Blade Nzimande’s South African Communist Party, unhappy with becoming completely irrelevant, has cast about for a villain, and found one: the Dalai Lama. In a recent press release, the SACP calls on the government to bar him from our shores for life. RICHARD POPLAK muses on why that might be.
One of the more significant joys of practising journalism during this, the gloaming before the Second Great Revolution, comes courtesy of the South African Communist Party. Whenever an SACP press release slithers into my inbox, whenever I see the telltale black star embossed with hammer and sickle, I make myself a cup of tea, bring out the good tennis biscuits, and curl up with my smartphone. I try to read the four or five paragraphs—which is all the party can manage before slipping into deranged incoherence—as slowly as possible, so that I maximise the enjoyment. My technique can be roughly described as follows: read paragraph; drink tea, read second paragraph; eat sleeve of tennis biscuits; repeat. And when I’m done, I usually reach for something stiffer, a celebratory tipple for all the drunks, piss-cats, souses, and brain-dead alcoholics who have for so long filled the ranks of that esteemed organisation. The commies were always more fun than the straight-edged socialists or (God forbid) the lovey-dovey reconcilers.
They are still an absolute hoot.
Dr. Bonginkosi Emmanuel “Blade” Nzimande—the fakest doctor in a land of fake doctors—is not your granddad’s communist. The closest Comrade Nzimande has come to Marx in the last three decades is by way of Richard Marx, the American easy listening crooner who had a big hit the eighties with “Right Here Waiting”. And Nzimande is always right here waiting, in his case for Jacob Zuma, who can do no wrong in the good doctor’s eyes. Readers with long memories will recall that Zuma arose from the ANC alliance’s left flank, but this did not mean that he was a leftist—just that his patronage circle happened to extend leftishly. Comrade Blade’s puppy-like devotion to his master has earned him what appears to be a permanent spot on Zuma’s cabinet, as Minister of Higher Education and Training. He has grown up to be one of the more unhinged attack dogs in Zuma’s well-stocked kennel, and is a constant reminder of the death of ideology in this country.
Like an imploding dwarf star, the SACP has created around them an anti-matter suckhole, where lies bend into truth and idiocy twists into intelligence.
Still, I had no right to expect an absolute masterpiece of SACP neo-hectoring when I glanced over my emails on Sunday morning. I saw “SACP statement on cancelled Dalai Lama’s visit to South Africa” winking up at me from my inbox, and undertook my usual preparatory rituals. I knew from the first paragraph that this was going to be a classic. I learned that the SACP learned from the media—the same media that harbours a “regime change agenda” against their beloved President Zuma—that the Dalai Lama had “planned, and subsequently cancelled” a tour to South Africa. “The aim of the visit by the Dalai Lama to our shores is to pursue his agenda of a secession from China. In fact the SACP calls upon government not to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to visit our country,” I read, munching on a biscuit.
Were Zuma to wear a colostomy bag, the SACP would gladly tongue wash it. But this was just brilliant: in casting their eyes around for a villain, the SACP found the Dalai Lama? The owlish, benevolent-looking dude in saffron robes who speaks in U2 lyrics and advocates global oneness? The Blade Nzimande of Buddhism, who seeks a “middle way” in order to free his homeland from the Chinese chokehold, a la black South Africa from white South Africa during Apartheid? The guy who was instantly Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu’s bestie, and who spoke so eloquently on behalf of freedom in this country during the bad old days?
In fact, the Dalai Lama happens to be such a dick, according to the SACP, that he should never be allowed to set foot in this beautiful, freedom-swept vastness.
“The SACP wishes, for the record, to reiterate its attitude and stance towards the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama has been relentlessly pursuing an agenda for Tibet to secede from China. As the SACP we are opposed to this, as there is only one China and that Tibet, like Taiwan, has always been part of China. In addition, China had, for decades, stood with us in our struggle against Apartheid and refused to recognise the Apartheid agenda to balkanise our country into a ‘white’ South Africa and several Bantustans. We similarly refuse to be associated with an agenda that is aimed at undermining the sovereignty and national unity of China.”
Ah, China! Where but within the deepest cells of the Chinese Communist Party would one hear such fawning? President Xi Jinping, not a man known for his sense of humour, would probably allow himself a half-smile were he to read this. He’d also enjoy the following non-endorsement of the Dalai Lama’s realpolitik:
“The Dalai Lama has recently acknowledged that in the 1960s he was covertly being funded by the CIA (U.S), basically in pursuance of [his] agenda, and had led an unsuccessful violent revolt in Tibet. It is a fact that, contrary to ideological claims by his supporters and the opposition parties, the Dalai Lama’s hands and history are not clean!”
I was thrilled to learn the DL had been a bit of a self-serving Yankee collaborator—no one, after all, is perfect. And indeed, living in Lama-run feudal Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion would certainly not be on my bucket list, mostly because it would have been the bucket. Tibet was not a happy place in the days before the Han showed up, and Beijing insists that Lhasa was invaded in order to save the average Tibetan from themselves. Which may or may not be true, but doesn’t make up for the fact that the Tibetans were not jumping at the prospect of becoming a part of the People’s Republic. They have fought for what the SACP describes as “succession” ever since. Nelson Mandela, who stars in about half of the SACP press releases as sort of a Super-Commie-in-chief, understood that.
He is noticeably absent from this most recent missive.
Anyway, this is probably the part of this essay in which I should mention that I’ve met the Dalai Lama. By “met” I don’t mean “lined up and took a selfie with him at a Buddhist road show”. By “met” I mean “travelled to Dharamsala, India, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is located, and interviewed him at length about his thoughts on the Chinese in Africa”. I found him to be an extremely pleasant chap. We spoke about his belief that China can be positive for Africa in economic terms, and that there is no Chinese military threat to African countries at this point in time. (He actually laughed at me—the Dalai Lama laughed at me!—when I asked him whether an African nation could end up like Tibet at the hands of Beijing. “Africa is far away,” he reminded me, after his guffaws subsided.) He preached love and oneness and respect, and pointedly avoided criticising South Africa for dilatory foolishness with regard to his visa requests. He then gave me a prayer scarf, and hopefully put a good word in for me with the big bald dude in the sky.
The properly interesting aspects of Dharamsala, however, did not touch on the Man Himself. It was fascinating to observe a government in exile. While older Tibetans were committed to the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach—a policy of achieving “genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China”—younger Tibetans wanted no such thing. They wanted to fight.
Much, one imagines, like a young Dr. Nzimande once did.
On our third night, we followed a solemn procession of candles through the sleet-slick streets of Dharamsala. At the head of the procession was the image of a young man who had set himself on fire in Lhasa in order to protest the Chinese occupation. Online, we found images of his death—his body was the dark core in a raging wreath of flames. He died kneeling on a street in Lhasa, in a ring of fuel and body matter, and his shrieks of agony were converted into prayerful murmurs on the far side of the Himalayas, where his people asked no one in particular for nothing they will ever receive.
The Tibetans we met—and we met many—were not children. They knew why South Africa had closed the door on the Dalai Lama. They viewed it not in emotional terms, but as the obvious result in a geopolitical game played against an economic giant. To them, the ANC were no longer one of the world’s greatest liberation movements, led in spirit, if not in body, by one of the greatest men who ever lived. They were just another government in another country choosing money over principles. They understood that the world of realpolitik is a harsh one, and that as China grows stronger, they will—for a time—grow weaker. But so far as I understood it, they were playing a long game.
And when they release their own press releases in the distant future, they will never be able to say that South Africans backed them in their fight.
The SACP, however, believe that the Dalai Lama’s quest is nothing more than the result of Western Imperialist Propaganda, and the ANC government is correct for sending his visa requests pinging around Home Affairs offices. “The Dalai Lama is not a monk and spiritual leader only; he is a man with a perverted political agenda,” they insisted, in their latest and most magical press release.
Moving onto the booze, I wondered what the SACP’s “agenda” might be. It is, of course, the political equivalent of tongue-washing a colostomy bag. And they do it better, longer, and with more gusto than any of Zuma’s myriad tongue-bathers. To which I raise my glass, and wish them a hearty Marxist “bottoms up”. DM