Unwoke Barry Varkel

Back towards the end of 2009, after my round-the-world trip had come to a no-more-pocket-full-of-dollars end, I was sitting in the Hong Kong international departures’ lounge waiting nervously for my return flight back to South Africa. I needed a plan – I had no plan – I needed to be brave. My law-firm was dead and buried; I had no intention of working on my return, I’d had it with law, with clients, with pretending I cared. I still had enough Rands to keep going for at least another year without having to work.

But now I was tired. Exhausted actually. Finished. I’d been travelling for over five months solid through ten different countries, I’d seen over 50 cities, I’d met hundreds of new people. I was all travelled out. All planned out. Just blackness ahead and that sick sinking feeling in my gut. And I couldn’t even make a run for it.

I sat down contemplating my fate and wrote up my bucket-list as if I’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer, which is quite popular amongst Jewish people. But I was pushing forty and not sixty. Item # 3 on the list was “stand-up comedy”.

Fast forward six months on the amateur comedy circuit, and I was doing a gig in a downtown Cape Town club, and you may think I might have pushed the boat out a little too far with this joke. Not me. You tell me. Here goes:

“So, I was with my mate Sipho in Khayelitsha celebrating his bachelor party. And the whole night it was like: earl-grey tea, muti, chicken bones, sorghum beer, red bull, dagga. We were wrecked. The party went until like five o’ clock in the morning, and eventually everyone left. Even Sipho left for his job as a clerk at a law-firm in downtown Cape Town.

So, it was just me who remained. And I was dying to take a leak. So, I went to the back of Sipho’s house, and started relieving myself on his lawn. And I looked up and who do I see there? Jacob fu*king Zuma. And what is he doing? He’s shagging a donkey, and I’m like:

“Mr President, your excellency Mr Zuma, you know I can understand why you had sex with all those teenage girls. It makes perfect sense to me. And all the adult daughters and wives of your mates, I can understand that as well. But why the hell a donkey? Even for you your excellency, that’s a whole new low”.

So Zuma doesn’t miss a shagging beat and he’s like:

“Whaat ees your nem?”

And I’m like: “My name is Barry Varkel”.

“Mr Va-kal, whaat you hev to unda stand is thet the donn-keey remynds me of some theeng in my passed. Eet’s ve ree tra-jeek. Eet brok my hutt. The donn-keey remynds me of my dayz when I waaz on the Robbin eye-lend, and I waas sev-ving thyme end my a boy-fren was Tokyo Sexwale. 

Evry dey in the even-ing, wen we went into his cell, and the sun waaz set-ting thea, we medd love. I medd love to heem from be-hynd while he waas look-king out to freeee-dom. Now thet is why I am hevving sex with the donn-key. The donn-key reprezentz Tokyo and Tokyo reprezentz freeee-dom”.

I could never do that joke today. I’d be arrested for hate speech; be hauled before the Equality Court; even be struck off as a lawyer for bringing the profession into disrepute. Why is that? Did the joke hurt anyone? We all hate Zuma, don’t we? We blame him for all South Africa’s contemporary ills. As for Tokyo – well, he humiliated himself big-time recently with his Aesop’s Fable about a thieving rogue unit in the South African Reserve Bank run by Ramaphosa, via “The White Boy Spiritual Trust”, in which 41 quadrillion Rands and 100,000 tonnes of gold bullion, both destined for the urban poor, was skimmed off by Ramaphosa. 

The truth of the matter is: you cannot speak out against the system anymore. Those in power can say and do what they want. Ramaphosa may well end the Disaster Management Act on 15 April 2022, but then he’ll simply re-invent it under the guise of the Labour Relations Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to push again for mandatory covid-19 vaccinations.

As George Orwell said in his future dystopian seminal book “1984”:

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing”.

Contributed by:
Barry Varkel, an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Author of Nigiri Law and Goy Vey


  1. Sounds like a great adventure to enter midlife. In the end we’re all symbolic donkeys and true freedom and rest lies in a wooden overcoat under a mound of dirt. At least donkeys are naturally fairly happy, tough and laid back animals. It only hurts if they try and be something else. Good luck to us all.


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