Fingers furiously tweeted, e-mails flew across cyber-space and cellphones buzzed incessantly as the news spread that, come April 1, the 5fm morning show was no more.
Surely this must be the stuff of an April Fool’s joke, or at best an elaborate ruse akin to that which prefaces every annual SABC contract renewal, we desperately tried to convince ourselves?
But then came the confirmation straight from Gareth Cliff’s mouth: never again would we brush our teeth to the tales of Leigh-Ann Mol’s weekly beer-drinking exploits, or hear of the latest incident pertaining to her generously endowed “twin set”.
No longer would we blame Damon Kalvari’s stuttered blabbering on our semi-slumbering state, or find ourselves singing along to Thabo Modisane, exec-u-tive pro-ducer in-between gulped-down doses of caffeine.
Mabale Moloi’s poor donkey shall now be left to a life of anonymity in Qwa Qwa and her much-alluded-to Mr X shall forever remain just that.
As for the big Mr G himself, for a decade his was the voice brave (or brazen) enough to express that which many of us felt but perhaps lacked the courage or eloquence to articulate.
Which isn’t to say there weren’t moments when you felt the over-whelming urge to slap the self- righteousness out of him, particularly when he allowed his (sometimes infuriating) need always to be proved correct to cloud his objectivity.
But unlike his counterparts on other breakfast shows in the SABC stable, who tend to confuse hubris with knowledge, Cliff’s unques-tionable intelligence, coupled with his vast grasp of a broad range of subjects, placed him in the unique position of being able to substan-tiate his argument – even if you did not necessarily agree with it.
And there were many who did not. “Obnoxious”, “arrogant”, “smug”, “quarrelsome”, “offensive”. These were some of the labels people pinned on him during his 10-year tenure, which contributed to Cliff being suspended – twice – and intermittently subjected to “several close shaves” as well as “dozens of BCCSA (Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa) complaints” .
At first, he was accused of attempting to be little more than a cheap imitation of US shock jock Howard Stern. But unlike Stern, Cliff was never one to provoke simply for provocation’s sake.
(And I’d wager money he would never consent to doing a broadcast in the buff – screened via webcam for all to see – either) .
Granted, in the context of our oh-so-politically correct (read: increasingly censored) society, his comments pertaining to the death of former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in 2009 were probably inappropriate.
And okay, so perhaps the infamous Jesus interview did cut a little too close to them Bible bashers’ bones. (But hey, who’s to say the bearded man born in Bethlehem wouldn’t have seen the funny side himself?)
As did remarks about the current aspirations of most 22-year-olds only extending as far as them lying back and spreading their legs. Or words to that effect.
At the very heart of it, however, Cliff forced us to step out of our growing state of complacency, to challenge the increasingly corrupt status quo and to do that thing that so seems to scare our sheep-like human mentality: think for ourselves.