greater push by the ANC et al for Zimbabwe like policies in relation to land “reforms”. Might be some not-so-happy hairybacks looking to restart apartheid in a couple of months.

  4. maugrim says:

    I wonder if the BBC plays ‘ding dong the witch is dead’? Oh wait…..

  5. colonelkurtz says:

    gweiloeye – and that would be a good thing? The ANC may be at danger of slipping the country into a dangerously unchecked one party dominated system. But, most blacks in South Africa are still living in pretty abysmal poverty. Some redistribution if handled equitably and not punitively may not be part of the solution. YOu’ll never have a stable democracy with ridiculously unequal distribution of wealth. Land reform if properly handled can enfranchise people and give them a stake in ensuring a democratic future. The question is can the ANC not fall into corruption and nepotism if it is so dominant and how strong at the institutions to keep it in check? Most South Africans I’ve met of any enthnicity back their institutions so that’s grounds for optimism.

  6. gweiloeye says:

    @colonelkurtz – apologies if you thought I was making some sort of judgement on the rights or wrongs of the policy, it was just a throw away comment and an excuse to use the word “hairyback”.

    But seriously I think this will be the tough test for Sth Africas leaders, they either do it right or they become Zimbabwe v2.0.

    p.s. if you replace “Sth Africa” with “Hong Kong” in your comment, it sort of makes sense also 🙂

  7. Sojourner says:

    @ colonelkurtz … Good points.

  8. Oneleggoalie says:

    Oneleg is in danger of being seen as NOT having a comment censored this week…so here goes…

    The Chinese and Africans are incapable of good politcs…or honest government…isn’t it obvious…like the nose on The Man Who Keeps Dolphins Imprisoned…at Ocean Park…

    R.I.P. Morgan Freeman…

  9. Hairyback says:

    “Crap food” neatly describes the cuisine of the island you fled, Hemmers. And apartheid neatly continued British colonialism, so stick your superior complex up your backside.

  10. I could get used to “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong” more easily if we had a smarter set of Hong Kong people doing the governing.

  11. Dr Doo-me-a-little says:

    At this moment of sorrow, my thoughts go out to Mrs Machel-Mandela, who becomes a widow yet again. Now she has to find yet another African statesman to marry.

  12. Oneleggoalie says:

    Good one Dr.

    There really should be a thumbs-up button…but that’s asking too much from someone who remembers The Boer War…

  13. It’s amusing seeing all the politicians who colluded with the ugly apartheid regime turning up now to eulogise the man who overthrew it.

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