Would you buy a used car from these men?

Back in 1975, in Kingston, Jamaica, we were drinking tea with Ndabaningi Sithole, the Zimbabwean nationalist and author whose book, African Nationalism, had awakened many people - black and white - to the realities of a potentially volcanic struggle by Africans against colonialism in Southern Africa.

Back in 1975, in Kingston, Jamaica, we were drinking tea with Ndabaningi Sithole, the Zimbabwean nationalist and author whose book, African Nationalism, had awakened many people - black and white - to the realities of a potentially volcanic struggle by Africans against colonialism in Southern Africa.

I am not just name-dropping: I knew Sithole from the 1960s when I edited his story for The African Parade.

During a break in the proceedings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), we were chewing the fat about the struggle back home.

By this time he had been deposed as Zanu leader and replaced by Robert Mugabe, who was in Kingston too, along with Joshua Nkomo.

They were in Kingston to lobby the Commonwealth on behalf of the struggle.

After I had told Sithole what I was doing in Zambia, he asked if he could be our correspondent or write something for our newspapers. I was taken aback, but didn't let on.

The man had hit on hard times. They had all just been released from detention in Salisbury and were to meet to thrash out how to get the country out of UDI and into real, genuine independence under black rule.

Sithole sounded utterly guileless. He was so open with me I warmed to him as I had when he had asked me to publish his short story, Busi.

Throughout his political tribulations I had the greatest regard for Sithole. Even when he and Abel Muzorewa joined Ian Smith in the politically infamous alliance, I still believed he had a good reason to take such a precipitous step.

I would have bought a used car from Sithole, any time, anywhere. There are many politicians in Zimbabwe today from whom I would not dare buy a used car, let alone a used bicycle.

The question became popular in the 1970s after the Watergate scandal in the US: one newspaper asked if any reader would have bought a used car from Richard Nixon.

In detail, the question was whether the man was trustworthy enough to sell you a used car without trying to pull the wool over you.

Eventually, Nixon proved he would not have made it as an honest used car salesman.

For South Africans, there are two men to whom the question could be posed: would you buy a used car from Jacob Zuma or Jackie Selebi, the police chief accused of corruption?

While the question seems to constitute a case of libel and defamation of all used car salesmen, it's anchored on the alleged ability of those salesmen to convince you to buy a car strictly on the basis of their sales pitch.

It's probably highly disrespectful to pose the question in relation to the new ANC president. But he is a politician and his chosen profession is crawling with all kinds of maggots, some the size of man-eating cockroaches.

"Dirty" is an adjective invoked in any debate of politics. Even before he was elected ANC president, Zuma had garnered the reputation of a politician whose regard for probity as a stock-in-trade of his chosen profession was slightly negligible.

Until he was elected in Polokwane, I would not have bought a second hand car from Zuma. A secondhand bicycle, maybe. I still would be careful, even now.

I wouldn't buy anything from Selebi, not even a police brass button.

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