Nhlanhla Nene remains a hero despite the company he kept
I often wonder whether Nostradamus got his visions of the apocalypse wrong. He predicted the end would begin when “the pig man cometh”, and okay, some I know match the description — but surely there was an error in transcription there?
Let’s face it, parchment and ink were messy, and Nostradamus usually delirious. I think he wrote “the big man cometh”, both in the sense of the African big man, and the global big man. If so, all those currently making world politics their personal play pit — or sandpit — fit the prophecy.
However, nowhere does Nostradamus write “the big man cometh, yet woe betide the world when he begets little ones”. Did he overlook that? At first, the world wasn’t too bothered by the offspring of the great. Then politicians started keeping power in the family, so, if Dad messed something up, Junior could have another stab to mess it up properly.
George Bush Sr left Iraq as unfinished business, for example. It was left to George W, certain of weapons of mass destruction that mysteriously vanished, to plunge Iraq into civil war and mess up the Middle East to boot. Later, Donald Trump won an election, during which offspring-by-marriage Jared Kushner’s relations to Russian oligarchs have nearly had Trump impeached, not to mention dividing US society.
Eastward, North Korea’s mantle of supreme leadership passed from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, about which, searching for positives, one can say it hasn’t brought nuclear war (yet).
The fact is, the big men all know each other, and meet with each other. That’s why Kushner knew Russian oligarchs. That though doesn’t confirm they’re compromised.
And at home, the Zondo commission implies that if former president Jacob Zuma ran the state, the shadow state was administered by Duduzane, who brought youthful fresh thinking. Apparently, aspirant state capturers had to submit their CVs to Duduzane, in the best practice of HR, making it deserving of the name “organised crime”.
So one isn’t surprised when state capture hero Nhlanhla Nene has a little Nene, who receives financing from the Public Investment Corporation for a business deal, which may or may not have been improper. Here’s the difference though: in most of the cases above, the little big man managed to worsen a situation left by the original. That’s not the case here — like hero Mcebisi Jonas, Nene Sr saved SA. So it’s not the case that little big man, Nene Jnr, compromised the big man.
However, has the big man himself been compromised? For it also emerged at Nene’s testimony that he met the Guptas several times, including at their home. I don’t see a problem yet. The fact is, the big men all know each other, and meet with each other. That’s why Kushner knew Russian oligarchs. That though doesn’t confirm they’re compromised.
If I were Atul Gupta, I would invest energy in wooing a potentially important influencer. So let’s not crucify a man for visiting somebody’s house — even his critics concede he was never captured. When pressured to sign off on deals that would have imperilled SA’s people — not just the nuclear deal, which alone would have guaranteed an apocalypse, but a Denel-Gupta merger — he refused. And he did it out of the public eye, so that without the commission we wouldn’t have known of his heroism.
The fact is, when prompted in the commission, he could have lied. He didn’t, so yet again remains true. Let’s not confuse this further act of heroism at the commission with its very opposite. Indeed, we need other ministers at the commission to testify the same way. If we overreact we frighten them into silence and really shoot ourselves in the foot.
Instead, maybe we could stop thinking of the inquiry as a truth and recrimination commission, but as a truth and reconciliation commission. After all, if we’re too busy looking backward we can’t go forward to build a new nation with those who’ve proven true.
Sure, if new facts are presented (I’m not Nostradamus, so maybe some will be), we could reconsider. Until then, we should stop acting like it’s the end of the world. It’s thanks to this big man that it’s not.
• Galetti, most recently a post-doctoral researcher at Yale, was creative director at Ireland’s biggest ad agency and senior writer and strategist for SA’s Democratic Party in 1994.