Heirs and graces by Margie Orford

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I’m free! My new book, Gallows Hill, is done and is being dusted by my editor. The final stages of a novel require solitary confinement, so I disappeared down my writing tunnel. But I’m emerging back into the world, so last week I fetched the modem that I had exiled to my brother’s house and ventured back onto the Internet. Marriage, the second most-popular theme for novels after murder, still has the world in its grip.

The last time I paid attention to global events was about the time that Kate & Wills were being transformed into the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Both of them had looked so pleased with themselves and their clothes and the weather that I thought I had better check up on the state of their wedded bliss. Kate looks radiant, happy, smiley and beloved as she should. She has singlehandedly saved the economy of the English High Street– that hell zone where teenage mothers smoke Silk Cut and buy on credit – by buying shoes, frocks and having beautiful rich-girl hair.  Some Americans have already made a film made about them – quite possibly the most stomach-turning schmaltz of all time – in which a girl flicked her hair around a lot in meadows. Not quite rags to riches but close enough for a world inured to soap opera and reality television. There was enough there to fill a decade of Hello! magazines with tasteful glitz.

But the beautiful Kate has been eclipsed by Rebekah Brooks. The former editor of The News of the World, this is a woman with bad morals, bad judgement and a bag boss, but ball-crushingly great hair. Every picture I see of her she seems to be shaking her blood-red locks like some kind of demented media Gorgon in a sea of little grey hacking men.

Brooks’s union with Rupert Murdoch, whose reptilian smugness makes me think of Harry Potter’s archenemy Voldemort, is sinister, like some kind of diabolical marriage between a father- and daughter-in-crime. The treachery, the lies, the money, the collusion between the tabloid press, Scotland Yard and cloned politicians that scamper around Westminster. The dissolution of what seems like a long and enduring relationship is bringing down all the cards that housed the British establishment. The divorce is not going to be amicable.

British scandals, like their royal weddings are mesmerising and I needed to break the spell.  As you can imagine I was thrilled to discover that we can also lay claim a royal wedding complete with in-house studio commentators, in the form of the Benoni-meets-eurotrash-wedding of Charlene and Mr Potato Head, aka Prince Albert, of Monaco. Sadly though it was an event in which glitch overwhelmed the glitz when the bride tried to run away as a rash of illegitimate children meant Albert had to be subjected to more paternity tests.

Monaco was once famously described by Somerset Maugham as ‘a sunny place for shady people.’ He could have been talking about South Africa. The story that really caught my attention was a Machiavellian marriage that has, for the moment been thwarted

The South African government tradition of intimate tender relationships has spawned the unholy alliance between Minister of Public Works, a Ms Mahlangu-Nkabinde and the chief of police, one General Bheki Cele.

A noxious ante-nuptial contract (or ANC as the lawyers call them) is now open for scrutiny in any newspaper you care to open thanks to the Public Protector. This cosy little documents the tender cash, the siphoned off state property, the backhanders, the firing of civil servants who refused to approve the vastly inflated rental deals for new police headquarters in Pretoria and in Durban. The buildings, it turned out, had been sold cheap-cheap by the Minister to the groom’s best man, one Roux Shabangu, who was going to collect the billion or so rands in rent. A brilliant scheme.

The ‘bride’ is a woman with the tact and sensitivity of rhino and she, despite all objections, bulldozed the union all the way up to the altar. But in all weddings there is a moment in which officiating marriage officer calls for any objections. This is usually a formality, but in the momentary hush that follows that question Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector said, ‘No, stop. Everything is wrong with this.’

Madonsela’s refusal to allow this venal and incestuous coupling, despite the attacks on her integrity and threats to her safety, has shone some much needed light into the murky corners of our political closets. She has put some very powerful people on the spot and the strain shows in her face.

I’ve been wondering who is going to play the part of titian-haired Rebekah Brooks in the ultimate rags-to-bitches flick. It will require an actress with balls. Equally I was wondering who else, other than Thuli Madonsela, can play the role as the bravest person in South Africa.

Margie Orford
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