It's Not Over Till Bianca Sings
Mail and Guardian
Comment & Analysis, With the Lid Off
I do have to admit that I feel a bit like Rip van Winkle, whoever he might have been. I have been out on the road for a month, which seems like a short space of time when you think about it form one perspective, but is really a lifetime when you look at ti form another point of view.
The world passes beneath your feet in real time while you're out there. I've stepped out over the past four weeks in Berlin and London and Gent and Padua and Venice, and each one has had its own rhythm and meaning in time. You quickly learn to take it on board, and forget about the world that you think you really come from.
Meanwhile, back home, seismic changes are rumbling like there's no tomorrow. I finally get on th plane out of London and open the Sunday Times, courteously handed to me by one of our newly empowered dark-skinned stewardesses in a spanking blue suit and square-heeled, high-heeled shoes, and find out that the whole of South African politics as we know it is transmogrifying (if you'll pardon the expression) before our very eyes.
The celebrated Schabir Shaik trial in the otherwise easy-going and balmy city of Durban throws up a series of interesting issues, none of which we can really pass judgement on until - well, until judgement is passed, and some substantial figures in our national life either find themselves in jail or in the African National Congress's version of the limbo of purgatory.
Of course, I had known that this trial was on the cards. We had had a preview during the widely televised "Mac-and-Mo" case out of Bloemfontein, when my old friend Mac Maharaj (he of the unsuspected speeding tickets fame, for which I will never forgive him) and Mo "brother of Schabir" Shaik had tried to prove that Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid-era spook.
All that, we were entitled to believe, was merely water under the post-apartheid bridge.
But not so. The ongoing Schabir Shaik trial shows us that the new era that Nelson Mandela has shepherded us into, with the able assistance of Willem "die Skelm" de Klerk, is stuffed with shenanigans that would make a West End producer (or even Peter Toerien, if he only had the sorely needed knack of theatrical gumption) wriggle with glee.
It's all the stuff of classic farce, with the added spice of sleazy politics on the southern tip of the African continent. But to our dismay, it is all played out with plodding predictability.
It turns out that the main villain of the piece is not the said Schabir, he of the balding pate and the resolutely charming smile, but the president's supposed right-hand man : Deputy President Jacob Zuma. And he's ideal casting for the role - struggling hero, darling of the trade unions, balding and unfashionably polygamous. What a fantastic and lucrative theatrical show this would be, if only the bureaucrats in the Union Building and the judiciary, who sit wherever they sit, would let us get our hands on it.
But for those of us who are storing it away in our notebooks with the idle thought of producing a hit, politically correct comedy in the near future (are you listening, artistic director-elect of the Mojo Restuarant and Theme Park Parade African Bank Market Theatre, Malcolm Purkey?) there is at least the compensation of a sultry diva in silk stocking and pas de quoi underwear (at least we like to imagine it that way) waiting in the wings.
Her name is Bianca Singh. And boy, did she sing this last week. She is, according to the Sunday Times (which can't be trusted anyway) the former "personal assistant" to the said Schabir.
Bianca told the court all she knew (which was quite a lot) about how her former boss, "Shabby" Shaik who she was supposedly "assisting", bailed out Jacob "Jack-the-Lad" Zuma on one occasion after another. So what if he defaulted on payments on his top-of-the-range Merc?
Shabby was there to smooth things over so that he could drive off in a brand-new Pajero the following year, and cover the costs of his luxurious Durban snug to boot. And on and on and on.
Given the low quality of our daily and weekly press, one has always, of course, been given the unfortunate impression that Zulus don't like Indians, and vice versa. But the Shabby Shaik / Jack the Lad Zuma scenario gives us hop that this is not necessarily always the case. The celebrated rainbow can sometimes be clamped or welded together by force when necessary.
But spare a thought for Bianca Singh. She found herself forced to quit the joint when Shabby's behaviour on behalf of his celebrated client became abusive. Surprisingly, she later returned to work at the former boss's office "after being told that "Shaik's uncouth behaviour had changed, and he had become ‘holy'".
Bianca allegedly feared for her life on several occasions, and is still now giving evidence in a hushed voice because of her fear of the terrible retribution her former employer might be able to exact on her, even he is behind bars.
So like I say, it's a terrible, surprising, Rip van Winkle world to return to. Everything has changed, or is changing. Yet everything, especially the violent turbulence of our political reality, seems to remain the same.
Poor you. Poor me. Poor Bianca.
With acknowledgements to John Matshikiza and the Mail & Guardian.