Ben Cashdan
Ben Cashdan

Survival guide for SA politicians

Are you a top public servant or politician who occasionally receives wads of cash in excess of R5 000 in unmarked brown envelopes as payment for work done after hours? Do you sometimes prefer to do business in a gentleman’s club? Are any of your close friends renowned drug traffickers? Have you from time to time found yourself at your kids’ school at fee-paying time without your wallet, only to be bailed out by a long-time struggle friend who asks no more in return than a quiet word in support of his associate’s bid to procure arms for the state?

If any of these scenarios seem overly familiar to you, then you may soon find yourself in a spot of bother. South Africa’s top crime-fighters, or at least those who resemble a nasty stinging creature that you’d like to crush under your sandal if it comes after you, seem to be obsessed with hounding otherwise-upstanding public servants who have committed only the occasional indiscretion in their shining careers. Not only that, but they have made a habit of pressing multiple charges at the most inconvenient times.

But fear not. If your Easter/Eid/Passover lunch is rudely interrupted by an unruly police posse intent on serving you with a charge sheet as long as Thabo Mbeki’s list of “former friends and comrades I am no longer talking to”, why not follow the lead of other recent high-profile victims of the manipulation of state institutions for political ends? For your easy reference, here is a checklist of the top five legal (and not-so-legal) defence strategies you might want to try:

1. Before the bastards get to court, bring your own counter-action in a higher court (as high as possible), alleging that the policemen who are charging you are doing so out of malice, spite and general bad manners. You might also highlight in your application the negative impact on service delivery, fixed investment and South Africa’s trade deficit that your incarceration would have (not to mention the impact on the livelihoods of your four wives and 24 children).

2. Have yourself elected president of the ruling party, and pass a motion at the party congress to have the nasty (stinging) cops dismissed, dissolved, castrated, sanitised and generally cut off and cast out. Just make sure that you can neutralise their sting before the date that you are due to appear in court.

3. Arrange for the main prosecutor who is acting against you to be arrested and charged himself. If possible, he should be charged with very similar offences to those with which he has charged you. That way, everyone will see that the whole thing is just a playground spat between children that revolves around whose gang is tougher, and that no real crimes have been committed by anyone and no real serious harm has been done to anyone (much).

4. After being elected president of the ruling party, establish a broad front of convicted fraudsters and other politicians with dubious records, just to show that you are no worse than many other people in power, and that convicting you and all your friends will leave no one to run the country.

5. If all else fails, you might try to suggest that the whole affair is tribal in nature, and based on a misunderstanding that dates back to the 19th century when the colonisers turned kings into collaborators in their efforts to divide and rule. The stinging cops, you would argue, are out to reassert the dominance of their clan. This last tactic is high-risk, especially if the acting head of the stinging police happens to come from the same village as your own grandmother, so check this out first.

If you try all of these approaches and nothing works, I’m afraid you may have to serve a lengthy jail term. Then innumerable so-called “liberal”‘ analysts are bound to waste kilometres of newsprint claiming that your conviction is an important milestone in South Africa’s democracy, and that your failure to beat the system is proof that our judiciary and our democratic institutions are not open to cynical manipulation. They may even argue that your demise has been of symbolic importance in helping South Africa to transcend a very difficult period in its history, in which an over-centralised ruling party, increasingly dominated by an small out-of-touch elite, has become highly prone to opportunism and factionalism, and is in danger of losing sight of its broader goal of transforming our society for the benefit of all.

Post-apartheid South Africa, they will opine, has lost its innocence, and some struggle stalwarts need to go down to prove that no one is above the law. Otherwise we are headed down a slippery slope towards the kind of political corruption, manipulation and personal enrichment practised with impunity by the likes of Bush and Cheney in the United States.

But don’t concern yourself with this nonsense. Call in a few favours, and you’ll be out on parole in a month or two.