When one sits on the lawn in upper Houghton quaffing a more than adequate Merlot staring out on a large manicured garden, talk will eventually turn to the travails of the middle class. A group, apparently, that earns 10 to 200 times the national average in wages.
The invisible help, clearing away detritus with practiced ease catches one’s eye just as some dear soul rants about Woolworths’ prices. One blushes. The help, if the household has any conscience, earns closer to the real South African average income than any of the guests.
The sun sets on the electric fences wired to armed response. Black men with black shirts in black trucks slowly cruise the streets in search of undesirables, keeping cars parked on the tree-lined road safer than they would otherwise be. The black members of the party may wish to leave early or stay the night. Being black in this place at night is not a crime, but it does lead to questions. Being black and drunk leads to long and complicated questions.
The children running around the yard attend private schools or carefully chosen public schools. The lucky ones have full medical aid. The unlucky live in fear of dread disease, even if they do not know it yet.
Most of their parents do not budget too carefully – to spend only what one can afford would lead to a life of misery, a life without the right sort of friends and the best kinds of intoxicants.
Sniff the wind and you will smell the fear. At least one person here has been the victim of a violent crime. A few have had a car stolen. Almost all have broken the law is some significant way in the last month and thought nothing of it. All know that they can be taken from this life in an instant. Through crime, the loss of a job, illness or some other twist of fate, the blade of Damocles threatens to fall. The Precariat in this fair land stretches all the way from the bottom to almost the top.
Now some giggling idiot is jiggling the frayed cord.
South Africa is the land of fearful scofflaws. We have pretended to follow all the rules and it has meant nothing. We are sad cat. We are downhill dog. We have nothing left to fear but everything.
President Zuma is an odious man, of that there is no doubt. There are good arguments why he should fall, but he is not the cause of our problems. He is not the apogee of our lawlessness, nor the nadir of our stupidity. He is nothing but a symbol of our cirrhosis, the exclamation point on the death sentence of our sanity. He too will pass and when he is gone nothing will have changed. His doom is not our panacea, his metaphorical blood will not make us whole. His abuse of power is no better or worse than the average South African would commit in his position, if that said Mr/Ms Average had the sheer balls to carry it off.
I have no doubt that Mr Zuma will fall before his allotted time. In the last few weeks he has upset the only people who matter. Those who are not precarious, those who attend his dinners and bankroll his party. You can be cavalier with the state, but do not fuck with the financiers. They will forgive almost anything, but you do not screw with predictability; you do not piss in the murky soup of the markets.
Serious men are sobering up and donning their tailored suits, men usually too busy dick-swinging and golfing against each other to pay attention will soon have a word with uncle Gwede and number 1 will be toast. Ashes to ashes, they will mutter at the cremation of his career. Then they will count out the coin to smooth their next transaction with government.
And for the majority of South African’s, from the shacks of Alexandria to the outskirts of Clifton, all will be as before. There will be a new boss, same as the old boss.
Bribes will still be payed by drunk drivers to venal cops, before the former wrap themselves around a tree or kill a kid. Unsympathetic nurses will watch babies die while helpless parents cry. We will all still be emasculated by indifferent disfunctionaries hiding behind forms and procedures; and ignored by the apparatchiks of all parties.
Everyone will bemoan everyone else’s lack of respect for the law. The upper classes will continue to pay the status taxes of excessive school fees, medical aid rates, security service subscriptions… and continue to call themselves the middle class.
Jacob Zuma must not fall, the whole system must to fall. We need a Samson that will irrevocably destroy the temple of our lassitude; a Jesus who will whip the money lenders from it’s porches. A Peter who will tell us the the supposedly unclean doctrines of socialism should be reconsidered.