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President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: BLOOMBERG
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Cinderamaphosa could have danced all night, but the ball is over, the clock has struck midnight, and his carriage has turned back into the pumpkin called Fikile Mbalula.

Yes, the Brics party was one for the ages. Perhaps the Prince was less Charming than Machiavelli, but such distinctions melted away like cocaine rubbed into human gums as the ANC got high as a kite on the money and power that poured into Sandton last week.

Indeed, Gwede Mantashe was apparently so wasted on Chinese and Russian capitalism that at one point his alleged soul left his body and he was possessed by the spirit of a Wall Street banker explaining to his tennis coach why Reaganomics was the way of the future. 

“One of the things we must change in SA,” said Mantashe, all but popping Quaaludes, “is to change the passive nature of our society, where society thinks it must be taken out of poverty instead of working with government in taking itself out of poverty.” 

You hear that, you unemployed rural mother of three with no access to sanitation, electricity, public transport, credit, quality education, trustworthy police or functioning medical care? You need to buck up and stop expecting the people getting paid R2m a year to help you to help you. Geez, the entitlement of these poor people, hey? 

Yes, everyone had a high old time. But all good things — and Brics summits — must come to an end; and this week President Cyril Ramaphosa is having a comedown from hell as he is confronted by two equally depressing spectacles: another stolen election in Zimbabwe, and Mbalula. 

On Sunday, as Zanu-PF officials completed the task of typing “52%” into the old Election-O-Matic vote-stealing machine donated by Thabo Mbeki in the early 2000s, President Emmerson Mnangagwa told the world that “there are no winners or losers, but one united people of Zimbabwe”. 

He was being overly modest, of course. When it comes to rigging elections there is one clear and undisputed winner in Zimbabwe, and I hope he sent a bottle of something expensive to Mbeki to thank a statesman who has played such an integral part in bringing employment to Zimbabweans, mostly in SA but also the UK, Australia and Canada. 

It sounds like I’m being facetious, but that enormous diaspora is integral to the money-making racket created by Robert Mugabe and signed off by Mbeki, which Mnangagwa now runs. Its beauty is its elegant simplicity: seize profit-generating assets and distribute them among senior politicians, crash the economy, drive at least a million voting-age adults out of the country, and then — and this is the genius bit — ban them from voting in elections from abroad.

It’s an almost perfect grift, where the very act of extraction simultaneously and automatically exiles the only people who might stop the act of extraction. Even if you enjoy fiction and believe Mnangagwa won, then he won by just 380,000 votes, proving even more emphatically how beautifully his system works. 

Someone who has never worked beautifully, or indeed at all, is Mbalula, and on Sunday he was in typical form, taking to X (formerly Twitter) to get his Zanu on, reposting various celebratory tweets by the likes of former Mugabe sock puppet Jonathan Moyo. 

Now, I understand why Mbalula would have been rooting for Mnangagwa to steal another election. Zimbabwe’s ruling class is one of the few industries the ANC has managed to keep alive for the past 20 years, and it makes sense that Mbalula would be eager to take credit for his party where he can. 

But what I wasn’t expecting, because I’m so used to the endless lip-service paid to democracy and progressive values by the hustlers in our governing cabal, was for Mbalula to show his true colours with so little guile, by sharing one particular image.

It wasn’t the Zanu-PF branding on the image that made it striking, or that it showed Mnangagwa sitting on a Photoshopped chair under the triumphant legend “52.6% — President Elect”. It wasn’t even the two ghostly lions that had been photoshopped on either side of him.

No, what made it stand out from all the spin was that the chair was a golden throne, and that a golden crown had been photoshopped onto Mnangagwa’s head. Someone in Mnangagwa’s court had found a way to recreate their masochistic fantasies — to make political pornography for people yearning to give up their rights and be trampled by autocrats.

And then the ideological head of the ANC saw this image and thought it was something he should share with his three million followers. Of course, we can’t know why that particular image caught Mbalula’s eye, or why he thought it worth sharing. It’s possible he found it funny, which says plenty about him. It’s also possible it stirred something deep and warm inside him, which says plenty more.

But either way, Ramaphosa now has to take him aside and gently explain, perhaps using finger-puppets, that we don’t publicly endorse displays of unelected, antidemocratic autocratic power, except obviously when China or Russia do it, or our new friends like Saudi Arabia, but that’s different because they’re rich and they might toss us a copper... 

Yes, Cinderamaphosa could have danced all night, but the clock has struck midnight, and he’s back among the pumpkins. 

• Eaton is an Arena Holdings columnist.

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