Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's cool by the Pool - right [COLUMN]

 It's Ayoba time - or is it? - by Nick van der Leek

It's an icy cold Youth Day today and I am literally sitting here with cold feet, a hot water bottle over my crotch, and an old blanket [that looks more like a threadbare doormat] slung over my shoulders.  Outside is a grey sea, and slightly less grey, but no less bleak sky.  It's a miserable day.

I made this comment to someone and her response was: "It's not a miserable day, no day is miserable."  You can see where she is coming from.  But let's face it, someone who goes for a suntan on a day like today is as deluded as the person who thinks it's so miserable it's worth jumping off a bridge.  It's very cold, and very wet - and since we're not penguins or Polar Bears, it's miserable.  It has nothing to do with a state of mind and everything to do with a state of reality.

Which brings us to a substantive gaze at this World Cup.  It's a good day, close to a week into the tournament, to look at what it means, and what the take out should be for individuals, locals and international.

Americans say the food here is great, that it's cheap.  On SABC news biltong and boerewors is selling like hotcakes.  I'm sure people from many quarters are surprised and happy at the quality of our sky - unpolluted blue, unless you're in Johannesburg.  The Dutch especially have made of this trip a great journey, travelling as a giant orange collective, taking in not just our country, but crossing the entire continent.  They're organised, seemingly more familiar with our public transport [if one can call the odd metrorail train a public transport system] and dapper.  This is a regular European ritual - to do the fancy dress, and party for a few weeks in a foreign country, drinking beer and revelling to the football tune.  It's a great European tradition which, unfortunately, very few South Africans are familiar with.  South Africa though, isn't the easiest country to get to, and once here, it's tough to depend on public transport to find your way around, which to some extent defeats the sort of easy-going revelry most people have in mind.  But if you have your own car, and a certain amount of moolah, it's going to be a feast of fun, and isn't that the bottom line.

Money, I mean.

Of course crime has been in the headlines; we knew it would be.  Around the corner from me a Korean lady left her handbag for a minute and returned to find it [and the R60 000 inside it] missing.  A South African complained that you shouldn't be carrying that much money around with you.  Actually, no, you shouldn't be stealing what doesn't belong to you.  Someone else we spoke to left a camera in a taxi and obviously the driver wasn't reachable on his cellphone after that. And then there's the news that I'm sure you're familiar with.

You're probably also familiar with the icon of this tournament, a plastic trumpet. The style of our tournament is different, as it should be.  In Korea we dressed in red shirts and hundreds of thousands of us took to the streets of Seoul, literally, and sang and cheered under giant electronic screens slung over tall skyscrapers.  The Korean soccer team did magnificantly well, so there was much to cheer about, plenty of after parties in Noribangs [singing rooms], plenty of Koreans taking us out to dinner, plenty of walking home, semi-sozzled, at 3am in the morning from the subway.

In South Africa, there's the Vuvuzela and FIFA's overpriced beer and overpriced junk food, and over-priced airfares and overpriced hotels, and sterile Fanfests where you can make sure everything you buy to eat you donate 66% to FIFA. But at least it's a break from the usual in South Africa.  Well we'd all like to think so.  Trouble is, it's only a welcome break for a few of us.  It's a KAK time for someone living in a shanty, when it is icy cold and your roof is leaking and your floor is mud, and the risk of your neighbour's candle burning his house down [and the rest of you] gives you sleepless nights.  When 43% of the population live like this, I'm not sure you can generalise.  It's AYOBA time. Really, is it?

Malema has been like a consistent stream of cold fronts, and South Africans may feel entitled to a break from that.  I know I do.  And as far as I'm concerned, if the big story of the World Cup turns out to be just the Vuvuzela, I will take that.  If that's going to be the theme song and the World Cup is remembered for this raucous instrument blown by a bunch "poking a finger in the eye of authority" because "it is part of the national DNA," as the New York Times called it, that's fine.  It's more than fine.  The alternative is that our fears, some stated and some not, manifest in the middle of this spectacle.

Incidentally as I am writing this the radio news reports Durban's ex-security staff have tried to burn down relevant buildings in the city.

It's for this reason that we have to rightly question the AYOBA-ness of the World Cup in our country.  There are reasons to support this mindset of ignorance is bliss [I can't think of any offhand but I'm sure there must be].  But there are also reasons for serious caution, and by serious I mean a bullet into your gut right now, head numbing bang serious, dark black blood oozing out of your guts and splashing onto your feet serious:

“They’re gonna chase the people from other countries out… like Zimbabweans, Nigerians, those who are living here… those who have shops here, they’re gonna break them down and take everything inside, because they belong to them… They say if maybe they start that fighting of xenophobia, killing the foreigners and stuff, the government will listen to them, to what they say.
“Zuma just said they should stop everything and wait until the World Cup is over and then he will help them. But they refuse to listen to the command.”

The above quote may not make much sense, but I suggest you take a timeout from my piece and give this one a little extra study:  The townships are burning – and foreigners may be next. Again.
The positive alternative to the above reality is the following mindset, well written by Gill Moodie: Let's give ourselves a break: South Africa's ok.
See, there's a world of difference because these are world's apart.  You want to know what justifies drunken merriment when the house is on fire?  Because seriously, the house that is South Africa is on fire.  It may be smouldering, but it is, as Tutu calls it right: “too many of our people live in gruelling, demeaning, dehumanising poverty. We are sitting on a powder keg.”  I believe all of us have this self evident knowledge internalised. 

You may have noticed some of that grinding poverty intruding onto your even-tempered view of the World Cup.  You mave have caught a slight whiff of teargas, you may have seen the odd South African protester talking about 'low wages'.  These are easily dismissed as killjoys, but I remember reading a comment by an American on twitter, saying, "Jeepers, no wonder, these guys are being paid less than $27."

There are two worlds in South Africa - the haves and the have-nots.  The haves do not like to think of the have-nots, and certainly don't like to spend too much time even considering their unpleasant plight.  The South African identity is schizophrenic exactly for this reason - no one can really speak for another because our cultural and economic differences are vast.

I'm a lowly freelance journalist and I can tell you that even strong friendships I have with pals who have gone on to acquire fantastic wealth take a beating.  When you go to a venue to ride a cycling race it becomes all too clear - de lux suites for some, budget accomodation for the others.  And let us not pretend that these ordinary economic differences don't matter.  People associate along them, people try to climb ladders to get into higher social strata - no one tries to get out or climb down.  Well, there are some, like myself, but no one takes them seriously, probably because we take ourselves seriously enough.

But if the less well heeled are ignored, the poor get shafted in their rectums.  They are the real victims of the horrible statistics you hear every day; the unspeakable levels of rape and violence is a daily and nightly terror. They get no state protection.  They see resources meant for them going to feather the nests of politicians.

>>>The National Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) on Tuesday demanded that state entities pay back nearly R11m spent on 2010 World Cup tickets in defiance of a government ban on purchasing match seats with public funds.

In the end they develop a hatred for all society, because the same society hates them.  Society recoils at the thought of such embarassingly bad human conditions.  It's an eyesore we wish we could amputate.  This breeds vengeance, the seeds of which are unconscionable levels of anger and frustration, rage at the world, at one's lot in life.  When 43% of your country's population live like this and feel like this you better fucking listen.  Or you can meander with your beer and enjoy your drunken stupor, but then expect your car to be stolen outside, and expect a more than decent chance of some opportunist poking a knife blade in your back on your way home, and grabbing your wallet and cellphone as you slide to the floor, gushing blood and gaping like a guppy.

If you never see or never think about the poor, then it may seem normal or even reasonable to want to par-tay, to blow a plastic trumpet and say this is us. It's escapism, but then escapism is a global thing.  It may seem normal when a cellphone company bleats about the World Cup being in our backyard, so it's AYOBA time, so go out and blow a trumpet.  The company is in the business of making money.  It doesn't care about you.  The hypnosis works because everyone does want to celebrate, everyone wants to enjoy themselves.  No one is arguing with that.

But there is a time and a place, there's a right way and an honest way of doing things, and we are actually beyond that not only in South Africa, but the global community.  Our attention span when it comes to ordinary imperatives just isn't there any more. 

Once upon a time man made fire and so was able to escape for a while the necessities of survival that up until then took up all of his time.  Oil has given us so much fire that our lives overflow with time, so much so that our entire lives have become overcome with distractions. 

I was going through a 20-something's pictures of Universal studios today, on Facebook, and it is one picture after another of plastic, empty, useless America.  Simpsons sets, movie sets set to cardboard and plastic and junk.  This is what happens when we have so much time to dream that that's all we do... and finally, we forget how to live, or to respond. 

We are now covering full circle, and moving back to a very austere place...which is where we have to learn how to survive again.  The enemies that have sneaked up on us during the raucous cacophony of our lives, is none other than our fellow human beings, whom we know as rapacious consumers.  And worst of all, and most of all, the enemy has become ourselves.  Unable to think for ourselves.
Programmed by commercials.  Narcissists on a massive scale, incapable of listening to others, or feeling the plight of those without a voice.

I do believe the Vuvuzela says more about our national psyche than we'd like to admit.  It's cheap, it's hollow, it's plastic, it's a deafening noise that drowns out all others.   It's a hollow democracy, it's hollow sentiments, it's useless - but those who sell it earn a fortune.  South Africans can't agree between themselves whether they love it or find it annoying.  Whether it is actually interfering the experience of the actual game doesn't seem to matter.  This collapse of common sense speaks volumes.

PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRP.  The sound has been compared to a massive swarm of angry bees.  And for good reason.  That's exactly what is brewing in the background.  Ignore it at your peril, and most of us have been.  The poor are like a giant oil slick - who is going to clean it up?  Who wants to spend the money?  But it has to be done.

Outside the sun has emerged, but only for a moment, before another front of cloud hangs heavy against the windows.  But alas it isn't a miserable day turned beautiful.  It is now raining hard and cold, whether you think the sun is shining or not.  All the complaining and finger-pointing can get one down, yes, but it is there for a reason.  Ignoring the reason is irrational. Turning your back on a signal is dangerous. Instead, listen. Act to solve the problem, or you're running in circles ignoring the goalposts, making loud ineffectual noises and fooling no-one into building a real and lasting happiness, not just for yourself, but for everyone.

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