I remember a time when people used to like me. Those were the days.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the older we grow, the wiser we become. I don’t know any more. I hope you don’t dispute the fact that being liked by people is significantly better than being despised. At no other prior stage in my life have I been more disliked than I am now. And yet, when I was seventeen I possessed the wisdom to always behave in a manner that ensured my popularity with friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers alike. It was not uncommon to hear mothers in my neighbourhood go, “If all the boys on this street were more like that Ngcobo boy”. And I would be pleased.

I like to believe that I have a pretty scientific, logical and systematic brain. (Stop giggling and acting all immature). Having a systematic brain means that I have an acute appreciation for the inputs necessary to achieve desired and predictable outcomes. Or something along those lines. Today I get to dazzle you with my theory on how to get people to like you. Let’s call my theory “How to Keep Friends and Remain Popular”. It has been my observation that there are two rules one needs to follow to be popular.

1. Stuff your own core beliefs, principles and worldview.
2. Give people what they want.

By employing these two simple rules, you’ll be well on your way to becoming more popular. The more astute reader will recognise these rules as the pillars of the JZ Model, if the in-depth, dazzling analysis emanating from our nation’s high-calibre newsrooms is to be believed. A good example of how I remained popular back in the day is that I used to have many conversations that went something like:

    Friend: Waiter! Two singles of Scotch for my buddy and I.
    Me: Actually, I don’t really like Scotch. I prefer beer.
    Friend: Whatyoutalkinboutwillis? Of course we like Scotch.
    Me: Apologies. I don’t know what came over me. Waiter, make that a double Scotch.

Legendary jazz guitarist and singer George Benson learned this valuable lesson at the feet of another jazz legend, Miles Davis, so to speak. In one interview Benson shares how Miles once said to him, “George, let me tell you what I told Jimi Hendrix” and how he got all excited because he figured Miles was going to let him in on a deep secret to success in the industry. Miles’ secret was, “Play loud. They like that. Give ’em what they want”. As ridiculous as it sounds, the advice worked. George Benson would become one of the most popular jazz artists of his time because he was not afraid to venture outside the traditional jazz boundaries. He gave us what we wanted.

Giving people what they want is an integral part of being well-liked and popular. It is the cornerstone of friendship. I am being dead serious. This is your lucky day because I’m about to give you a gem of my own in the mould of Miles’ — the definition of friendship according to Ndumiso Ngcobo. Friendship is an arrangement between two people where they trade in their individuality for acceptance in return. True, lasting friendship is achieved when both individuals reach a compromise by departing from their true selves respectively and meeting each other in a no-man’s land halfway house. Perfect symbiosis achieved.

If you think I’m being cynical it’s because you’re one of these naïve, self-delusional, can’t-handle-the-truth saps I’m trying to help in the first instance. You just want me to tell you what you want to hear. No siree. No way, Jose. No how. That was the old Ndumiso. Meet new Ndumiso, the arsehole. That is, after all, the most popular description for people such as me, who have neither the time nor the inclination to give people what they want.

One of my personality disorders is that I don’t possess the natural predisposition to dispense advice. Not directly in any case. Being prescriptive is just not my modus operandi. This is often a source of great disappointment for, say, a young man who sends me an email asking for advice on how to get a book published. My MO is to share my personal experience, my beliefs and my opinions, nothing more. And then I come across as an unhelpful, self-centred bastard, which (if we’re going to be totally honest) is probably accurate. If the shoe fits and all that. That’s my way of leading up to the fact that I cannot give you a “How To” low-down on becoming a bona fide prick. Few people can reach these lofty heights. The best I can do is to point out that I have observed that the two quickest ways of transforming yourself into a first-class prick like me are:

1. Attain a state of clarity about your own paradigmatic standpoint on life.
2. Articulate your views.

For best results, practise rule #2 in the face of dissent and don’t waver even when people get offended and give you the hurt puppy look. If you do this you’ll be well on your way to becoming a social pariah like me. Oh, and I’m ascending towards that state of sweet rapture at an impressive pace. My “Former Friends” folder is swelling up mighty fast. And I’m not even done. At this rate when I die they will only find my corpse in a Hillbrow flat ten days after my expiry date, when the stink becomes unbearable. I predict that I will die alone like a dried-up locust clinging onto a blade of grass in the Karoo veld. Only two people will show up for my funeral and they will be the poor municipal grave diggers who have to be there to cover me up for my eternal dirt nap.

Don’t be mistaken; I still have many people I consider my friends although this may not necessarily be a mutual feeling with every one of them. I hope that when (if) they read this they will remember the story of the frog, the scorpion and why the scorpion stung the frog. It is just in the nature of the beast. And no, I’m not asking to be understood. I don’t think I’m misunderstood at all. I’m understood just right.

I will forgive you, my dear reader, if you assume that a single event triggered off this melancholic rant. Not really. It’s been gathering for a while but I just hadn’t had the inclination to crystallise my thoughts until now. And then it just came together at this moment. The alignment of the stars? Just the perfect blood alcohol level? Who knows?

Don’t mention it. I’m just doing my job.

[email protected]


  • Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he had lost his mind, quit his well-paying job, penned a collection of hallucinations. A bunch of racist white guys published the collection just to make him look more ridiculous and called it 'Some of my best friends are white'. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2). Nowadays he spends his days wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, munching locusts, mumbling to himself like John the Baptist and searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of beer mugs. The racist publishers have reared their ugly heads again and dangled money in his face to pen yet another collection of hallucinations entitled 'Is It Coz 'm Black'. He will take cash, major credit cards and will perform a strip tease for contributions to his beer fund.


Ndumiso Ngcobo

Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he...

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