One of the most frightening episodes of my entire life was the time when, years ago, as a young man, I got sucked into a bizarre fanatical religious cult.
No, I’m not talking about the Dutch Reformed Church. Neither am I referring to Facebook. Neither of these organisations were quite as demented as the particular chosen few I am referring to, and, anyway, this incident happened in my early twenties when the Dutch Reformed Church was already in decline and Facebook had not even been invented.
This sinister little sect, this ominous group of people (who did not even have a name) scalded my brain, rearranged my thinking, and turned my life upside down to such an extent that when I turned to hard drugs years later it felt almost like a return to ordinary reality.
They did not capture me, or imprison me, or steal my life savings, or force me to change my name to Ezekiel, or make me grow a funny beard, or try to trick me into a mass suicide with them, or any of the other activities normally associated with religious cults. Yet when I left them, about a year later, I left with a monkey on my back bigger than King Kong. A monkey that took me very long to rid myself of.
Having once been inside a religious cult, I am now able to smell them a mile away. I understand how they think, I know their modus operandi, and, best of all, I know how to cross to the other side of the street when I see such people heading my way.
For exactly the same reason I dislike organised religion I never liked the old National Party. When I was young, the National Party was the militant wing of the Dutch Reformed Church. Whereas the Dutch Reformed Church merely bored us, the National Party had the power to send us off to the army and kill people we didn’t even know. Fortunately, in my case, they realised just in time that I couldn’t shoot straight, and reassigned me elsewhere.
I thought all that had ended by 1995. The Dutch Reformed Church has been in decline ever since, and there are, at present, probably more enthusiastic bird-watchers in the Kruger National Park on any given day than loyal members of this denomination. As for the National Party, they have completely evaporated. They are as dead as the dinosaurs. The hula hoop and bell bottom jeans may rear their ugly heads again, but the National Party will remain dead. And a well-deserved death that is, too.
What a pity that they now have a successor. What a pity that their successor – if Bishop Tutu and Comrade Vavi are to be believed, and sometimes they are to be believed – is our ‘new’ ANC government, which is as bad as, or even worse than, the old National Party government.
What rotten luck! With a small exception of the few short years under Mandela, we, as a country, have, since 1948, been ruled by the one bunch of baddies after the other. Not only is the ANC trying their very best, apparently, to be as racially divisive, as lazy, as corrupt and as dogmatic as the old National Party, they have also started morphing into something else. Something I had never dreamt they would become. Something I had thought not even the Nats had quite managed to do, though they sure as hell tried.
The ANC is starting to resemble that nameless group of fanatical people who used to gather in that suburban house all those years ago. Yes, it’s true; the ANC of this day is no longer the so-called ‘broad church’ they used to be under the Tambos and the Mandelas. Instead of a ‘broad church’, they have turned into a narrow-minded politico-religious sect.
Pinch me if I’m wrong, but when I recall some of President Zuma’s statements in recent years – ” ANC will govern until Christ returns”, “a vote against the ANC is a vote for the Devil”, “God is on the ANC’s side”, “When Jesus fetches us we will see him wearing the black, green and gold of the holy ones of the ANC” (sentence structure simplified), and many more where that came from – I can’t help recognising the symptoms. I’ve been here before.
Some of these Zumaisms are so arrogant, so left-field and so downright weird that Verashni Pillay felt compelled to write in the Mail & Guardian on February 7 2011: “Zuma … offends me … with his shameless use of religion when it suits him.”
During that same week, the following statement was issued by Lindiwe Mazibuko on behalf of the DA: “President Zuma should apologise to all South Africans for his attempt to employ religious threats for political ends.”
And, on the website of the Christian Science Monitor, guest blogger Karl Beck summed it up better than anyone else: “The ANC’s sense of historical entitlement to perpetual rule, and acquiescence to this conceit by a majority of the 80 percent of South Africans who are black, keep the ANC in power and constitute major obstacles to the development of a mature South African majority.”
Under Zuma’s leadership, the ANC of today is turning into a cult. A Cult with a capital C. They have become an elitist faction, the mother of all granfalloons (to borrow a word from Vonnegut), a law unto themselves, an enclave of small-minded heretics and priests, adhering to a philosophy and a belief system only they themselves, as initiates, can fully understand.
If you don’t believe me, think of the attributes of fundamentalist splinter groups the world over. What are the attributes of a typical cult?
One. They all believe in an absolute truth, absolute black and white with no shades of grey in-between.
Two. They think that they, and they alone, will find grace in the eyes of God come the final judgment.
Three. Religious cults don’t tolerate dissidence and they are unable to comprehend the principle of free discussion of diverse ideas.
Four. They are usually united under a strong, charismatic leader who claims to have God-like qualities, or a direct line to God.
Five. They are isolated from trends and thought processes of the outside world and are totally engrossed in their own belief system.
Six. They socialise only with their own circle of adherents.
Seven. Most importantly, they are unable to see themselves as the rest of the world sees them.
Ponder this: at a time when the main dialogue within the ANC – if one can even speak of a dialogue at this stage – should be about issues like service delivery, education, and improving the living conditions of the poverty stricken and the homeless – what are they talking about? Unity.
What do they mean with unity? Why the hell should unity, of all things, be their most important objective? Unity against what? Unity by whom?
In the old days, even the National Party, during their dying gasps, were prepared to discard their old war cry “Eendrag Maak Mag” with vague mumblings about “diversity”. They didn’t really mean this, of course, but they had come to realise that the “Eendrag” slogan no longer sounded believable in a country encompassing so many different groups and ideas.
Let’s be honest here. When the ANC talks about “unity”, they don’t mean what other people think they mean. They are not talking about a country united around a single set of goals, no matter how noble-sounding those goals may be. They are not even talking about unity of a country at all, they are simply talking about unity within their own party ranks. When they talk about “unity” they are saying “we don’t tolerate anyone who is not like us”. In the minds of the ANC leadership, other parties, or people of other persuasions, simply don’t exist. They have no right to be heard. They are not South Africans. They are simply objects that can be taxed and tolled to death.
When I wake up in the morning and start my day, I must admit that “unity” is the last thing on my mind, it is the last thing I need. What I actually need, more so than unity, are peace, prosperity, safety, an education for my children, roads without potholes. Those are the things I consider important. Unity means nothing to me. I can’t see it, I can’t feel it, I can’t taste it, I can’t even stir it into my coffee.
So why, when I open the newspaper and read the headlines, should the word “unity” scream at me every time an ANC minister makes a speech? What on earth are they going on about, and why?
I will tell you why. People like Zuma are carrying on about “unity” not because they are afraid that the voices of dissent within their party are threatening the country (which they are not; for the most part, the country carries on with its day-to-day business without paying much attention the internal squabbles of politicians.) They are carrying on about “unity” because the voices of dissent within their own party are threatening the authority of the leadership of the Cult.
The similarities with the old National Party are eerie. Whereas in the past, the countryside of South Africa was dwarfed by thousands of Dutch Reformed Church steeples – every town had one, and still has, though now they are mere architectural relics of a past ideology – we are now slowly being engulfed by the towering e-toll machines straddling every highway in Gauteng, and, if the government could have its way, soon straddling the highways of every major city. The church steeples of the past, which spoke so loudly of the state religion of the time, the towers that proclaimed whiteness and purity and Calvinism and paranoia, wicked though they were, seem dwarfed by the toll gates. Like fearsome mechanical highway robbers they stand there, unmovable in their concrete resolve. Like modern-day Robin Hoods, they take money from ordinary citizens, but unlike Robin Hood, they’re not taking from the rich to give to the poor, but taking from the poor to make the rich even richer.
No sooner will we have gotten used to the toll gates when the next massive construction programme will kick in: nuclear power stations. According to a recent story in The Big Issue, six new nuclear reactors are to be built across South Africa during the next twenty years at an estimated cost of R500-billion to R1-trillion; this, in spite of the fact that more and more countries are turning away from nuclear power to consider other alternatives, and in spite of the fact that we have the perfect climate system for renewable energy systems, such as wind and solar. Although The Big Issue article takes care to provide a balanced view of the pros and cons of both nuclear and renewable energy options, I couldn’t help spotting this chilling paragraph in Melany Bendix’s editorial:
“Scratch the surface of almost any nuclear power project worldwide and you’re bound to discover brown envelopes and questionable deals. South Africa’s already had a taste of this with its diabolically failed foray into the nuclear world with the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). That white elephant project wasted R9-billion of taxpayers’ money while lining the pockets of a single few … The tender for SA’s R1-trillion nuclear contract is only due to be issues later this year, but already grave concerns are mounting…”
We should be asking ourselves: why are these monstrosities being built? To help the people? What if there are other, more sinister motives? Of what use will the electricity generated by these nuclear reactors be to us if, at the same time, we are kept in the dark by the proposed new secrecy Bill?
How long will they ANC carry on riding roughshod over the rights of the man in the street (not to mention the women and the children in the streets)? How long will they continue speeding around with their blue light cavalcades, killing and injuring civilians who happen to get in their way? For how much longer are these fanatics going to hold sway over our country?
No Cult lasts forever, however. Those who are lucky not to kill themselves in the desert usually disintegrate after a couple of years, or split up into various factions. Does that crazy group of people who brainwashed me during my twenties still exist? No. Does the Flat Earth Society still exist? Not really. Most of these granfalloons soon turn into a footnote of history like the National Party or simply disband, like those sad suburban folks who used to hold Tupperware house sales.
And now, at last, the end of the ANC is in sight, too (I’m not just saying this because I heard F.W. de Klerk say it on BBC World, I’m saying it because it’s plain to see for everyone). The tripartite alliance is about to split.
Listen to these words uttered by Comrade Vavi himself very recently (I quote from the Business Day report of March 9 2012):
“The ANC is not learning from its mistakes and the fact is that its failures are leading to the party losing support … We’ve been told that we will govern until Jesus comes back. That is not going to happen … People can see (the fights) … they are not fools.”
Yes, it’s finally happening. The Cult is about to break wide open.
The fallout will be terrible to watch.
I wish I had enough money to remove myself and my family temporarily to safety (somewhere in the countryside of Iran?) till this craziness is all over, but I don’t have enough money.
Then again, it might be fun to stay here and watch the whole top-heavy ANC edifice come crashing down in a raging bonfire of shredded evidence, tender documents, broken champagne glasses and half-digested sushi…