I have many friends who can get terribly uptight about things that happen in politics. Of course decisions made by politicians can affect our lives dramatically, for better or for worse. But I have learned through my almost three decades in political life that it is essential to have a good sense of humour in order to survive. Winston Churchill understood that well and had a deprecating sense of humour when it came to his profession. “(A politician needs…) the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year—and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen,” he is reported to have said in 1902.
Churchill also said: “In politics when you are in doubt what to do, do nothing.” Wise words indeed except that he then added: “…when you are in doubt what to say, say what you really think.”
Eh, maybe not so wise, Mr. Churchill – especially when it comes to the public figures in South Africa as some of the quotes of 2016 prove.
There were the insensitive ones:
- “…these beneficiaries (of a pension of R1146.57) should have enough to buy adequate food as well as additional non-food items.” Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development, who earns more than R2.1 million per year.
- It had nothing to do with it (her sexual orientation). These people were known to one another.” Maggie Sotyu, Deputy minister of Police commenting on the killing of Noluvo Swelindawo who was openly gay.
- “These women are reactionaries supported by clandestine forces… who pay them to embarrass the ruling party…. They are used to advance and fight the battles of patriarchy.” Bathabile Dlamini reacting to the four women who protested and remembered Khwezi in front of President Zuma on the night of the Local Government election results.
The wise-but-unlikely-to-have-any-effect ones:
- “We are therefore appealing to young people to pause and consider the consequences of their actions...” Sibongiseni Dhlomo, KZN’s MEC for Health asking teenagers not to have sex during December to avoid the “September baby phenomenon”.
Of course there were the downright stupid ones:
- “I want actions to be taken so that the rand must fall. It must fall. We won’t be dictated to by white monopoly capital.” Collen Maine ANC Youth League president.
And ones that made no sense:
- “Because after 1994 because Nelson Mandela was in competition with the Holy Spirit, we accommodated someone and made them, a Finance Minister. That person took all their people and put them in the finance department. … That is why President Zuma, you were forced to last year, to reverse the appointment of a finance minister. I don’t really know why you bowed to that pressure.” Collen Maine President of the ANC Youth League
- "When a cow gives birth to a fire, that cow will lick that fire. You know why? When a mother gives birth to a fire, she will lick that fire, because she gave birth to that fire. When a fire burns, it rains, and the earth gets wet. Fire burns, but when it rains, the earth gets wet." - Tina Joemat-Pettersson
Then there were the funny ones:
- “He is going to need this handkerchief." – DA Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip, who gave Police Minister Nathi Nhleko a present so he could wipe his brow in case he had explain to the nation that the Nkandla firepool was just a swimming pool.”
- "Now I understand why they built the buses that are too big for the BRT lanes in Nelson Mandela Bay. This is to ensure that Zuma had something big enough to throw people under." – John Steenhuisen
- “I am not a madam, I do not run brothels." - Congress of the People MP Deirdre Carter, objecting to the word ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani used to refer to her.
- "I thought a madam is a very honourable word. I’m very happy to be called madam speaker" responded National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete.
- “There's a shebeen there, two streets away from the Guptas. I will not admit or deny that I've gone to the shebeen. But there is a shebeen there.” Brian Molefe in response to the Public Protector’s report.
And the less than frank ones:
- “On April 13, Cabinet established an inter-ministerial committee to consider allegations that certain banks and other financial institutions acted unilaterally and allegedly in collusion, when they closed bank accounts and terminated contractual relationships with Oakbay. The minister recorded recommendations made to Cabinet by the inter-ministerial committee as well as the related resolutions taken by Cabinet at its meetings of July 6 and August 31 respectively.” Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Minister of Mineral Resources.
- “He (Minister Zwane) does not speak on behalf of Cabinet and the contents of his statement do not reflect the position or views of Cabinet. The unfortunate contents of the statement and the inconvenience and confusion caused by the issuing thereof, are deeply regretted”. Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga in response to Minister Zwane’s statement.
Then there was Hlaudi. (Because Hlaudi is just Hlaudi.):
- “In my view Hlaudi Motsoeneng is Hlaudi Motsoeneng and there is only one Hlaudi in South Africa. It’s this one called Hlaudi, and no one else.”
- “Your degrees can’t work for you. You need experience to do the work. When these people come with their degrees, they drain the same people (who are skilled but don’t have degrees).”
- “All that many educated people know how to do is to read the whole day. They don’t have time to think.”
- “I have been thinking maybe our employees should have uniforms so that they can understand unity.”
- “…there is only one Hlaudi in South Africa, no one else. When you have this hullabaloo all over you, I was not produced by anyone else. I was not produced by any individual. I was not produced by anyone else."
And our President. (Hee-hee-hee!):
- “The ANC is more important than the Constitution.”
- “The Constitution is only there to regulate matters.”
- “I did not use the public’s money in Nkandla. What I’m saying is I’m not guilty. Even if they look for me under a tree they can’t find me. I did nothing wrong. I did not do anything… They go around and say this fella used public money. I am not guilty, there is no case against me.”
- “God expects [the ANC] to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back.”
And of course the president in waiting:
- “You are not a legitimate president, bye-bye." Julius Malema during Sona.
Finally the prize for the most memorable quote of 2016 must go to Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance:
- “Just let me do my job.”
May 2017 bring more wisdom, truthfulness, honesty and sensitivity from our public figures. Happy New Year!
*Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.
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