Interview with a Leader…

This is from Facebook note dated Nov 22, 2010, that was inspired by the movie Interview with a Vampire starring Brad Pitt.

The central idea of the movie had then begun to inform some of my more recent interests – collecting stories of interesting influencers…

“I’ve never been much of an Anne Rice fan, though my mind would have been a perfect place for her tales what with it being so lush with imagination and fertile ground for shock and horror. I guess like many more things in life I just never got round to reading her stuff. I could write tomes about never getting round to stuff. Possibly the biggest reason for not getting into Anne Rice when I could have, was my contrarian nature; some of the hype cooled me where it warmed others. Nonetheless, I did get into one of her stories incarnated as a flick: interview with the vampire.

I have always been fascinated by Vampirism: these legends of a race that like Angels is like us and yet superior to us in many ways but even more so envious of us of the most basic things that we take for granted. I suppose we are to them as children are to us: vulnerable and naive but filled with an inimitable magic that defies description. One that once gone can reside only in memory, and briefly at that. So a guy like me fascinated by a thing like vampires bones up on it in the most accessible library of all: the video store. There are dozens of flicks on this subject but perhaps none as definitive as Interview with the Vampire, simply because it covers as many aspects of Vampirism as possible from the first-person perspective of a Vampire. It is as honest an account of this particular way of life (or death rather) as a subjective account could be. It is an account filled with nostalgia, regret, melancholy but importantly lessons.

One walks out of the baai-skop understanding the character and his world, feeling empathy but most importantly knowing a little bit of what to do or not to do to avoid some of the recounted missteps if put in that position.The politics of everyday are laid bare, the veneer has been removed. Perhaps this explains some of the movie’s success; the cast, cult following and block buster promotions notwithstanding (the 1994 flick has amassed nearly 20 popular and technical industry awards and nominations and grossed over $ 100m)

The idea of a monster telling one’s tale and even casting themselves as a misunderstood victim of bad PR isn’t new. But in a media-frenzied world has probably never been as vogue.I view George Bush’s recently launched biography Decision Points, as the most lethal of these strikes. Admittedly I haven’t read the book, but the related press junkets have quoted the former US president as having defended his decisions as regards the “War on Terror” and even suggesting that history would judge him favourably given the adequate passage of time. Now, whilst that may be possible, though highly improbable, I shudder to think of what warped sense of one’s self would compel a man to say something like that. “well, you might not get it now, but in 50 years time with the benefit of hindsight I’ll look like a f*cken genius of foresight”. hmmm. I dunno.

What I do know is that much of the lessons that we could have learned from Bush’s years in office as a collective of Humanity will be lost to us. An ego like that couldn’t possibly be honest enough with us to lay bare the real politik and missteps.

It reminds me of the movie Frost/Nixon. A celebration of a journalist’s ability to pin down a verbally dexterous politician. Why couldn’t he have just stopped sparing and told the truth that would eventually be prissed from him? Not that simple I hear you say neh, sadly you may be right. And if such men can on the back of seriously and roundly condemned decisions have the temerity to face the public either in verse or in studio and not own up to the impact of those decisions, in fact arrogantly dismiss the perceived negative impact then what hope do we have to glean any truth from less vocal or forthright public figures?

Baring a few, the biographies of public heroes read a little Ghandiesque. Until the secret lovers come out. Sure, we’ve have a Hard Copy, a Larry King, a 3rd degree, an Interface, a Carte Blanche but often these are instructive in bobbing and weaving techniques, and rarely are they reflective. After the fact. An interview that offers the benefit of hindsight. Where the subject is open and candid. Sadly for politics in SA and the world today there will be no such an interview with a leader. Sadly for us as citizens of SA and the world today the propensity towards accountability has all but evaporated.

Perhaps it comes down to our interviewers? I had this thought when I ran into Khaya Nqula on the Gautrain from ORT to Sandton last week. My first instinct was to make a chirp along the lines of “beats a choper neh” but I really don’t know him like that and momma didn’t raise me to be rude to strangers. So I said…. umm… nothing. When all the time I wanted to interview him on his tenure as CE of Africa’s biggest airline. I wanted nothing more than to hear the tale of alleged mismanagement and flagrant abuse of tax payer’s money from the horse’s mouth in a sincere and earnest account. But being a poor interviewer and having little more than 15 minutes I didn’t get us there. I suspect such is the genesis of angry, postulating reporters as we are becoming more familar with.

But the guys I’d like to interview more than anything would be the ones that like Bush take all their dirt, pile it up, stand atop it and pretend its a moral high ground. I’d like to ascertain from former Apartheid-SA state public officials what would now and again comment on governance issues what they really knew about death squads and what really went down in their private meetings. I’d like to know why a former leader of SA seeks to teach youngsters about leadership amidst a dearth of African leadership when he refused to demonstrate leadership in succession planning, the most notorious Achilles heel of African leaders. I don’t mind the teachings, it’s just that without some acknowledgment of mistakes what led to them, these lessons ring hollow. I’d like to understand why some of our black elite who have presided over dismal failures of transformation in the academic, business or public sector spheres will speak loudly and often against this that or the other without ever telling us en masse the truth behind the logs in their own eyes. Today, in SA, no one has the courage to be Louis the Vampire (the interviewee), sit down, take the time, take out ego and tell the truth. Tell the truth about the challenges of planning, of governance, of capacity and of really not know what to do next, tell the truth about money and how it’s made and lost and when it’s faked. We have scores of young people thinking that wealth is like a light-switch that need just be flicked whilst their role models cower in debt and the lies of their publicists.

Wouldn’t you like to know the real impact of decisions taken by power. Did you know that the ineffective and wasteful 3 tiers of government was a compromise to accommodate federalist political parties that were tied to huge bantustanish self-governing regions; just as the decision to have Cape Town and Pretoria capital cities came from the negotiations that ended the Anglo-Boer war? What of social tinkering? The introduction of the tot system, the personal issues behind the furors surrounding ARVs, inferior education (it makes sense to me why with the highest per capita education budget our standards are dropping – we’re 3 generations too late), what of the arms-deal, the true power of media barons to distort editorial in their favour, the migration of SA’s biggest businesses to the LSE, were the scorpions indeed infected with Apartheid era secret agents, the story behind Jackie Selebi and his protection, how crime syndicates have seemingly hi-jacked SA to the point of being outsourced by international crime intents (if the rumours surrounding Annie Diwani’s murder have any credence).

SA has always been a contested terrain – physically, politically and spiritually. It has always been a land of deep secrets. But as we embark on shaping a new future, one if it’s to predicated on the constitutional ethos of equality, we need to open Pandora’s box and start to speak our truths. Or rather illuminate the lessons that come from that truth. Not condemn us to relearning these over and over. Lastly of course, as Shaka Zulu’s aunty Mkhabayi and more recently young political leaders have learned there is great power in secrets and holding people captive to them.

We can take heart that Anne Rice’s tale was only fiction. Ergo a monster still doesn’t exemplify a better moral aptitude than a man. And a fictional reporter does not have more guts than many of us, not just to hold a Big Man to account, but to get the real account.

Let us make reality manifest”

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