Zuma – more cunning than linguist

On Saturday I made the terrible mistake of switching to the live stream of Jacob Zuma’s so-called “address to the nation”, as touted by his obsequious handlanger, Jimmy Manyi.

It was excruciating watching this grown man reading at the level of a child who’d been repeatedly dropped on his head as a baby. Worse than being eaten alive by rats. At least with rats, there’s a chance they’d move off after having their fill. Lying on the bed, pinned down by my laptop, I didn’t stand a chance.

Every few minutes I cried out weakly. “No more! Please make it stop!” But I was gripped by the bad neurons that fire up when there’s a gruesome road accident ahead. Slow down, they say. Take a good look. Feast on the horror.

I was transfixed by the mangled wreckage of our former president, tripping and stumbling over every polysyllabic word like a giant toddler learning language for the very first time. Does he have dysphasia? Is that why the beastly Arthur Fraser released his old comrade on parole? I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure dysphasia’s not terminal.

The longer I listened to Zuma thrashing about helplessly in the tangled thickets of the English language, the more I prayed for a quick death. Not his. Mine. Bludgeoning his way through his monologue or affidavit or whatever the hell it was, he seemed utterly oblivious to our pain. As we know, selective oblivion is a prerequisite for entrance to the ANC’s crumbling pantheon of power.

An hour into this lingual massacre, with my eyes rolled back into my head and spittle running down my chin, the power went off. Nobody has uttered these words in 15 years, but I whispered, thank you, Eskom. You made me realise that I do want to live after all.

Later I learned that at roughly the same time the convict from Nkandla was giving Judge Zondo, Cyril Ramaphosa and the media a monstrously hypocritical savaging, China’s Xi Jinping was setting up his predecessor, Hu Jintao, for a very public humiliation.

Soon after reporters filed in to report on the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, two heavies in dark suits went up to a bewildered Hu – sitting alongside Xi – and physically escorted him from the venue.

Hu’s removal was deliberately intended to humiliate him. Dali Mpofu should have stepped in to stop his floundering client from further humiliating himself. I guess he reckoned it might hurt his bottom line.

Look, I don’t mean to sound elitist. If I had to give a speech in Zulu, the rand would crash and I’d be asked to leave the country. I don’t care that we had a semi-literate peasant for president. But the fact that he struggles to read fairly elementary English, after having spent nine years attending global conferences, meeting world leaders and consorting with some very clever criminals, is just insane.

He could have got Duduvanka to read it for him. She was right there, at his side. As she always is. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned this before, probably for fear of being assassinated, but, well, Electra complex, much? You might think that, at 38, she’s no longer Jung enough for that sort of thing, but apparently not.

Even that lovable old sex offender Donald Trump spent more time in public with his miserable wife than he did with his daughter. I suppose it’s an unfair comparison. Donald has only one wife. Jacob has a buffet. Perhaps it’s just less complicated to have your number one daughter gushing all over you on social media. Then again, we don’t know how his other kids feel about this. Maybe all those people rioting and looting in Durban last year were Zuma’s children, upset about the favouritism.

Anyway. Dogs bark and caravans move on. We were promised bombshells and got damp squids.

Speaking of invertebrates, I thought I’d watch Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech the following night as a kind of palate cleanser for the brain. While the man can at least read, his delivery turns insomniacs into narcoleptics. Even now, when I hear his voice in my head, I have to take an involuntary nap. The manager of my local Spar has suggested I shop elsewhere.

Possessing all the ethical flexibility and oratorial energy of an electric eel powered by Eskom, our president speaks with the enthusiasm of a man on his way to the dentist for multiple root canals before anaesthetic was invented.

It was, however, a fine display of verbal tap dancing. Showing remarkable dexterity for someone that wealthy, he managed to avoid stepping on the ANC as he pontificated on how it was possible that state capture could happen without anyone noticing. It was like watching a conjurer not performing a trick. All sleight of mouth and no magic.

I don’t want to frighten you, Cyril, but the call is coming from inside the house.


17 thoughts on “Zuma – more cunning than linguist

  1. Verne Maree says:

    Some 25 years ago, a colleague used “like a damp squid” malapropically (if that’s a word), and we’ve been giggling about it ever since. I was amazed to see it in print. I was even more amazed when Party-pooper corrected you in all seriousness… as an editor myself, I know you’d never make that kind of mistake except on purpose!

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      You’re right, Verne. Real editors would have known that…

  2. Themba Dube says:

    Brilliant one, Trovato. I shall, from time to time, and without due acknowledgment, use the expression “energy of an electric eel powered by Eskom”. Is plagiarism unethical under ANC misrule? Methinks not.

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      Take it, Themba. It’s yours

  3. Jane says:

    Love it as always – gonna use ‘damp squids’ myself. I might hazard that attending global conferences, meeting world leaders (can they really claim that title?) and consorting with some clever criminals probably does not need fancy English nor the ability to say much – some of them are just there for the ride, hanging on coat tails for the odd crumb and some of them hide behind just that highfalutin’ English. Also I kind of am envious of those who love JK as a father. Love is blind right?

    1. Jane says:

      meant JZ not JK

  4. Iza Grek says:

    For someone so eloquent, please note that the expression is ‘damp squibs’.

    1. Ben Trovato says:

      You must be fun at parties. The thing is, Iza, had I used the word “squibs” rather than “squids”, I wouldn’t have been able to follow it with, “Speaking of invertebrates…” Do you understand now?

      1. Tim Bester says:


  5. Alan Kennedy says:

    So glad I missed it [only saw a clip in some newsfeed]

    “Possessing all the ethical flexibility and oratorial energy of an electric eel powered by Eskom, our president speaks …”, constantly ignoring his role in all of this – CaDuh deployee ‘doublespeak” …

    Brilliant Ben!
    [presses “share”]

  6. granny1947 says:

    So, I am not the only one who falls asleep when Cyril talks!

    1. Lynn Mortimer says:

      As an expat who largely escaped the carnage that was Zuma’s tenure, I just have a rhetorical question: ” Why does a convicted criminal who should be in jail, get to give a ‘state of the nation’ speech.
      Even SA’s favorite gunslinger Oscar P has been denied bail (for now)!
      Asking for someone else…

  7. Dave Beattie says:

    I can see where your mind was when you chose the heading.

  8. Clive Ishmael Molokoane says:

    Feeling drowsiness. Not from your article but what I could go have tormented myself to. That’s why I always rely on people like you to report, nay relate nonevents.

    1. Clive Ishmael Molokoane says:

      Eish just relialised I just wrote like Jacob does

  9. Maria Kaindl says:

    …absolutely love the way you are commenting..keep it up, unfortunately, thats the way it is now..

  10. Geoff Stroebel says:

    Damp squids???

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