Monday, January 24, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Dewani, Carla Swart and french cultists provide a snapshot of life in South Africa as we don't know it - by Nick van der Leek

Shrien Dewani's murderers - Xolile Mngeni, 23, and Mziwamadoda Qwabe, 28 - almost didn't make it to the murder scene.  They were desperately trying to arrange transport to the crime scene with an hour to go to the proposed 'Kill Time'.  The same night, after murdering the 28 year old Swedish born woman, Mngeni and Qwabe held a party and bought everyone drinks at Khayelitsha tavern known as Sonwabe's Place.
One person who witnessed the revelling said we all wondered where he had gotten the money to buy drinks for everyone. He is someone with no money or job.

A cross section of the comments on this News24 story shows an audience clearly appalled at this mercenary lifestyle.  And that is exactly what it is.  Being paid money to kill people, and seeing that as 'work', or some form of 'temporary income'.  The fact that Mngeni rationalised this income on the basis of wanting to purchase 'manhood' [have himself circumcised, as is the tradition of his people] demonstrates even further the commoditisation of human life. Making money out of every human behaviour is not a uniquely South African pursuit - but certainly here there is even a market for the protection of one's vehicle in public parking areas. You can buy your manhood.  People are proposing to buy and sell carbon credits [or the right to pollute] much as the church once sold indulgences [sinners could buy their way into heaven via the church].  Anything can be a commodity.  Sex.  Talking. Listening.  An idea. Life after death.  Even clean air.  Even positive energy. The Power Balance con demonstrates further how you can commoditise the belief that 'negative energy' can be contained in a bracelet. 

The celebrity is of course the ultimate commodity. Look at the rise and wobble of Tiger Woods.
The celebrity as commodity represents an example where human beings can - temporarily - escape the realities and accountabilities that most of us deal with in everyday life. How are these pampered celebrities and idols able to shoo away reality for most of their lives?  Looks, and acting, and 'performing' are rewarded with obscene paychecks. The deleterious impact of the average movie and TV program is that it encourages a 'something for nothing' psychology. And let's face it, ravishing good looks, certainly when you are young, are a matter of chance. So you can get rich by getting lucky, not by hard work and effort. Or by being entitled to it.  Or if all else fails by getting what you feel you deserve [because life owes you].  According to Hollywood, we live in a world without consequences.  If you are angry, you can lash out.  Of course in Movieland escapism is normal.  In real life, flying by the seat of our desires is extremely socially undesirable.

The Dewani murder is an important snapshot of a real South Africa.  It demonstrates the predatory nature of the poor on the wealthy [in this case Mngeni and Qwabe murdering Anni].  But it is premature to stop our analysis there.  The Dewani case also demonstrates the collusion, in reverse too. Of the rich and the criminal.  It also exposes the intimate nature of crime, where someone that might be your spouse, or relative, might bump you off to serve a personal motive, and have the crime foisted on those too poor or vulnerable to defend themselves.

It is also interesting to note the use of South Africa as a premeditated destination for murder. Let's call it Cannibal Tourism. You travel here on purpose in order to get rid of your significant other, because, conceivably, murder here is common enough to be considered 'normal'.  Possibly for the first time Proudly South African South Africans have faced stark exposure to this foreign psychology.  Because it does raise the spectre once again that here, we face a future with a depraved, vicious and widespread criminal population.  Worse, that population is not relegated to the have-nots.  We have seen time and again how even our own wealthy locals have found it normal to have themselves assassinated.

Carla Swart

I don't have to much to say about this heartbreaking story, other than to ponder the following.  Does God really exist?  If someone as obviously good and obviously special as Carla can die in such an apparently random and useless fashion [making absolute nonsense of the progress and the 'story' of her life thus far] then how does it explain God's presence? If God can count every hair on our heads, why was Carla allowed to die in such gross circumstances? Car accidents in general are awfully random, and with 14 000 a year dying in South Africa, you have to ponder, are these transport related deaths also part of God's divine plan, his ultimate fate for tens of thousands of us?  Can you argue that because Carla looked over her left shoulder rather than the right [because she was used to cycling on the opposite side of the road in the US] she deserved to die?  That God, in his own divine perfection, saw it fit that this should be the end of her life on earth?  No, it seems to me evidence that life is as it is.  There is randomness, and disorder, and some order.  But most does not make sense, and most is not enshrined in a divine manifesto.  What about divine intervention?  When do we really see that?

And when someone is to be murdered, and it depends on someone arranging a lift, are we meant to see murder as another divine instrument, or is it what it portends to be: random destructive, almost entirely unconscious human behaviour?

French Cult waiting for the end of the world in Sutherland

You have to ask yourself, if you are waiting for the end of the world, why wait in South Africa, and why Sutherland?  And why amass weapons and isolate oneself?  Here's a theory.  Imagine an entirely unimaginable fiasco, where world currencies become worthless overnight, and energy supplies suddenly become completely unreliable.  [Actually both energy and the value of money are related concepts, but we'll leave that for another time].  This means a world where there is no point in working [your salary has no value].  It also means you can't buy anything with money.  It means an instant transport to several hundred years ago when people traded goods for other goods.  And in those times, might was right.  If you wanted something, you took it.  This was a time of feudal systems, castles and swords.  There was frequent fighting for resources, and ordinary people voluntarily turned to wealthier and more powerful landlords for protection [in exchange for labor].

I won't belabor the point any further, I think you have an idea where I am going.  So the french couple must have decided that in order to survive the end of the world there chances would be enhanced -

- by leaving the Northern Hemisphere
- by living in a relatively protected environment [a farm]
- but also in a very remote area [the Karoo]
- the choice of Sutherland, a notoriously cold spot, might be related to concerns of a warming world
- the choice of weapons was naturally for self defence against the attack of hordes of mindless zombies

In the end, their own belief system and anti-social behavior seems to have precipitated a disaster, possibly of their own making.  In this sense I see the predictive text of a story that is currently being written for our generation.  I see Christians all around me who do not believe in evolution, or climate change, or see any personal accountability to life on earth [only to God].  God does not ask us to drive less, or look after the creatures of this world.  He merely asks us to worship him and love ourselves - which I see many people doing in abundance.  Ironically enough, believing in God coincides with the 'something-for-nothing' psychology.  You get eternal life, God's grace and a slew of benefits [probably including prosperity] in exchange for doing nothing [and believing in God].

In the same way that this french couple anticipated their own demise, framed in a religious context [of their own making, and with much personal interpretation] this generation I believe also anticipates a similar decline in our fortunes.  Instead of responding to new discouraging events, we nod and congratulate each other that 'the end of times' are here, and soon we will see God and go to heaven.
I believe in a different reality.  That heaven and hell are on earth [and nowhere else, certainly not in any afterlife].  And we're about to see our heaven on earth become a hell - of our own making.  Because of our own thinking.  And lack of action.  It shows just how little we have evolved in the last 2000 years.  But then that is nature's way of culling the weak.  If you can't make the right adaptation to reality, you have to be replaced by someone or something that can.  Some things we believe are real, and some things we believe are not real. We're moving into a territory now where we will find out firsthand, irrespective of our concordant or discordant beliefs, what is really reality.

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