Time for a new Santa (from 2016)

We have reached that time of year when boys and girls across the land dream about a visit by an overweight man dressed in a red suit. This jolly visitor brings a sack full of presents for all the little children who have been really, really good all year (which isn’t very many of them, to be honest).

This year, however, Santa Zuma is in a pickle.

He used to be guided by a classic management text, Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus, which provided him with a reliable guide to the challenges of gift delivery.

After all, Santa is in charge of a complex operation. He has to increase productivity in the “workshop”, manage the “elves” that make the presents, and choose a cabinet of reindeer to deliver millions of gifts to apparently impossible deadlines.

The book advises “choosing your reindeer wisely … hiring tough so you can manage easy”. But Zuma has appointed a recruitment agency, Saxonwold Consulting, and it has made some terrible decisions.

“Hire me new reindeer,” Santa Zuma told Ajay, Atul and Tony, the three garden gnomes who run the headhunting company. “We will find small-timers in small towns,” said the Ajay gnome, “where the only restaurant is Nandos or Kentucky Fried Chicken. We do not want anyone who has been to Cyril’s fancy McDonalds, and may talk back.”

A year ago to this day, Santa Zuma fired the much-loved Keeper of the Golden Chest, and replaced him with a small town night-club singer and comedian called Des.

But this created a storm that threatened to destroy Santa’s workshop. He was forced to bring Pravin Goblin back from the rural forest to which he had been banished. This legendary creature — a brawler with the face of a baby — turned out to be far too clever by half for old Santa to control.

The honest dwarves that live under Constitution Hill began to ask if Zuma was really Father Christmas at all. “Santa,” they observed on one of their sacred scrolls, should be “a national pathfinder, the quintessential commander-in-chief of state affairs and the personification of this nation’s constitutional project”.

Leadership Secrets advised Zuma to “listen to the elves!” But his bedpan nurse, Sister Dlamini, drove the ogre Shrek to a city by the sea, where the Zombies and Ghouls of the Deathly Alliance now rule.

In his prime, Santa Zuma was a merry gift-giver, dressed in socialist red, leaving presents (and offspring) behind him, everywhere he went.

Now Father Christmas has fallen out with his old friends with red noses: Thulas the Ogre, Blade the Abominable, and Jeremy “Pointy Ears” Cronin.

He has stopped saying “Ho! Ho! Ho!” to little boys and girls, and started cackling “He he he!”

In short, he has fallen under a “state of capture”. The little children do not want Vlad the Impaler to have all of their pocket money to build a new generator for the workshop. Now Vladimir is going to be very cross with Santa!

“Quack quack!” Santa Zuma’s erstwhile friends laugh, ridiculing his lame duck status. But who can become the new father of the magical kingdom?

Santa must by tradition be very round, bearded, and jolly. Just like ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, you might think, only jolly.

But Santa also has to squeeze down chimneys bearing a sack full of gifts; this is not something Mr Mantashe should attempt, not even in an emergency.

Little boys and girls such as Floydinia and Mbuyiseni want their friend, Julius, to be Santa. “He is sometimes fat, dresses in red, and promises gifts, tenders, and land for everyone,” wrote little Mbuyiseni, who is the clever one, with his red crayon. “Julius will go back to the ANC once Zuma is gone — then they will have to make him Santa!”

Nkosazana could come home from the African Union in the Sky. “I have already made the continent better by 2063,” she observed, pointing to Agenda 2063, her singular and miraculous achievement in office.

“She could conceivably be parachuted in by 2017 wearing a false beard,” one sceptical ANC Bogeyman claimed. “But she is the very opposite of jolly, and it will be hard to find a political parachute strong enough to give her an easy landing.”

Happy Cyril also wants to be Father Christmas. “Yo ho ho!”, he said to the elves just the other day. “I will pay you more money so that unemployment will go down!”

“But isn’t there a trade-off,” a wise goblin asked? “Yes,” Cyril explained, “it is between the level I choose for the minimum wage and the political support I will get from the Congress of SA Elves!”

Leadership Secrets reminds us that an ANC Santa exists only because the little children think that he does. If Santa continues to be naughty — or if the ANC chooses another naughty Santa — the little boys and girls across the land will stop believing in him. Then Santa, and the ANC, will simply disappear.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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