Any nursery school kid will tell you that a chicken goes “puk-puk-puk” and a rooster goes “cock-a-doodledoo”.
And the sound of a chicken coming home to roost, if the ANC is anything to go by, is “flip-flop, flip-flop”. With the election of Cyril Ramaphosa to head the party, there has been a flurry of ingratiating sounds from the ANC barnyard as its leaders scramble from the feeding trough and the toxic fallout of too close an association with President Jacob Zuma.
Many who, until a month ago, were happy to be biddable flunkeys are belatedly exercising their spinal tissue.
They are emphasising what independent minds they have, how they hate corruption.
This week, former Cabinet minister Derek Hanekom railed against the “outrageousness” of R217m of the R220m allocated to the Free State dairy farm project being “stolen by the Guptas and their friends”.
The hypocrisy is staggering. This is the man who sat tjoepstil, never once publicly remarking on the pillage that had been exposed as far back as 2013.
But it is Police Minister Fikile Mbalula who is perhaps the most egregious example of the flipflop.
In the weeks before the December leadership conference, Mbalula — who, in a moment of supreme self-delusion chose the social media handle of his official police minister account to be “Mr Fearfokkol” — was warning that the defeat of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could only happen through bribery and corruption.
Before the election, he published pictures of bales of money, intimating that these had been seized by the police from a cabal intent on bribing ANC delegates supporting Dlamini-Zuma.
An amount of R2.5 million had been intercepted, he tweeted under the hashtag #VotesForCash.
It was all simply anti-Ramaphosa propaganda, entirely bereft of truth.
There was no seizure of millions of rands. No arrests had been made or will be made.
There will be no prosecution. Well, certainly that is the case, not now that Mr Fearfokkol has realised where his best interests lie.
Within days of the defeat of Dlamini-Zuma, the police minister was gleefully circulating a photograph of President Zuma, clutching his face with both hands and looking dazed and unhappy, with the caption: “When you look around at a family function and realise that you’ve graduated to being the drunk uncle of the family.”
Such instinctual fawning by the submissive before the dominant can be observed in many animal species, for example dogs and politicians.
The pattern between contesting canines is one of an initial faux confrontation, with much tooth-baring, snarling and hackles-raised posturing.
This rarely ends in a fight to the death. A couple of quick nips by the alpha of the group, drawing the minimum of blood, is usually enough to establish the pecking order.
The zoological certainties of subservience behaviour in pack animals will be of some consolation to Ramaphosa.
It negates the razor-thin numerical majority by which he won the leadership contest and which his supporters achieved in the ANC’s national executive committee.
On the other hand, among politicians, the most vicious and unpredictable of predatory species, the situation is slightly different.
As many a ruler has found out too late, a few nips and growls is often not enough to dampen the human appetite for subversion and rebellion.
There’s nothing like a clear line in the sand.
A few ritual sacrifices, metaphorically speaking, may be helpful in setting the appropriate boundaries.