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Bullsh!t: 50 Fibs That Made South Africa, book review

A FIB is defined as an untruth and if the chronology of occurrences contained within journalist, Jonathan Ancer’s recently released tome, viz, Bullsh!t: 50 Fibs That Made South Africa, are anything to go by – it follows then that generations of citizens of this country might as well have been living an illusion masquerading as reality!

Scrutinizing its path through what would be deemed as realities (the discerning reader can make up his or her own mind as to whether such ought to be regarded thus, once they’ve perused through all the fifty narratives comprising the read) myths, urban – even rural – legends, et cetera, the tome’s inquisitive text is complemented by the acerbic cartoons of fellow journo, Carlos Amato, for a literally thought-provoking perspective! Encapsulations of some of the fibs follow below.

 1994 – an agreed fiction: in this opening topic, political scientist, Professor Steven Friedman – then the head of the Independent Electoral Commission’s information analysis department – postulates that the historic elections’ results were ‘a little too perfect, absurd and dodgy’, backing circumstantial evidence through findings undertaken by his department but deliberately ignored by the IEC’s upper echelon reluctant to step on the toes of political heavies (the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa and the NP’s Roelf Meyer were present at the commission’s offices presumably monitoring the auditing process) with vested interest in the outcome, which Friedman suggests ‘was a negotiated compromise!’

In case some have forgotten, below is a table of the result – specifically of the 7 parties which garnered the most votes from the poll contested 30 years ago:

Party Votes % Seats (in the National Assembly)

Party                                       Votes                       %                   Seats (in National Assembly)  

ANC                                  12 237 655                    62.6                        252           

National Party (NP)             3 983 690                    20.4                              82

IFP                                      2 058 294                         10.5                              43

FF                                        424 555                            2.2                                9

DP                                       338 426                             1.7                                7

PAC                                      243 478                            1.2                                5

ACDP                                   88 104                               0.5                               2

 The decuplets debacle: involved a Tembisa woman named Gosiame Sithole who – according to journalist, viz, Piet Rampedi’s account in a Pretoria News issue of June 8, 2021 – had given birth to ten babies!

When Doubting Thomases subsequently sought proof of the newly-arrived, Rampedi duly began dishing a variation of excuses among which he accused bureaucrats and other in authority of a specified agenda intended to discredit him as a journo – short of assuaging the suspense of a curious world. Eventually after the then acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka released a report, based on medical evidence, dismissing claims of Sithole ever having given birth to even a single baby – Rampedi resigned from the publication!

(Ironically, in a prelude titled, What The Critics Said About Bullsh!t, Rampedi is quoted – in what could be interpreted as someone making light of his own undoing – thus: I bought 10 copies to give to the decuplets on their second birthday.)

 Sofa, so dud: actually narrated at #26, relates that matter of $580 000 (or $4 million according to the version of ex-spy Arthur Fraser) in crisp dollar bills discovered in February 2020 by thieves on a couch at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm. His squeaky clean image unravelled, the president claimed the bonanza was from proceeds from 20 buffalos he had sold to a Sudanese businessman.

In a case of so near yet ‘sofa’ Ramaphosa avoided impeachment – with his spokesperson hinting, at the time, that he’d answer questions (was the moolah declared to SARS? Did he flout foreign exchange laws?) when he delivered his State of the Furniture Address (SOFA)!

 The Gupta spin cycle: circumvents upon how British spin agency Bell Pottinger – under the guise of Project Biltong – was hired (by the Guptas and Zumas (colloquially referred to as Zupta) to divert the South African public’s focus away from their ‘state capture’ feeding frenzy by blaming so-called ‘White Monopoly Capital’ (WMC) for being responsible for the economic misery the majority of Blacks find themselves entrapped in – until its bluff was called by the release of a cache of 200 000 e-mails known as GuptaLeaks which exposed its inflammatory campaign.

The whole saga went cockeyed for the instigators as their comeuppance came in the form of the agency being expelled from the UK’s main PR industry body, No 1 – then president Jacob Zuma – being forced to resign from office and the notorious Gupta brothers taking flight to fugitiveville!

 Mandela was a sellout: this segment examines how the sweeping #FeesMustFall movement resurrected to prominence the commonly-held view – by Blacks – that the foremost founding father of a democratic South Africa, viz, Nelson Mandela, short-changed his kindred at Codesa by striking a devil’s bargain which left Whites keeping the economy and the land. As a counter to that perspective Ancer argues that Mandela did not roll over pending the negotiations – asserting that the dreams of young Black South Africans were instead betrayed by corruption by government officials and politically connected businessmen who looted state coffers and became staggeringly wealthy from crooked tenders at the expense of the poor!

 The good old days: herewith the author reasons that people suffer from apartheid nostalgia owing to being confronted by the current problems of load-shedding, a junk economy, massive unemployment, violent crime, corruption, et cetera. The statement, posits Ancer, ‘life was better under apartheid’ is not a lie – since it was so for some people at the expense of others.

Against clamour led by the like of Jonathan Jansen who asked people, ‘be honest, are you better off now than under apartheid?’ – Ancer maintains that it’s not possible to compare a murderous regime with a democracy, no matter how bruised and battered that democracy might be!

 The deadliest lie: this topic grapples with the HIV-Aids conundrum South Africa found itself enmeshed in and the irrationality of the Thabo Mbeki administration which bickered in the face of a marauding killer disease. From the anti-AIDS Sarafina II musical, Virodene PO58-administered ‘guinea pigs’, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s beetroot-garlic-olive oil concoction advanced as some of the ways of dealing with the pestilence – Mbeki’s recalcitrant perpetuation of the ‘HIV-doesn’t-cause-AIDS’ lie resulted in thousands of needless and painful deaths and a generation of AIDS orphans.

 A pandemic of madness: deals with measures ordinary South Africans resorted to, to survive against the Covid-19 pandemic during the period before the mass rollout of vaccines.

The ingestion of a drug known as ivermectin – based on its broad action against several viruses – went viral because of social media influence with the black market profiteering from inflated prices for a ‘cure’ deemed in the medical industry to be useless!

Referred to as ‘the killer cure’, Groote Schuur Hospital’s head of infectious diseases, Professor Marc Mendelson, points out to its stint as a lie which proved deadly, informing Ancer: “I can’t tell you the large number of deaths caused by delay in seeking treatment by patients who would rather guzzle ivermectin at home.”

 Hall of shame: rounds up a selection of public figures in the country’s history who didn’t conduct themselves above reproach ranging from Nongqawuse the 15-year-old prophetess whose purported vision in 1856 led to the decimation of the Xhosa nation when most perished from starvation brought about by the mass slaughter of its livestock and burning of crops; Oscar Pistorius’ ‘snowball of lies’ – according to prosecution – that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar, on the fateful Valentine’s Day in 2013 when he fatally shot girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp; Tim Noakes, the scientist Banting diet crusader who the medical community accused of spreading, supporting and amplifying anti-scientific and harmful misinformation. His one-size-fits-all diet was pilloried as risky with research advocating for a balanced diet proven to be safe and healthy; Markus Jooste, the recently deceased – allegedly by suicide – ex-CEO of Steinhoff International described as a ‘hard-arsed bully-boy’ who oversaw the largest corporate fraud in South Africa’s history which left thousands of investors, pensioners and government employees out of pocket!; Dr Iqbal Surve’, the Independent Media honcho whom Ancer maintains deserves ‘SA’s Biggest Liar’ gong for, inter alia, claiming to have been Nelson Mandela’s doctor (i.e. he told Cape Times staff after Madiba’s death: ‘Mandela said to me, just before he got ill, “Iqbal, are you still the same? I said to him, “Tata, I am still the same.” He said: “Now I can go.”)

BULLSH!T: 50 Fibs That Made South Africa is a Demy Format published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Available at bookstores countrywide, it retails for R270.

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