Friends & Friction | We’re just as mad as the rest of the world

You will laugh and laugh and laugh. Of course, I do not know where your sense of humour sits on the ticklemetre, but the realisation and resultant relief that we South Africans are not alone in our madness and that our human vices are not unique should at least bring some laughter.

I am focusing this week on a book called Believer: My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod, the strategist behind the election of former US president Barack Obama.

He lived and worked in Chicago, Illinois, the home of Michelle and then senator Barack. The two may now be the city’s most famous citizens, but it was first put on the world map by Al Capone, perhaps the most celebrated thug in the world, long before Netflix made men such as Pablo Escobar and Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán famous.

Axelrod is a gifted writer, having worked as a reporter and then as a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Then he became a political consultant and campaign strategist.

He has taken part in more than 150 campaigns in local, state and national elections, so he has seen them all, from the upright to the downright corrupt.

axelrod

Tips are not only for waiters – as we now know, some journalists extend their hands, too. Jake Lingle was a journalist for the Tribune and, as he walked to the station to catch a 1.30pm train, two men followed him.

One was described as thin with blonde hair and blue eyes. He raised a .38 calibre pistol and shot Lingle in the back of the head. One bullet, and the journalist was dead. It was not just a hit, it was a statement, albeit a violent one.

Lingle was lionised as a martyr. His employer, the Tribune, offered a $25 000 (R381 000 at today’s exchange rate) reward to anyone who had information that would lead to the arrest of the killers.

Other media companies threw in another $30 000, making a total bounty of $55 000.

The investigation disappointed many when it revealed that Lingle had been doing illicit business with Capone, including fixing the price of beer in Chicago.

He had also been involved in dog racing and gambling. Newsman Lingle had maintained two homes and a suite at the Morrison Hotel, which was frequented by US presidents. Oh, and after his death, it was also discovered that he had a six-figure stockbroker account.

“Chicago was a parochial town,” Axelrod writes, “divided into 50 wards with strong ethnic identities and politics that could best be described as tribal.”

It sounds like a microcosm of South Africa today.

We have to face it. In America today, the way to have fun and celebrate is to break a store window and take something.

“At times,” he continues, “these tribes had warred over political spoils.”

Tumultuous times like these are often the incubator for a hero who will be etched into the history books as the one who saved the country from the abyss.

It took a visionary called Richard J Daley to save Chicago from becoming part of the rust belt of the US, like Detroit and Cleveland had.

As Chicago’s mayor, Daley had a practical approach to politics.

“We have to face it,” he said. “In America today, the way to have fun and celebrate is to break a store window and take something.”

He did not try to bleach out human vices – he acknowledged them, factored them in and was unapologetic about them.

He did not lead a divisive army. Instead, he sought to disarm his opponents, believing that good government was good politics.

Daley was no saint and he had his flaws, like all human beings. However, a poll of 160 historians, political scientists and urban experts has ranked Daley as the sixth best mayor in US history.

As citizens, we must demand a clean government and throw the crooks in prison. But as businesspeople, we must continue to do business and not become distracted by pigs pigging at the trough.

  • Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency


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