SA's new spin doctors

2008-09-29 00:00

Some years ago I was driving to Pretoria from Johannesburg, listening to Classic FM and I heard the most astonishing rendition of the Mahler Sixth Symphony being played. So amazing was it, and so impressed was I by it that I phoned the station to ask who was conducting. I was told it was one Benjamin Zander. Since then I have bought all his recordings of the Mahler Symphonies and I have found that I was as entranced by all of them, except one — the ninth — as I had been on that very first hearing of the sixth.

So, I was extremely pleased to be invited to have breakfast with the man recently. I have to say, that in the intervening period, between first hearing his Mahler Sixth, and the breakfast, I had started to become a little suspicious of the man. I saw him once on television, doing something that was at the same time interesting and banal. He was lecturing a group of wannabe leaders — or maybe they already were leaders of one sort or another — on how to be a leader. And he used the orchestra to demonstrate his point. He told the orchestra to play a particular piece, on their own, without a conductor. When they had finished, he complimented them on how well they had done. Then he took up the baton, and behaved like a leader. And the piece was played very differently.

Now why would I be suspicious of this? Well, as with all team-building, leadership-training stuff like this, my stomach had involuntarily started to heave. It does the same with Oprah Winfrey, Dr Phil and Steven Covey and all those other leadership gurus out there.

But I put my feelings of unease aside with the view that, very possibly, I was just being prejudiced, or mean-minded. So, I got up bright and early to have breakfast with the great Zander.

I was miserably disappointed. He was a nice enough sort of chap. And clearly, he goes about doing a great deal of good in the world. And nothing I am going to say here should be taken to mean that he isn’t a great conductor. But the problem with him, and a host of people like him, is that he seems to have started to believe his own bullshit.

Now, please understand, I have nothing against a good bit of bullshit. I have spent a fair share of my own life bullshitting, in a whole range of jobs and positions. But I would be very concerned indeed, if I started believing it myself. I would be concerned because there seems to me to be a very fine line between spinning a line for a particular purpose — and actually starting to believe what you know to be untrue. That is the path, I am quite sure, to some form of profound psychological disorder.

I am seeing that same malaise all over the place at the moment. We have an ex-president who appears not only to have believed his own bullshit, but all the bullshit of those he placed around him as well. I have it on excellent authority, for instance, that right up to the last second, he was convinced that he had taken the majority at Polokwane. What does it take, in psychological terms, I wonder, to get to that level of delusion?

We now have several members of the new guard who do the same but just on different levels and on other issues. We now have other messages put out by other people on a regular basis. That is not surprising. But it starts to get a bit unnerving when they appear to start believing it themselves. And it is striking how little time it seems to have taken for them to do just that.

And Jacob Zuma? Well, At this point he is fairly untested. We need to see just what levels of delusion he is capable of. And more importantly, has he started to believe all the nonsense being shouted from the rooftops about him? Does he seriously believe, for instance, that he is innocent of some 700 charges against him, despite his relentless desire to close the court door for once and for all? Was it really all a political conspiracy against him?

And as for the rest of them — the Jessie Duartes, the Blade Nzimandes, the Julius Malemas, the Gwede Mantashes, the Kgalema Motlanthes, the new deputy president and the new Cabinet ministers — all of them — let us watch intently to see if they start believing their own spin doctors and their own bullshit. That will be the litmus test of whether we will really survive this all and grow stronger, or not.

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