Hadeda in flight. Picture: RAY HARTLEY
Hadeda in flight. Picture: RAY HARTLEY

What do Nik Rabinowitz (stand-up comedian) and Ronnie Kasrils (former Cabinet minister, MK Commander and SACP leader) have in common?  Besides being Jewish men, the Hadedah Ibis (Bostrychia hagedash) has poked its long beak into the creative consciousness of both.

The standard setting body for the profession of Chartered Secretary, the Chartered Secretaries Southern Africa (CSSA) use the Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), as the logo that symbolically defines its corporate identity.  It’s a good metaphor for the work that a company secretary does.  The CSSA website explains.

“The secretary bird is indigenous to Southern Africa and acquired its name from the resemblance of its black head-plumes to a secretary with a quill pen behind the ear. However, the bird was inadvertently aptly named as certain of its characteristics are most appropriate to Chartered Secretaries and other governance professionals. The most prominent of these characteristics are acuity and an advanced ability to prey. These reflect the vigilance, patience, perseverance and attention to detail endemic to every good Chartered Secretary. As a creature of habit the bird mates for life and is fiercely protective of its territory, a mirror of a Chartered Secretary's career-long pursuit of knowledge and commitment to sustainable excellence.”

Which are the qualities that our corporate entities, be they Private, Public or State Owned, large or small need, to ensure best practice in their social, financial, environmental and economic accountability.

At the recent 2017 CSSA Integrated Reporting Awards banquet, while laughing at the comic relief provided by Nik Rabinowitz’s metaphorical use of the Hadeda to poke fun at our societal paranoia, it occurred to me that CSSA might consider a make-over, and instead adopt the Hadeda Ibis Bostrychia hagedash, as its new corporate emblem.

Nik excited our imaginations with the frightening thought that natural selection was quietly producing super intelligent Hadedas which will in time surreptitiously move out of our gardens into our homes to hack into our computers and render us all slaves to a Master Race of avian predators. Or worse, the Ibis would become an agent of Isis, strapped with explosive vests to be detonated inside our homes in a gruesome burst of feathers and blood. 

I spoke to Nik after his routine to recommend that he read Ronnie Kasrils book for two reasons. Firstly, because Ronnie also employs the Hadeda as a literary aid to stimulate the imagination of his readers, and secondly because, in truth, the Hadeda offers a more penetrating socio-political metaphor than either he or Ronnie had realized, in order to germinate deeper seeds of consciousness.

Ronnie starts out by relating his discovery of the conspiracy by Zuma and his lackeys within government and the ANC to implicate the anti-Zuma faction in a plot to stop his ascent to the Presidency.

After his Director General Billy Masetla dropped off a report at his residence, contrived to discredit the Scorpions, Ronnie found himself unable to sleep upon discovering that it contained a batch of damning emails that framed Saki Macozoma, Bulelani Ngcuka and his wife Pumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in a bogus conspiracy.  To give further plausibility, the report also included ‘intercepted’ emails which placed Tony Leon in a chat room with Advocate Gerrie Nel, General Roos (members of the Scorpions) and Anton Harber (editor of the M&G) supposedly scheming to foment splits in the ANC.

“The mails purportedly stemmed from two groups of plotters” Ronnie writes, “not necessarily in league, but both aiming at preventing Jacob Zuma from becoming president of the country.  The one was an ANC faction around Macozoma and Ngcuka, and the other a white supremacist group around Tony Leon”. 

Ronnie could see that emails were fake, contrived to present Jacob Zuma as a victim of a gross injustice.

“The air had become thick with conspiracy.  I needed some fresh air and paced up-and-down on my lawn with the dew-laced grass squelching underfoot.   Two inelegant hadedas’ with their long decurved bills, were stalking about looking for worms as dawn arrived.  Extremely nervous creatures, they took flight at my appearance, emitting their shrill haaa-dah-dah cries as though from someplace in purgatory -  a mocking chorus to the spectres I was hunting.”

As we now know, the ghostly spectres were not illusions.  The conspiracy actually worked. Thabo Mbeki was putsched at Polokwane, and Zuma took control. 

The email of the species had evolved to become more dangerous than the mail.

Ronnie relates how he rushed around clandestinely to alert the various people named in the fake emails of what had been fed to him.

It included a meeting with Anton Harber.  To dodge any risk of being spied upon, Ronnie arranged to meet at the Parktown home of journalist David Beresford.

Returning from the Parktown meeting Ronnie concludes the chapter.

“When I got back to Bryntirion those ubiquitous hadedas were hunting insects.  One sight of me and off they flew in their ungainly way, emitting their hideous shrieks which sounded like infants in distress.” 

It can now be said that Beresford’s home was not crawling with electronic bugs, planted by Billy Masetla and his gang to eavesdrop on their conversation. Ronnie is not stupid when it comes to intelligence. 

But when it comes to ecological intelligence Ronnie had something to learn.

Therein lies the lesson.

Back in the 1960’s, while Ronnie Kasrils was clandestinely fomenting revolution in Pondoland in support of the Pondo Uprising, another underground process was underway in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg.  As the city began to expand rapidly in size, Libanasidus vittatus – better known as the Parktown Prawn – proliferated in the soils of our well-watered gardens. 

Professor Google informs:

“..the insects can jump actively and often eject offensive black fecal liquids when threatened. Accordingly, they frighten nervous persons and they may chew carpets and fabrics.”

They are not held in high regard by most householders.  Occasionally, while supplementing their diet with dog and cat food inside our homes, the creatures might curl up in our slippers or shoes. Not pleasant.

“A popular urban legend, propagated by an April Fools' Day article published by The Star, claims that the Parktown prawn was the result of a genetic experiment by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in the 1960s (thus explaining the insects' sudden arrival in Johannesburg at that time). The insect's unusual size, strength and vivid orange colouring are presented as confirmation of the idea.”

In truth, the proliferation of the Parktown Prawn was due to the absence of any ecological controlling factor.  But, nature has its ways and means.  The 1982-83 drought drove Hadedas from the countryside to slake their thirst in our swimming pools.  Besides the abundance of water, they found the Parktown Prawn an ideal food source, and soon brought the infestation under control. 

So, it can now be said that as Ronnie rushed around Bryntirion and Parktown, he did not encounter the dreadful, offensive Libanasidus vittatus, which might have further caused him to freeze in fear, thanks to the squawking bird overhead that was unearthing the nasty nunus.

 “Why so hard on the Hadeda?” I emailed Ronnie and explained these facts.  He was grateful for this education.

“Ha Ha, Hadeda John.  I have grown to like the critters and come to realise their worth on my glorious Greenside garden home.  But Oh Me Gawd!  That dreadful howling reminded me of banshees at that scary time of conspiracy!”

A metaphor based on the characteristics of the Hadeda began to incubate in my imagination.  With their long beaks, while penetrating the ground cover to feed on subterranean protein below the grassroots they aerate the soil and open inlets for rain water to seep deeper into the earth. 

Ronnie’s book proceeds to show that our political ecology has become deeply infested, from the grassroots up, with vile Parktown prawn-like characters.  They have especially found a niche in State- owned Companies, explained by the fact that the panel of judges that CSSA had assembled to decide on the winners of the 2017 Integrated Reporting Awards had resolved that NO AWARD would be made in 2017 in the category of “Large State-owned Company”. 

“Based on the fact that the highest scoring reports, in our view, lacked transparency on how the organizations are addressing stakeholders’ legitimate concerns, we did not award a winner in this category for 2017”, explained Stephen Sadie, the CEO of CSSA. 

Every time we hear the alarming birdcall of the Hadeda, let it be a claxon warning to redouble our efforts to exterminate the corrupters of our political, economic and social ecology.

 

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