Obituary For a Kak Yearby Sean O'Toole / 04.01.2010
It happened. I mean, what else good is there to say about 2009. It happened… and we, well we were forced to watch it do just that, happen. I wonder if anyone else felt like one of Eugene Marais’ stoned baboons watching Riaan Cruywagen, Devi Sankaree Govender, Debra Pater and Vuyo Mbuli narrating the finer details of a kak year in the making.
Kak? Well yes. Remember the brouhaha over the ritual slaughter of an ox during the Ukweshwama? Leonard Chuene’s lie? The self-serving fireworks that marked Caster Semenya’s return from Berlin? The case of that moegoe who claimed asylum in Canada? The saga of the SABC board? Jacob Maroga versus Bobby Godsell? Gareth Cliff’s terse obituary for Manto Tshabalala-Msimang? Julius Malema’s fight with the whole godamn world, you, me, his Sandton neighbours and a communist poet named Jeremy included?
Perhaps, it was inevitable that 2009 would be rubbish. We’ve been dreaming of the year that follows for so long, the year of our next big Hollywood moment. Picture this: Jamie Fox as Jacob Zuma, Martin Lawrence as Aaron Mokoena and Will Ferrell as Helen Zille in a feature titled Evicted. “If all else fails, head butt the Brazilian defender,” sagely whispers Fox to a huddle of players, his speech punctuated by a gentle harmony of oboes, harps and vuvuzelas.
But that all comes later, much later, sometime around June probably; first we have to get through the mess of what just happened, 2009, the year in which a kindly Chinese astrologer’s ox was slaughtered, as custom demands, bare handed.
I’ve never much fancied myself as a commentator with much insight, although given the uneven tilt of modern journalism, especially online, one is kinda forced to have an opinion about everything, this over the more moderate task of simply reporting on stuff, especially people and the peculiar things they do. But hey, here we are, here I am. I was reading The Times just before Christmas, in particular an online news story about a teenager who lost a leg and an arm in a shark attack in Ponta d’Ouro in Mozambique. Amongst the comments that followed, this: “Should throw the ANCYL in with them. Maybe that would be the Christmas cheer we all need.”
The tone is familiar, so too the logic. It reminds me of a story by the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. There are two men on a train. “One man says, ‘What’s that package up there in the baggage rack?’ And the other answers, ‘Oh that’s a McGuffin.’ The first one asks, ‘What’s a McGuffin?’ ‘Well,’ the other man says, ‘It’s an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands.’ The first man says, ‘But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands,’ and the other one answers ‘Well, then that’s no McGuffin!’ So you see, a McGuffin is nothing at all.”
Confused? The very funny philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, who is coincidentally also a huge fan of Hitchcock, is perhaps a little more straightforward. He defines the McGuffin as an “empty pretext which just serves to set in motion the story, but has no value in itself”. As a practical example, Zizek offers the US’s obsession with Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction”. That was earlier in the decade, elsewhere. In 2009, in South Africa, the events that variously kept the story in motion involved a gender uncertain athlete, a deceased minister of health and a shark scarred teen. None of them really mattered in and of themselves though, because the real story was the fissures not the facts that mark life in this society.
Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe that conspiracy of big shots and fat cats who dominate our collective consciousness, you know that travelling circus of dancing elephants, shy mandarins, preening jailbirds, obese buffoons and middling sophists, maybe they really love us, with all their heart. Somehow, I don’t think so. Their scripted speeches, typically delivered via cellphone from the back of a black Mercedes Benz, are always the same: “People, comrades, vegans and trade unionists, also PUTCO bus drivers, TV license payers, finishers of The Argus, residents of Mofolo Park, members of Fanatics, followers of Die Antwoord, shoppers at Maponya Mall and users of the N1 near Allandale… fuck you!”
2009. It happened.