Behind closed doors and clenched teeth‚ Zuma’s dinner for seven

Tom Eaton Columnist

A woman had been invited to a dinner party. It all seemed to be going well when her cellphone beeped. She peered at the screen under the table. It was a text message – from the hostess of the dinner party‚ sitting across from her.

For a moment she didn’t understand what she was reading‚ because the message was an apologetic cancelation: so sorry but something’s come up and we’re postponing tonight’s dinner‚ but we’d love to see you soon etc etc etc.

And then the truth hit her. The message had been sent that morning and had only reached her now.

She’d been dumped off the guest list hours earlier‚ palmed off with a lie‚ and she’d blundered in anyway and was now eating the food of someone who didn’t want her there.

Until Thursday‚ that story was the high water mark of mortification for me. But on Thursday night a dinner party unfolded that was so fist-bitingly‚ stab-yourself-in-the-thigh-so-you-don’t-scream excruciating that it made the texting hostess debacle look like a picnic in the park with pals.

The host was one Jacob Zuma‚ and his guests were the seven people who have expressed a desire to take over from him once he retires to the small cottage in Vladimir Putin’s back pocket: Cyril the Human Ball-Gag‚ Deputy-Enabler Baleka Mbete‚ Diversionary Cadre Number 3 Zweli Mkhize‚ Nkosazana Immunity-Zuma‚ Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Lindiwe Sisulu‚ and Mathews “Remember Me?” Phosa.

It was billed as a “working dinner”‚ which seems a bit suspicious: nobody in senior government has done any work since about 2005‚ and painfully posed photos of Zuma and the Magnificent Seven showed empty plates.

Still‚ man shall not live by Russian oligarchs alone‚ so I’m assuming the food arrived once the journalists left. At which point the fantastically awkward conversation could begin…

“So. Heh heh heh. What’s everyone been up to?” “N-nothing. What have you heard?” “No‚ nothing‚ just‚ you know‚ wondering…” “Sorry‚ Jacob‚ can you pass me the country?” “I beg your pardon‚ Cyril?” “Sorry‚ not ‘country’. Salt. I meant salt.” “So…” “Sjoe.” “Look‚ a coup!” “WHAT?!” “Over there on the sideboard. KOO peaches.” “Jesus‚ Baleka. Seriously.” “Sorry.” “Baba‚ what can I pass you?” “You can’t pass me. None of you can pass me.” “No‚ I mean – never mind. Nothing.” “Damn straight nothing.” “Sorry.” “Baba‚ why are you swapping wine glasses with me?” “No reason.” “So…” “Sjoe…”

Of course‚ we’ll never know exactly what was muttered behind closed doors and clenched teeth on Thursday. But if you find yourself at a silent and sweaty-palmed dinner table in the next few weeks‚ just remind yourself: no matter how bad it gets‚ it could always be a working dinner with Jacob Zuma and the Magnificent Seven.

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