Phiyega’s gallery of gobbledegook
by The Editor
FEATURE: The new police commissioner, Mangwashi Phiyega, has a wonderful way with words. Never before has a senior member of civil service squeezed so many metaphors and idioms into so little content. Is she the police’s answer to Pieter de Villiers? In order to make sure they are all captured for posterity and I am starting a running archive of her best sayings. Here it is.
Phiyega’s gallery of gobbledegook
By: Gareth van Onselen
19 June 2012
The new South African police commissioner, Mangwashi Phiyega, has a unique way with words. Her language is infused with mangled metaphors, empty jargon, flowery clichés, African idioms as well as, well, just plain nonsense. It all makes for very entertaining reading.
Is she South Africa’s answer to George W. Bush? The police’s own Pieter de Villiers? Time will tell.
In the meanwhile, it all seems too good simply to let quietly slip into the ether and so I present to you: Phiyega’s gallery of gobbledegook – a running archive of all her best sayings.
I will put a permanent link to it under the ‘Key Pieces’ section of Inside Politics and keep it regularly updated, with the latest profundity at the bottom; feel free to drop in every now and then and see what new piece of wisdom she has proffered.
If you’d like to contribute, if you’ve heard her say something you think qualifies (and which can be verified), send it through, I’ll add it to the list.
Phiyega’s gallery of gobbledegook:
• “I’ve never been a police [officer], but I want to say that you don’t need to be a drunkard to own a bottle store.”
• “If you don’t hunt in a pack you can’t even put down a limping bull.”
• “So, let me reiterate, once more, that corruption is a national priority, and so it is to us, as SAPS.”
• “…if you think government can do it on its own you are really swimming in a fools paradise…”
• “What the Southern African Trust and the other stakeholders are doing is to create a platform and to plant a seed that advocates for that collaborative engagement.”
• “Now that I’m here, they will show me the real files and maybe when you talk to me 12 months down the line, I will be able to say I did see the real files and what we were seeing wasn’t the real thing.”
• “No doctor can doctor herself.”
• “It’s a process… it’s a journey [that will] allow us to take some Red Bull [energy drink] so we can go on with the process.”
• “If you wear a copper bangle on your wrist, you can twist your hand how many times, you will never get the jingle, but if you put more of those copper bangles on your wrist, and you swivel, you will hear the best melody you can ever get.” [Explaining an African idiom]
• “And what it means is that a woman, whose got a baby, or whether it’s a Lion or an Elephant, got closer to its infant, its baby, that woman will take a knife and hold it on the sharp side.” [Explaining an African idiom]
• “I am reminded, at this juncture, of what Eleanor Roosevelt said, to say a woman is like a tea bag and when you hold a tea bag, you can’t actually talk about the strength of the tea bag, until, you put that tea bag in boiling water, then you can see the strength of a tea bag… what the world is giving us today is actually providing us with hot water and indeed we would like to jump in, as tea bags, to just show how strong we are.”
• “My message to my fellow women and men in blue is that there is something before us and what I see, I see a piano. I will tell them that, colleagues, what we have before us is a piano. Its got various black and white keys. If we play it… if you play the piano, its got beautiful melody. It our diversity, in our difference, let us appreciate what we have – a piano – and let’s get our customers, the citizens of this country, to play it and to get the melody that they appreciate, that suits their ears, that would be our concern. That’s the message I have today.”
• “I am taking the potjiekos that you have made, I have put the carrots aside now, I’m going to the potato.” [In refusing to answer the question, ‘Are you an ANC cadre?’]
• “We will build on the momentum created by the previous leadership. I am taking on a heavy baton, but we will run with it.”
• “We have to make a distinction. Are we confused with political involvement or political interference? We must debate this.”
• “If you have a snake in your house, would you leave your house? You get the snake out and you proceed to beautify your home.”
• “I think as a nation we must learn to move forward. You know a car? The rear-view mirror is small; the windscreen is large. We will look at the rear-view mirror to garner the lessons, but what is before us is the windscreen.”
• “Do we sit there and stop and fill buckets and buckets with our tears, or do we say: ‘Hell, we have fallen.’ Stand up, remove the dust and say: ‘What have we learned?”
• “You cannot take one rotten potato and want to write everybody off…”
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Were tea bags around at the time of Eleanor Roosevelt? Charles.
Hey Charles, they were indeed. Actually, it’s quite a famous saying by Roosevelt but one gets the sense Phiyega is more interested in the pretense of wisdom, than wisdom itself. Gareth
I think you meant ‘they were indeed’.
Matt, I did indeed, lol, thanks, have corrected it. Gareth
Her language is obviously (often mixed) metaphor-packed, and really pretty amusing (and worth collecting), but I think the characterisation of what she says as nonsense is hardly warranted. The vast majority of these examples are perfectly understandable and meaningful, regardless of the way they’re expressed. And the comparison with George W and the like is just silly. She’s at least a second-, if not third- or fourth-language English speaker. How many South Africans can extemporise flawlessly in multiple languages? Even in their first language? We’re quick to mock, as English mother-tongue or bilingual Eng/Afrik speakers, but really we’re the least multi-lingual group in SA.
And, I have to say, including “African idioms” in what’s clearly meant as a list of very negative elements of her speaking style is just plain offensive. Maybe you meant that the way she explains those idioms in English is laughable? But, if so, it’s the style of expression that’s at issue–not the origin of the idioms–and that’s more than covered by all the other insulting terms. (I guess, even with the time to write and edit, rather than speaking on the fly, one can fail to express things properly…)
Dear Monty, Thank you for your comment. I think, however, you have misrepresented what I wrote. The implication was that, among many other things – mixed metaphors and the like – there was nonsense. Which, indeed, there is. “…you don’t need to be a drunkard to own a bottle store” is nonsensical. Unless she was trying to imply policemen and women were drunkards. “Are we confused with political involvement or political interference?” is illogical. And so on. I would agree many others do make sense, or at least, even if scrambled, allude to sense. But some do not. With regards to the language issue: Yes, indeed, English is not her first language. But for me that is neither here nor there. I’m weary of those that employ jargon and cliche as a substitute for specifics in order that they might create the allusion of wisdom. It is typical of managers who are, in fact, not wise – but wise enough to know cliches help engender that perception (certainly that was the case for Pieter de Villiers and George W. Bush). So that is wonderful that the police force is a piano and an original image to evoke but unless she is going to explain how she is going to get police people to work harmoniously together, it is empty for me. Each to their own, however, perhaps it is enough for you. Finally, if you think I harbour special prejudice for ‘African’ idioms, trust me, it is no greater than the prejudice I hold against cliches in general. I am from the George Orwell school on this front. In a politically correct environment such as ours, there is a tendency to excuse mediocrity on the grounds of poor language. Now, perhaps Riah Phiyega is indeed wise and her grand metaphorical promises the sign of great things to come. Time will tell, and I shall be the first to congratulate her if that is the case. Until then, less abstraction, more substance. People are easily won over by the former, but institutions live or die by the latter. That’s my position anyway. Gareth