I never thought I would ever say this, but SA owes a thank you to Eskom CEO Brian Molefe. Not for stopping rolling blackouts, but for giving us the #SaxonwoldShebeen meme last week. It was just the good joke the country needed.
SA has been a little punch-drunk lately with the dizzying pace of political scandals and corruption uncovered since Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report was finalised.
A legal masterstroke prevented President Jacob Zuma or Madonsela’s lily-livered successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, from quashing it. Madonsela adeptly used the powers given by the constitution — and confirmed by the constitutional court’s Nkandla judgment.
Madonsela is this generation’s Desmond Tutu, a figure of unbreakable integrity whose feisty defiance against the powerful and corrupt is an inspiration to us all.
But it was Molefe’s attempt to explain the 58 calls between him and Ajay Gupta between August 2015 and March 2016 that produced the best contender for Dumbest Thing Ever Said By An Official Getting Bust.
“There’s a shebeen there,” Molefe said. “I think it’s two streets away from the Gupta house.
“Now I will not admit or deny that I was going to a shebeen. But because I haven’t … my young wife is not aware that there is a shebeen there. But there is a shebeen there.”
Clever memes appeared on Twitter that day (a picture of a five-star pool titled “Loving the firepool at #SaxonwoldShebeen”), a selection of cocktails (“Apple Guptini” and “Subpoena Colada”), a spoof account (@StateShebeen) and hilarious captions of pictures of Zuma, “Weekend Special” Des van Rooyen and Molefe himself.
Not only was Molefe’s excuse laughable, but science doesn’t lie. The cellphone networks could pinpoint Molefe at the Guptas’ Saxonwold mega-shebeen so accurately, not because they knew they could be used in investigations years later, but because they are good at billing you. Economists say Molefe was able to seemingly halt blackouts mainly because those same blackouts had caused the economy to shrink. Less power was needed. So his achievement, they say, is not a big deal. It was a bit like juggling the books.
Now he has been undone by decent book-keeping. Networks are interested in billing us, and record your phone’s location every time there is a billable event. Every time you check WhatsApp, or e-mail, or Twitter, your phone sends a request (or ping) to the nearest cellphone tower.
The way the smart cellular systems work, your phone pings three or more of the closest towers to see which has the strongest signal. Three cell towers is what your phone needs to triangulate its position but it’s also a way of recording where the phone is at the time of the billable event.
Oh Brian, your comments are too poetic not to become the subject of brilliant Internet memes. We’ve needed the laugh.
This column first appeared in Financial Mail