Azad Essa
Azad Essa

Fat cats and foul play

I am at Moses Mabhida Stadium for a tour, when the cute journo I’m chatting to spots a giant leopard bobbing his fractious head for a couple of photographers to our immediate left.

“Ah, first Sepp Blatter, then Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe and now the famous Zakumi, esteemed World Cup mascot dressed in a long leopard catfit, is here to grace our lavish stadium and make our dreams come true,” I think to myself.

The tall formation of feverish cloth stands handsomely before the backdrop of the scintillating stadium, shifting positions every couple of seconds for the trigger-happy amongst us.

“Get me a photo … please?” my newly acquainted mate requests, trailing off with an impressive Olga Kurylenko pout for good measure.

“But he is made from child labour,” I respond back with the cocky courtesy of a socially conscious, eco-friendly Bond.

She kills my attempt at temptuous banter and giggles, as she goes on to ask me again.

“With the haloumi Zakumi?” I groan as I realise that she really does want a photo with the cat made in a Chinese sweatshop.

Even though this is really against my principles, I comply. Besides, it could get me laid.

Anyway, it isn’t my problem if she wants to immortalise herself with a photo, alongside a fat-cat uniform, made by seventeen four-year-olds with Down’s Syndrome.

I look at the bozo, raise the camera and begin to imagine what might be going on around the world, in the factory and in Sepp Blatter’s boardroom, bedroom, and bathroom; news of the poor treatment of workers who were making the mascot dolls had sparked international outrage and resulted in an audit of the factory.

With the mascot being the face of the World Cup — until of course e.tv catches a couple of drunk British hooligans waking up in the wrong brothel in the Cape Flats — revealing that their manufacturers are in fact rebellious working-class foetuses in a Chinese factory would be a PR disaster for Fifa.

I cringe as I imagine overseas investors, internal investigators, factory managers, Fifa contacts, local politicians — everyone in on the scam — running helter-skelter to fix aspects of the production process before auditors are meant to expose their punk-ass profiteering shenanigans.

“Remove da kids chains … fifa guys are coming,” says one SMS from Durban buyer to factory manager.

“Tell mnger 2 shift pay-roll b4 auditr Hein cums to check … Blatt says must avert PR disaster,” says Fifa insider to investor in Singapore sent via his BlackBerry messenger.

Meanwhile, in the factory, the four-year-olds are rounded up and threatened with dismissal if the rat is not found. “Which one of you little bastards alerted the British media about how we ill-treat you? We know it was through Twitter … if you come clean we might let you grow up healthy … but if we find out … ” says the factory manager. “Didn’t you all volunteer to this camp? You all know that this seriously compromises your reference letters. No Nike sweatshops for any of you!” the bespectacled man with the flat chest but Buddha paunch adds.

“Spoke to auditor, he cant go Beijing but says public need minimum 2 areas we can improve fast & must tighten security at plant. Will send note now,” writes Singapore investor to Fifa insider via SMS.

Back on earth, my journo friend distracts me from my stupor as she strikes a hip-hop pose with the fake leopard in the sheepish cloth.

“Poor guy, animal, thing, it,” I think to myself, “he must be burning inside it”.

I take the photo and walk up to him with my digital condolences in hand.

He poses as I take further snaps from Durban’s ground zero with the stadium’s arch featuring prominently behind his quivering whiskers.

When I think about it now, I feel bad for not conversing with the furry creature.

What if it really was an adult and not two kids standing on each other’s shoulders to make up the six-foot cat?

If it were kids, I wouldn’t have had any regrets. What would we speak about anyway?

“I want to take it home,” the lass says as she ambles over to me.

Everyone knows that girls love taking furry things home only to suggest a do-it-for-me-honey back-wax.

I agree with her that the leopard made me feel something inside.

Rage.

I figure it might have something to do with the scratch marks I imagine carved by the claustrophobic kids who might have lost their way as they stitched the inside of “fair play”.

We watch Zakumi walk away into the main hall of the stadium.

His inanimate tail wagging happily, beating the non-existent flies attracted to his clean behind to shreds.

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  • Laura Ash

    Zakumi represents much of what you portray in your article. I contacted FIFA many many months ago with a proposal that Zakumi (yawn), a young leopard soft toy, be given a “heart” in the form of some sort of contribution supporting leopard conservation in this country (under dire threat and gin trapped especially on farms in the Cape). Initially it was “on the table” – but once a new lady executive stepped into this position (yes a lady nogal, who one would hope, had a little more intuition than most within the FIFA bunch), denied Zakumi a much needed young leopard “heart” in the form of a green identity with leopard conservation …and maybe even pique some interest.

  • MLH

    I thought the kids were 14?

    But yes, it’s a long time since I’ve seen anything so patently non-South African going for far much more than it’s worth on any of our beach fronts or in the curio shops. I think we missed a huge opportunity to turn out some fantastic SA beadwork. At the price the Chinese were paid, some of our crafters would have been thrilled with the income. Ain’t that just sad?