The Great Yawn

2010-05-04 09:49

It can’t be easy being the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

Not too long ago, you were The Man.

Your name was on the lips of

every activist at the height of the US civil rights struggle.

When Mandela

walked free, you were there, elbowing through the crowds to take your place in


Until you were forced to take some time out over that “love child”

business, you were a busy man: attending fundraising dinners in Washington and

propping up dictators in Sierra ­Leone.

Last year, you took in a coronation in

Ivory Coast – of yourself. And in between, you even ran for president –


Ah, presidents ...

Now an Hawaiian from ­Harvard has replaced you as the most famous


After you made those unfortunate remarks on Fox News, it’s

Barack, Barack! everywhere you turn.

It’s nauseating.

Who wouldn’t want to, as

you so elegantly put it, “cut his nuts off”?

Yes, on the face of it, Reverend Jesse Jackson’s star has been


The supernova of race relations is now a dim light bulb. But there’s

nothing like an ­honorary doctorate from a South African university to revive

flagging fortunes.

Jackson was in high spirits when he jetted into the country.

At the

University of KwaZulu-Natal last Thursday, the newly capped and visibly moved

­Reverend (Doctor) Jackson called for scholastic vigilance, an end to economic

inequalities, and a United States of Africa.

Yawn ...

Few would challenge the ­university’s decision to confer the degree

“for distinguished achievements in the advancement of social justice”.

But like

Moses (a figure with whom he is fond of comparing himself), Jackson is preaching

in the ­wilderness.

Right now, Goldman Sachs has replaced Pharaoh, ­Canaan is

the American Midwest and the Israelites are ­mortgaged to the hilt.

The race war just isn’t as sexy as it used to be.

But Jackson’s was the voice we had come to hear at a private dinner

in Johannesburg last week.

A murmur of excitement ran through the small crowd as the lift

doors parted. Out burst a ­phalanx of muscular gentlemen from Jackson’s Rainbow

Push Coalition.

The human wall parted and there “he” stood. An air of reverential

silence hung about as a scowling Jackson hugged two men (accompanied by shouts

of “What’s happ’nin man!”) and was immediately whisked off to an anteroom.


aide told me “he” has leg trouble, will address the crowd briefly, then


Three hours later, we were still standing. The crepes had gone

stale and the champagne had long lost its fizz.

One woman had even fainted

(either from fatigue or the Holy Ghost).

Jackson had by then just rounded off a discussion on the historical

reconstruction of ­Africa – and Africans.

“Are you with me? I feel kinda

lonesome here!” he drawled.

The crowd murmured in polite approval.

An hour

earlier, his jollity was more infectious as he proceeded to condense apartheid

and the US civil rights movement.

For every slogan like “We have retuuuurned!” there was an

­accompanying “Yeah!”.

But by the time Jackson got started on international

banking cartels and healthcare, uneasy glances could be seen being exchanged

around the room, like when a dear but nutty old relative starts making rude

sounds at the Christmas dinner table.

It was hard not to get conspiratorial after an evening with

Reverend Jackson. He referred repeatedly to “them”, though it was unclear

exactly whom he meant.

In the past, Jackson has ­fingered “the whites”, “the Jews” and

international banking (sometimes simultaneously) for the ills of Black


Neatly transplanting his ­bigotry into a local context, he rounded

off the evening by railing against “the whites” for ­denying blacks access to

capital and the economy.

“We get the crown, but they get the jewels!” he exclaimed.

A lone

white guy in a bow tie grinned self-consciously from the back. There was rowdy


The crowd clearly thought he was rounding up.

Besides two Indians and the white guy, everyone at the gathering

was black (mainly American), and obviously well-to-do.

This was a message

perhaps better suited to Orange Farm or Eldorado Park.

Not here, at a posh

black-owned investment capital firm in the northern suburbs.

After his exhausting preaching session, Jackson finally cleared his

throat and concluded.

After taking a few questions, the Great Man strode off

into a side room for coffee and pastries.

Or should one say hobbled



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