Who do you trust more: the ANC that promises “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” or the sangoma that promises men a huge penis and women a rich husband? Based on historical evidence, you’d have to go with the sangoma. He won’t give a man a bigger penis but he won’t shrink it either, whereas the ANC definitely will shrink jobs. It has done so and is set on shrinking them further. Last week President Ramaphosa appointed a new BEE council for a big “transformation push”. This will push our 46% unemployment higher still.

What are the deepest desires of men and women? What do they really dream of? If the magic fairy could grant them any wish, what would they wish for? How do these deep wishes compare with politicians’ promises?

I found myself at Johannesburg airport in April. I have a neurotic fear of not flying, so I always arrive at the airport at least an hour earlier than any sensible person. In Cape Town where I live, I seldom buy newspapers, mainly because they are all the same and all dreary. At the airport they offer free newspapers so, to while away the time, I browsed through them. I came across a copy of The Sowetan. It was lying in parts on the floor in front of my bench. (Admittedly the closest rubbish bin was at least two metres away so you could hardly expect the previous reader to have used it.) I read fitfully through the front pages. They were pretty dull but not nearly as dull as the Cape Town papers. Then I happened to glance upon the classified ads in the back pages, and found a completely different world, a far more interesting world of hopes and dreams, and commercial promises to realise them.

Dr Mau, a “strong traditional healer”, offers to “Bring back lost lover in a few days” and to “Chase away Tokoloshe, Ghosts and bad spirits”; he also offers “Men penis enlargement” and “Muthi for gambling games like Lotto and Powerball”. Baba Malule declares, “The love doctor is here to solve all your love problems”. Dr Kasipa offers to make you “attractive to rich men” and promises “manhood enlargement from 5 to 30 cm (2 to 11.8 inches)”. Perhaps conscious of gender equity, Chief Jali promises “fast tightening of womanhood”. Something called “Magic Wallet” never fails to make you rich overnight. Others promise alternative magic paths to enormous wealth, guaranteed ways of warding off the evil spirits, and proven methods of achieving sexual prowess and universal admiration.

I have seen similar advertisements stuck to the lamp-posts of Johannesburg and Cape Town.

All of these dreams and wishes are found in humans of all races in all countries in all eras in the whole history of Homo sapiens. The only thing that changes is their expression. People are pretty much the same, always and everywhere. Down the ages women have wanted a rich, successful mate and men have wanted a big penis, and everybody has wanted an easy way of getting rich, and protection against devils and demons. The ads on the back pages of The Sowetan simply give local expression to these eternal hopes and fears. Sowetan readers fear the Tokoloshe; Europeans in the 17th Century (the century of Shakespeare and Newton) feared that witches would cause extreme weather events and famines. Today the bourgeois chattering classes of the West fear that CO2, a safe, natural, life-giving, completely benevolent gas, is actually an agent of Satan causing dangerous climate change.

Mainstream Western newspapers still have pages where astrologers advise you on your Zodiac signs. The ads in The Sowetan promise magic ways of becoming rich. If you look at any news website in the West today, you will see charlatans promising quick, enormous investment returns with one simple trick. In one that is dominating the web and that bears the title “Visionary Prophet”, an important-looking woman, “a Ph.D economist”, warns of impending economic apocalypse, which only she can solve. They also promise simple tricks for losing weight, regaining power in the bedroom (getting an erection), curing diabetes and baldness, and so on. In other words, essentially the same as The Sowetan but less explicit.

Most of these wishes are rational. It is perfectly rational for a woman to want a rich, successful husband to look after her children. Female animals wish the same. But the desire of male humans for a big penis is irrational and mysterious; it is universal but nobody can explain it. No other male animal has the slightest interest in the size of his penis. Whether he is a donkey with a huge one or a gorilla with a tiny one, no other male cares tuppence about the size of his winky, nor it seems do the females he hopes to attract. Humans are the most irrational of animals.

Politicians around the world are perfectly aware of these human hopes and fears but try to persuade people to have different ones, more in keeping with political fashion. I don’t know what South African politicians promise voters in remote areas in local languages, but I do know that no party manifesto has promised men an 11.8-inch penis. They don’t quite promise women rich husbands but suggest they might get them through the growing national prosperity their policies will bring to the nation. They promise the electorate a brave new world of wealth, security, wonderful public transport, brilliant state education and of course jobs, jobs, jobs. They also promise the electorate things they know perfectly well they don’t want.

The ANC’s record in keeping its promises is inversely proportional to the wishes of the people. It doesn’t deliver on what the people want but it does deliver on what the people don’t want. The people want jobs, prosperity, security, good water and sanitation, proper education for their children and decent public transport. On all of these, the ANC has failed spectacularly. The people don’t want affirmative action, BEE, transformation and employment equity. On all of these, the ANC has delivered on its promises. Eskom, the railways, the municipalities, schools for poor people, water supply and sanitation are all triumphs of BEE and transformation, and have all made life more wretched for ordinary people. President Ramaphosa wants more such BEE, more deprivation for ordinary people, more failed education for poor black children at state schools, and more BMWs and private schools for the ruling class comrades and cadres.

African sangomas, faith healers and herbalists make direct promises to the people and promise them exactly what they want. Most of the time they fail to deliver, just like the astrologers, prophets and alchemists of the Western world. And just like them, their failures do not cause ordinary people to lose faith in them. But there are signs that ordinary people are beginning to lose faith in the ANC. The ANC is inherently unable to change its ruinous policies. It is trapped in its own racist, elitist, Marxist ideology, and beholden to the rich, powerful comrades who control it. So we shall have more ruinous policies, and the misery of South Africa will increase, and more people will turn away from the ANC. Then what will the ANC do? Turn to the sangomas?


Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.