Dec 292012

Thursday afternoon, I welcomed Duki Bongo MBozo, who is First Under Assistant Delegation Secretary for Tourism Development at the South African Embassy here in Washington DC.  His consultation appointment was of an emergency nature, and he had been attempting to make one with me since early Wednesday.
“That woman,” he fumed, as he sat down primly on the couch by the picture window overlooking the White House, all the while shaking his finger in the direction of Gretchen – whose desk is outside the heavy oak double doors leading into my office from the reception area, “ought to be disciplined!”
“For what?” I inquired.
“For… for… for lack of respect!” MBozo asserted. 
“How, exactly?” I pressed.
“Ah…” he fumbled, “Uh… that is… Well, when I announced myself to her, she showed absolutely no indication whatsoever of being impressed!”
“We get a lot of diplomats in here,” I observed.  “I suspect she may have become somewhat jaded.”
“Furthermore,” he persisted, “she declined my dinner invitation most… insolently.”
“Gretchen is both young and from the Pennsylvania farm country,” I explained.  “Please forgive her inability to appreciate your cosmopolitan sophistication, Your Excellency.”
“’Your Excellency!’” MBozo responded with an ebullient tone.  “Now, that’s more like it!  I don’t suppose you could arrange for… Gretchen, is it?  For Gretchen to… accept… another invitation from me, should I choose to offer it?”
“Alas,” I informed him with a slow shake of my head, “Washington DC is not KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo or MPuma-Langa.  Women here are not obligated upon pain of exteme sanction to accept a gentleman’s advances simply because he is a highly placed government official.”
“Oh,” MBozo replied, obviously taken aback.  “I see.  Well, that explains a lot, then.”
“So, you are new to your post here in the United States?” I surmised.
“Three weeks,” he confirmed.  “Before that, I was a Special Mission Agent for President Jacob Zuma.”
“And what,” I wondered, “did the duties of such an august post entail?”
“They consisted primarily,” he proudly declared, “in controlling the criminal element.”
“In what way?” I pursued.
“By keeping lies and distortions concerning the construction of President Zuma’s compound at Nkandla out of the papers, off the television and away from radio broadcasts.”
“Lies and distortions?” I queried.  “Of what sort?”
“Ah… mostly of a… financial nature,” he elaborated.  “Also, occasionally, incidents of… innuendo or personal slander were involved.”
“Interesting,” I cautiously allowed.  “And in return for your loyal service, President Zuma saw to it that you were posted here at the Embassy, I presume?”
“He also provided me with two of my five wives,” MBozo beamed, “as well as with numerous… social introductions.”
“It would seem,” I told him, “that President Zuma appropriately rewards his supporters.”
“Indeed he does,” MBozo happily acknowledged.  “But if someone is not, well, then they had better watch their step… and keep a sharp eye out behind, at that, too!  Which brings me to the purpose of my visit here today, Mr. Collins, because when President Zuma made a speech at Impendle in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday, some of his remarks were greatly misinterpreted by… shall we say, dissenting criminal elements.” 
“You are referring,” I concluded, “to President Zuma’s declaration that black Africans should not own dogs?”
“Exactly,” MBozo assured me.  “You know, he made a number of other statements in that speech, such as telling black Africans not to use the white man’s lightening lotions on their skin, or try to straighten their hair so as to look like the white man, and so forth – all very good advice, I would say.  And he sang a few verses of Shoot the Boer along with the crowd, too – but none of that seemed to bother anyone, not in the least.  His enemies only focused on what he said about dogs.  And soon there was an uproar – not only in South Africa, but everywhere!”
“People are very sensitive about dogs,” I reminded him.  “Why, right here in America, this very year, when Mitt Romney told a story about strapping a travel cage with his dog in it to the top of the family car for a road trip, there was a huge brouhaha about it.”
“Interesting,” MBozo mused.  “In his speech, President Zuma noted that in South Africa, too many times you see a truck go by and the white man driving has his dog sitting up front with him, meanwhile, there is a black workman riding in the back, on the flat bed of the truck, exposed to the rain and cold wind.  But when Mitt Romney reversed the situation and put a dog outside in the cold wind, you Americans were horrified.  Do you suppose this… obsession with dogs is why Romney lost the election to Obama?”
“Not entirely,” I qualified, “but his opponents certainly made as much of it as they possibly could.  It definitely didn’t help him.”
“And I’m sure,” MBozo vouched, “this dog issue won’t do President Zuma any good, either.  And no sooner were those words out of his mouth than he realized that and started calling upon his friends to deal with the situation.”
“Including you, it seems,” I observed.  “He is worried about potential negative impacts of his remarks on the American tourist trade, presumably?”
“Americans come to visit South Africa for many reasons,” MBozo noted, “but our research shows that seeing the wildlife – the great white sharks, the seals, the whales, the elephants, the rhinos, the lions, the leopards, the wildebeests, the zebras, the gazelles, the giraffes, the hippos, the crocodiles and so forth and so on… that’s a very big slice of the tourist pie, to be sure.  And those are, unfortunately, all animals, aren’t they?  As are dogs.  So we are extremely concerned that President Zuma’s statement not be taken out of context and misinterpreted.”
“What then, pray tell,” I delved, “was his intended interpretation?”
“That black people in South Africa should be treated at least as well as South African white people treat their dogs,” MBozo insisted.  “That’s what he was trying to say, I think.  The average white person’s dog in South Africa gets more medical attention, better diet and superior social treatment than a typical rural black laborer.”
“Perhaps,” I conceded, “but does that mean a prosperous, middle-class black person who lives in an urban environment shouldn’t own a dog?”
“President Zuma,” MBozo objected, “doesn’t consider dog ownership to be an economic class issue.  He considers it to be a cultural issue.  It is an essential part of the culture of the white colonial imperialist to own a dog.  President Zuma’s contention is that dog ownership is un-African; that its practice is at odds with basic African culture.” 
“But doesn’t credible anthropological and archeological evidence exist,” I countered, “that the South African Bushmen kept dogs as companions and pets, going back at least as far as 800 AD?”
“It is a common mistake,” MBozo sniffed, “to confuse the Bushmen with black Africans.  There is no comparison, I tell you – by 800 AD, black Africans had built the Great Zimbabwe, while the Bushmen, even today, still live in the stone age.  If white people and Kalahari desert savages want to keep dogs, that is their business.  As President Zuma so correctly observed, dog ownership has no place in black African civilization.  To own a dog causes a black African to lose his ubuntu!”
“Truly a shocking prospect,” I deftly interrupted, “to lose your ubuntu.”
“Shocking indeed,” MBozo agreed.
“It makes me wonder how we Americans get along without one,” I confessed.
“Never mind,” I responded.  “You were saying?”
“That President Zuma only wants to enable the previously oppressed African majority to appreciate and love who they are,” he pleaded.  “Black South Africans need to concentrate on family, not pets!”
“And with six wives and twenty children,” I remarked, “it certainly requires no particular stretch of the imagination to conceive of President Zuma as a fellow possessing a truly singular family focus.  And, as I recall, he once said, in reference to the marriage of one of his daughters, ‘You’ve got to have kids.  Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother.’  It also seems to me that I remember that President Zuma recommends regular beatings as a cure for homosexuality.  So, on the basis of those facts, I believe it is my duty as a policy consultant to tell you that, in my frank assessment, the idea that traditional black African culture condones polygamy, casts women in a role as baby-making machines, and mandates flogging for gays – but, on the other hand, condemns owning a dog – will strike the average twenty-first century American as extremely strange, to say the least.  And anyway – aren’t there plenty of black Africans who own dogs?”
“Yes, and President Zuma,” MBozo steadfastly maintained, “considers every single one of them to be traitors to genuine black African culture and identity.  In owning a dog, just as in using ‘hair relaxers’ or wearing an Armani suit or having a Prada handbag, they have sold out to the white man’s ideology and values.  They are emulating whiteness, and in doing so, they validate centuries of exploitation, discrimination and oppression.  In order to advance our society, it is essential to decolonize the African mind, and enable the previously oppressed black majority to appreciate who they are.  Furthermore, to own a dog elevates that animal to a status which endows it with precedence over the love we should instead be showing to our fellow black Africans.  What President Zuma intended to say has been viciously twisted and maliciously misconstrued.  His government considers it extremely unfortunate that the journalists and others concerned chose to report his comments in a manner that seeks to demonize black South African culture, instead of starting a debate about deconstruction of the post-colonial mindset as part of promoting reconciliation, nation building, unity and social cohesion, as President Zuma clearly intended.”
“So,” I supposed, “I guess that means we won’t be considering a ‘Bring Your Dog to South Africa with You for Free’ travel package, sponsored by your Department of Tourism, complete with complimentary kennel lodgings, gourmet dog food, walking, grooming, veterinary and massage services as a possible solution, will we?”
“Not while black South Africans starve in the streets,” MBozo huffed.
“You think dog ownership, hair relaxers, European fashions and the continued presence of white people,” I sought to confirm, “are the reasons black South Africans are starving in the streets?”
“Well…” MBozo muttered.
“Not corruption?”
“Not incompetence?”
“Not male chauvinism?”
“Not nepotism?”
“Not tribal factionalism?”
“No, no, it couldn’t be,” he protested.  “President Zuma’s politics are the highest quality blend of historically accurate black African tradition with pure Communist doctrine.  Therefore, by definition, none of those influences you suggested could possibly be at the root of the massive societal defects we face.  No, the answer, Mr. Collins, is short and simple – white people and their dogs are to blame for all of South Africa’s problems. 
“You mean to say,” I implored, incredulous, “that Jock of the Bushveld, Sir James Percy FitzPatrick, and their respective chums and descendants, are the ultimate reason for the rampant deterioration of contemporary black South African society?”
“Correct,” MBozo confidently answered.  “Moreover, we black South Africans are all to aware of that, and we intend to do something about it, too.  But, on the other hand, that’s no reason we have to lose the tourist trade, now is it?”
“Your President Zuma,” I hypothesized, “he’s not concerned about white people here in the United States owning dogs, now is he?  I mean, how could he be?  He himself maintains that owning dogs is part of white culture.”
“No,” MBozo admitted, “I have no reason to believe President Zuma would have any objection to white people in America owning dogs.  Your Negroes here in America I’m sure – he wouldn’t object to them owning dogs either, because he doesn’t consider them to be Africans – well, actually, nobody in Africa does, really.  And the other Americans, the Asians, your red Indians, Mexicans, Polynesians, whatever, I’m sure he would consider them completely irrelevant.  I know I do.  Who cares if they own dogs or not?”
“And your animal protection societies there in South Africa,” I mentioned, seeking to lead my guest along the Primrose Path, “they are, I understand, pretty mad at President Zuma for what he said about owning dogs – plus, if I have heard correctly, also very concerned about finding homes for the dogs they have now, not to mention the millions of stray South African dogs they will become responsible for in the future.”
“True,” MBozo nodded, although evidently a bit nonplussed by the vector of my reasoning.
“And,” I added, “it was just this week that President Putin of Russia signed legislation forbidding Americans to adopt Russian children.”
“In retaliation,” MBozo recognized, “for your Congress passing sanctions on Russians who they believe are guilty of human rights violations.  But what… oh… yes, now I see it!  People who adopt children also adopt pets!  So what we will do, is to invite Americans to visit South Africa and adopt a South African dog to take back with them when their visit is over!”
“Brilliant,” I told him.  “So glad you thought of it.”
“Can you get me a plan,” MBozo requested, “you know – all the, um… numbers and the what’s the word… logs… logisticals…”
“Logistics?” I prompted.
“Yes, yes,” he burbled.  “That’s it – the logistics worked out, all the numbers and logistics; and maybe some advertising campaign ideas – when could you have that for me?”
“How about close of business on Monday?” I proposed.
“Done!” MBozo exclaimed as he rose from the couch and extended his hand.  “I hope you won’t mind working over the weekend on this.  After all, it’s for a good cause.”