It is hoped that what Mbalula says of President Zuma is not a harbinger for the bad omen that befell Saddam after Comical Ali repeatedly assured “we are still in charge”. File picture: Jacques Naude
Recent assertions by Minister Mbalula reignites memories of the man once dubbed “Saddam’s optimist”, writes Don Makatile.

No one in 21st century politics is as much a poster boy of a bad omen than Mohammad Said Sanhaf, otherwise known as Comical Ali.

A former Iraqi diplomat and government minister, he was the only man who believed his own lies about the invincibility of Saddam Hussein during the 2003 military invasion of Baghdad.

Those who wrote about Comical Ali say his daily press briefings during the war ostensibly fought to recover weapons of mass destruction were “increasingly at odds with reality” and that these pie-in-the-sky notions of a victorious Saddam “made him a figure of fun in the West”. Even George Dubya rolled about in mirth at the sound of Comical Ali-isms. Bush reportedly said of the Iraqi propagandist: “He was great.”

This is a story new Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, then at the helm of the ANC Youth League, knew all too well.

Around 2005 as the ANC eyed Polokwane, the ANC Youth League had fashioned itself as a kingmaker and had already been arguing in documents that a former president Thabo Mbeki third term was a recipe for disaster that was going to create two centres of power.

According to the agitation of Mbalula and his closest lieutenant at the time, ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa, the two centres of power that were to rise from the Mbeki third-termism were no solution to the movement’s challenges.

Outside the plenary hall at the Mankweng university, Mbalula, to hilarious effect, referred to former ANC commucations head Smuts Ngonyama as Comical Ali.

Ngonyama was the mouthpiece of the third-termers.

Fast-forward to the post-Mbeki era, after a short spell with Cope, the man “who did not join the Struggle to be poor” is now our head of mission in Spain. The rest, as they say, is history - the machinations of Mbalula’s generation delivered President Jacob Zuma in December 2007 in Polokwane.

While Mbalula was trumpeting this derision of “Ngonyama the Mbekite” as Comical Ali, Kgalema Motlanthe was milking another narrative - that of the expulsion of the so-called Group of 8 from the ANC. The Morogoro conference is fabled in the history of the ANC and those wishing to brag about their Struggle credentials invariably tell of the heroism of OR Tambo, the glue that held the then exiled movement together, and what he said at that Tanzania gathering.

But Morogoro is also known for the watershed decision of the national executive committee to expel Tennyson Makiwane and his seven comrades, among others Thami Bonga, Ambrose Mzimkulu Makiwane and Alfred Mqota.

It is a story that seemed to fill Motlanthe with delight as it even made it into his secretary-general’s report in Polokwane. He would intermittently return to this tale of expulsion, more vocally around February 2012 when Julius Malema was sent packing from the ANC.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura was once the secretary-general of the party in Gauteng and, in this position, he instilled the fear of God into non-performing cadres.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Ten days ago, Minister Mbalula told Stephen Sackur of BBC’s Hardtalk that the majority of ANC members and most South Africans were behind President Jacob Zuma. Mbalula has been the head of campaigns in the ANC before and he’s likely to know the numbers of the “majority” he refers to.

What remains uncertain and lends a Comical Ali element to his assertion is the part about “most South Africans” after the no-show at the May Day rally in Bloemfontein.

Would “most South Africans” be those who did not heckle President Zuma on May 1? Or those that Free State Premier Ace Magashule wanted outed through video footage? Could they be those who National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete mocked at the Mpumalanga mass funeral of the 16 pupils who died in the horrific Bronkhorstspruit taxi-truck collision last month?

The fate of Zuma lies in “another December”, 10 years away from Polokwane. But it is Mbalula-speak that reignites memories of the man once dubbed “Saddam’s optimist”.

It is hoped that what Razzmatazz says of Number One is not a harbinger for the bad omen that befell Saddam after Comical Ali had repeatedly assured those who cared to listen that “we are still in charge”.

“Most” is too comical a spin for a party that just performed dismally at the local government elections, shedding metros like confetti.

The Sunday Independent