Food Trough Venusby Brandon Edmonds / 26.09.2013
Let’s imagine the premier of the Northern Cape, Sylvia Lucas, called out by the media last week for using the departmental credit card to blow over R50k on “fast food” in the 10 weeks she’s been in office, let’s imagine her at a KFC drive-thru at dusk. Yes, you got me, fried chicken & black people are a notoriously racist association but KFC, Mike’s Kitchen, Nando’s, Steers, Ocean Basket and the Spur cluster most in the Venn diagram of Sylvie’s gargantuan calorific sprees.
She drives up to the intercom.
Do premiers have drivers? They probably do, blue light SUVs and drivers. The Government Handbook (of 2007) tells us that as a premier she’s pulling in R1,6 million a year. Tax-free. Made entirely out of tax, but tax-free. Her salary is germane, so, so germane. Average salaries in SA are R35k for workers and R15k for the unemployed. That distance between hers and theirs is the content of a term like “governing elite”.
Sylvia, a public servant all her working life, a standard-issue product of the reigning governing culture, conformist, reactive, the opposite of selfless, happens to be alone tonight. She’s on her way home from a long drive into the interior of her province, the biggest in the land, physically bigger than Germany. The “terribly long drives” are part of the excuse for all that fast food. Long drives through a territory old and sparse, a dread landscape, full of the toiling colonial history that made this country, home of the Big Hole that built DeBeers, creating the appetite for minerals that drove South African industrialization, a haunting de-populated place. She drives long hours, listening to self-help seminars and Lira, there and back from talks with the Khoi and San people, their contemporary representatives, who want land, handouts, recognition, however Sylvia sees them, skinny, annoying, and maybe, just maybe, the endless landscape of the Northern Cape and the long drives, the emptiness, starts to work on her, unconsciously, starts to trigger associations of barrenness – maybe she thought she’d be more successful, at 50, maybe she knows the ANC is broken and dangerous, its noble talk and ideas and history floating way above its tawdry present-day culture and practice, a crony factory for insiders manufacturing knock-off rainbows for the criminally uneducated, maybe she feels like a fake; or flip it, maybe the land is all glorious potential to her, awaiting development, gated communities, thriving cities, wealth and happiness, maybe she still believes, believes too much, and it’s joy at what’s to come, not guilt, that makes her eat?
And eat she does.
The anti-Antoinette. Fuck them, I’ll eat all the cake. Sylvia spent over R53, 159 on fast food in 10 weeks on her official credit card. Comment threads and the media loved doing the math: 966 Wimpy double burgers and chips, 385 Nando’s Festive meals, 265 KFC buckets, 483 Spur bottomless ribs & buffalo wings. 100 Big Bacon Steer Burgers a week. That’s 7 meals a day at a R100 a meal 7 days a week for 10 weeks. Then came the moralizing backlash. That’s 2500 20kg bags of maize meal that could feed 8000 “poor people” in a month. Over 40% of the populace in the N Cape lives in poverty. 12 million South Africans are food insecure; they consistently lack lawful access to food. 80 million people are starving on the planet. Then the jokes: “I am very surprised Chicken Licken is not on this list” some seething white guy called Martinus Potgieter wrote. Such choice old school racism you want to stand and yell, Author! Someone called Lucas “a food trough ANC troll”, another the “Nkandla of junk food”, and another imagined her campaign trail smothered in grease. A lot of commenters were happy to think all that binging will induce a heart attack and there’ll be one less food trough ANC troll.
Reading that shit, I began rooting for Sylvia. So what if she blew public money on junk food? Think of the pressure she’s under in a government like Zuma’s, literally full of criminals, liars and rapists. A traditionalist, sexist, macho posturing, patriarchal nightmare, no wonder she “overeats”. Normative pressure on women to cook, clean, look good, take it in the ass, shave, wax, succeed, care, provide, reassure, and do the fucking dishes is relentless and unacknowledged and unpaid.
I began to think of Sylvia as a kind of post-apartheid “Hottentot Venus”, the fellow citizen of ours who was once paraded around Europe for the delectation of the aristocracy. I got angry for Sylvia and then she said this: “How would we have eaten if we didn’t use taxpayer’s money?”
The “we” suggests Tlkowe-like pre-election vote buying, leveraging calories for support, or a Big Mamma provider complex, or the royal “we” which certainly chimes with the runaway entitlement of the governing elite. How would we have eaten if we didn’t use taxpayer’s money? She actually said that. She makes R1, 6 million a year. I like to think Sylvia does actually eat that much. It shows us the toll on “leadership” when the State is broken, when the people doubt your sincerity, when legitimacy’s dead as Marikana bodies in the dirt.
She finally orders. A lot.
Imagine the KFC service workers preparing her order. They know it’s her. They’re working long hours for minimum wage. They know it’s Sylvia Lucas, the premier of the province, who is rich, 1,6 million light years away from their own struggling situations, and imagine them spitting in her food.