Of Lawyers And State Capture

The country is in the midst of a judicial reckoning after a decade of corruption so insidious an entire state was placed at its service. If the Zondo Commission is not mere spectacle, this should mean orange will be the new Armani for many politicians.

But the limitation of anti-corruption crusades is that, after the beneficiaries go to jail, the infrastructure for a repeat performance remains in place. Happily, some enablers of state capture such as PR companies like Bell Pottinger and auditors like KPMG have had their comeuppance. Yet, the actions of lawyers, without whom not a fraction of the damage could have been done, has gone unremarked. (more…)

The Woeful Wayfarer

Travelling through all these one-horse towns, I realise that I have become a character in the kind of books I like.

I am the lonely wayfarer waking Innkeepers up. I am the stagecoach passenger on missions undivulged. With my bill picked up by the largest employer in town, interest in my purpose is sharp but displaced into inquisitive welcomes. Some commotion attends my arrival. Verily, aprons are smoothed, doors flung open, eggs and meat slapped into pans, rooms shown (‘the best view, sir’, or even better, ‘the usual spot Mr. Heinrich?’). My bags are carried and if I resist I’m escorted up stairs and down passages by blokes with flailing arms and sidelong shuftis.

During my stray, in all the accents of this land, amenities of every kind are availed and it’s insisted I make known those unpredicted whims which would enhance my comfort. Such fussing is accomplished with reserve, however. Cordiality seldom strays into familiarity. I’m guv’nor, never guv.

I have stopped resisting the whole spiel. It embarrasses rural folk if the transaction of renting a roof is stripped of its ceremony. I must also defer to the trope that I am. As expensive as it gets. Sometimes, my hand forks out three days’ wages when the food is quick and flavourous, the bed nicely smoothed or the smile sincere. The trick with a large tip is to be off-hand about it and nod only once at their glee.

But the trope for me, I’m afraid, stops half-way. The scene I enact over and over runs out of steam. Once in my room and no matter the weather, how good my hair or how long I stay awake, I get no midnight raps upon my window from ladies in white. No desperate letters slip under my door from escaping wards so cruelly treated. Do you think anyone murmurs entreaties to lend a sword against imminent treason? Or a bullying baron? Nope. I’ve had not a single heaving bosom greet the foiling of a tiara’s heist (once some hubcaps were took of a nurse but even she only shrugged). There’s no masks, no sword-play, no guttering flames, lashing storms or headlong gallops upon a shining black Bess atop moon-strafed cliffs. I get to cuff no rascals upon an ear, crack no codes, plunge through windows beneath which no haycart is stood. Even passive joys are denied me like oiling the workings of dueling pistols for adventures lying ahead.

I still pitch up to play my part. The innkeeper does too. But where are the brigands, femme soles and inveterate intriguers? I would not read my own travelogue.

Suspending Disbelief in the Age of Digital Wonders

On the TV in my landlady’s lounge, I saw a handsome cop in a car. He radioed his partner back at HQ to let his wife know he’d be late for dinner.

Photo: Pinterest: Fargo Season 2

‘That’s rude,’ I mumbled, ‘… text her yourself.’

The shot widened and, from the shape of the car, I saw it was the 1970s. My landlady snorted.

“OK then,” said I, placing the rent money on a table. She pointed the remote and the volume went up as I edged out the door.

Narrative depends on the suspension of disbelief. Authors want readers immersed in their story, caring about the characters as if they were real. Plot details that jar or provoke wisecracks are simply no good. (more…)

Exploiting Dishonour Among Thieves: Accomplice Plea Agreements

When senior managers steal they typically do so knowing the company’s systems back to front. They know which accounts can be skimmed and which assets taken. Seniority also provides insight into how their misdeeds may be covered up. They know what transactions trigger audits and where holes exist in record-keeping. If the company monitors email or the cameras no longer work – they are often in the loop on that.

The law reports are replete with managers misappropriating monies, stealing equipment, misusing vehicles, copying sensitive data and paying inflated invoices. The city of Kimberly was recently the scene of a particularly intricate crime. A trusted senior manager defeated all manner of security systems – red-areas, glove-boxes, magnetic safes and click-clack jars – to sneak out high value diamonds 1. It is one of those cases where you half want to promote the employee for sheer ingenuity. (more…)

A Review of Dup Departs: A Time To Go, by Gavin Mills

Embellishing the Jozi Underworld: A cracker of a novel.

Dup Departs coverDup Departs: A Time To Go sees a soft but resourceful suburbanite thrown into a drug war and murder spree. With the bank barking at his heels and depressed about the modesty of his achievements as a filmmaker, Dup is ready for a big score. It will be his family’s ticket out of South Africa.

The big score comes thanks to his enigmatic stripper friend, Louanne, who introduces him to a nightclub boss offering good money to make lame porn. Dup jumps at the chance. But he did not bargain on shady becoming sociopathic.  Dup is swept into a plot populated by seriously menacing hardmen; Ivan Bazkaowzki, a sadistic Polish Don, goons on Harleys, loathsome detectives up to their elbows in dirty money and a Nigerian crime kingpin gone straight (or maybe not). Along the way fists fly, evidence is planted, women are kidnapped and huge shipments of cocaine moved across the country.

To survive, Dup must draw on psychological reserves never used before. He must keep his panicked family safe, invent plausible lies and make crazy alliances. It’s a suspenseful ride through the underworld with a hero totally unequal to the task. And yet … there may just be a way out, if only Dup can hold his nerve.

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No Promises Left

No Promises Left - Heinrich Bohmke

No Promises Left - Heinrich BohmkeAt the bottom of my street every Monday, on the nursery school drive, a phalanx of ragged beggars rummage through green wheelie bins outside a Tudor-style housing complex.  I slow down at the stop sign and press the requisite button on the car’s console.  Bent at the hips, African men rummage for calories and chucked-out crap to add to their swag before the garbage truck arrives.  The guy with the dark-glasses is a pro.  You see him everywhere, neat and bustling.  Most of the others come from the children’s park they’ve taken over.  It’s hand to mouth for them and whoonga1 in between.  Like a conjurer, a young man finesses an improbably long pole from the bin.  Rationally, it’s hard to begrudge them their messy survival.  One or two, though, fail to avert their eyes.  Like the one producing the wooden pole.  He hears the locks knocking shut.  This offal is not enough.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t only scavenge.  He wants more.  I rev away. (more…)

Evaluating the Credibility of a Source: Consistency as a False Positive

In December 2014, Sean Woods received a call editors dread the most. A Rolling Stone reporter told him she no longer stood by her story of a horrible rape committed by frat boys at the University of Virginia. The feature, published a few weeks earlier, broke readership records at the iconic magazine. It caused a national uproar. It is not hard to see why. The story recounts the dramatic allegations of a young woman, lured by her date to a fraternity house, there to be gang-raped on broken glass by seven initiates. The line the story took was that the victim’s experience was emblematic of a ‘culture’ female students faced on campuses across the US. This heinous crime was compounded by the defensive, almost dismissive, response of University authorities.


From Red to Blue- Abahlali, Survival and Ideology

This article first appeared in Africa Report

In May 2014, news broke that a radical shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, had thrown their weight behind the centre-right Democratic Alliance in Kwa Zulu Natal. This was a shock to most in the South African left. The shock reverberated in all the places this remnant finds itself; that is to say, twitter, facebook, social science faculties and on listservs anticipating revolution.

At face value it is shocking. Abahlali was the poster child of total autonomy in social movements, giving their voice to no one but themselves. Scholars of the movement told us that, at the movement’s core, not only as strategy but as principle, was their celebrated slogan “No Land, No House, No Vote”. (more…)

Canal and Control

Chris Hani
This article first appeared in Africa Report

Chris HaniIt’s 21 years to the day that the MK unit in which I dabbled assembled to discuss what to do about Chris Hani’s assassination.

It was obvious that it was not a hit by the state. There was going to be groot kak raining down that did not suit the Nats. This left two options, rogue cops or the white right. The climate for Hani’s assassination was just right. With election talks stalled, the ANC needed a bad cop to whip up the spectre of insurrection again. Hani and Winnie were rumoured to have resuscitated some sort of military capacity across the border in Zim. Someone might just have believed that propaganda. (more…)

The valleys of broken thongs

Valley Church

This piece appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique, March 2014

valley churchI’ve just returned from the Eastern Cape, from dirt roads that dwindle into two spur tracks and then just impressions in the grass, around clefts in mountains that open into sublime valleys, each with a few foregone sandstone farmhouses, with stoeps and overgrown gardens and subsiding kraals. Among the dilapidation, one can still see the farmstead and the footpaths of work that took place within it. And for me, I imagine I can still see the places where lovers pressed into each other, by the leaking dam with the cool moss, in that outbuilding whose thick, warped glass slants light through the motes. And there, far by the river, where willows hang and a spinney makes a yonic circle of silver and green. On an autumn blanket. Definitely there.

Just beyond the house, the windpumps of a previous generation lean and miss rusty pieces. The voice of these metal creatures is the thing most gone. Not only their own whirring murmurs but the sounds they roused from unliveable plains: flapping crops, yapping dogs and watered furrows.