Book: Anatomy of South Africa: Who Holds the Power?
Author: Richard Calland
Reviewer: Tiisetso Makube
Whether negotiating discounts on luxury 4x4s, and getting himself jailed in the process, or spearing a bull in some nebulous "cleansing ceremony", Tony Yengeni, it seems, can't help but keep his narcissistic self in the news and be the butt of dinner table jokes - and all for nefarious reasons.
Reading a piece sub-titled Bruising Encounters in Richard Calland's highly readable and illuminating book on power politics in this country, I cannot help but wallow in the sort of schadenfreude presented by the serendipitous find that Yengeni's affliction with egomania is not new.
Calland, about a rather discomfiting experience with Yengeni about 12 years ago, says: "We were in his office and I waited for him to put forward the classic argument - with which I happen to agree - that public representatives should be well paid so as to reduce the risk that they will be tempted to accept a bribe or other financial inducement.
"Instead, he said that, as the chairman of a committee [the standing committee on defence, at the time], he needed to receive and entertain important dignitaries from overseas and [that] it was important for him to have plenty of money to buy suits and ties."
As Calland observes, it was a curious thing for Yengeni to say. But now we know.
At any rate, the piece on Yengeni is but a negligible part of what is, in general, a thorough look at who says what, what import he or she brings to the broader politics of this country and how that affects the body politic.
On the politics of the tripartite alliance in power, for instance, Calland begins his essay with the following lines: "It took just one call to halt a major piece of legislation. Such can be the influence of Cosatu."
To read this essay is to uncover the great lie that has frequently been regurgitated about the tragic impotence of Cosatu and the South African Communist Party in their alliance with the dominant and ruling ANC.
Though he does not say what many observers have long whispered about the politics of power and influence in this country, Calland reveals what really goes on in the corridors of power in the new South Africa.
Nobody is left untouched, from the presidency to big business and civil society.
Calland makes us imagine the entirety of the power terrain and how it functions.
A must-read for anyone interested in the machinations of power in our fledgling democracy.