Not blameless

The flyers for last night’s Cape Argus newspaper were still clinging to the streetlight poles in an act of abject defiance against the gusty south-easter as I crawled my way in to work this morning, decrying (amongst other stuff) another accident involving a city cyclist and a motor vehicle.
Once again, in this rather unfair duel between 1500 kilograms of car and 150 kilograms of bloke on bike, the latter seems to have come off rather badly. No surprises there.
The Argus has had a bit of a bee in its bonnet (as newspapers are wont to do) regarding these sort of incidents, which – once again – is no surprise since it is the co-sponsor of South Africa’s largest cycling event each year. This also explains their hugely one-sided approach to the whole issue. Because, let’s face it – cyclists are a menace anywhere in the world, but they have taken it to a whole new dimension on the streets of the Mother City – and most especially on the roads of the Cape Peninsular. I hesitate to use the word “tossers”, but only because it would upset my mum. (Be warned, Goblin’s mum doesn’t read her blog.)

Don’t get me wrong: I recognise that the deaths or injuries of these people is terrible. But simply blaming the car drivers completely misses the point. Cyclists are anything but blameless. No licences, no registration, no lights, no insurance and – in the vast majority of cases – absolutely no regard for the rules of the road or other road users. 
I almost killed one in Kalk Bay the other day when he decided to go straight on from the left hand turn lane (I was using said lane for the evidently unprecedented purpose of turning left).
Whose fault was that? But who would have got the blame? Ooh – I wonder.

But the Argus is completely blinkered, even giving us some unconnected background information on injured cyclist, Steve Ryan and his wife, Lara:

The couple are from Johannesburg, and moved to Cape Town in April. Ryan has participated in several cycle tours in Johannesburg and completed five Comrades Marathons.

So what? In fact, I have found that those individuals who have attained such dizzying heights of athletic achievement are often the worst offenders. Perhaps they think of themselves as superhuman or invincible. Or just too “special” to bother with that red traffic light. 
Not, of course, that I am suggesting Mr Ryan was in any way to blame for the accident he was involved in. I’m sure he was riding safely, respecting other road users, obeying traffic signals etc etc like all good cyclists do.

I’m not advocating the widespread slaughter of anyone on a bike, tempting as that may be. All I’m asking is for due consideration to be given to the possibility that in the event of an accident, the individual previously on two wheels may actually be at fault once (or twice) in a while. Given the standard of many of the cyclists on the road, it’s not that hard to imagine.

Chair man set to sue

The interwebs in South Africa was set ablaze last week by the unfortunate incident which befell the Chairperson of the Finance Portfolio Committee, Nhlanhla Nene, live on SABC2. To cut a not ever so long story short, the chair he was sitting upon (as you do) while being interviewed, collapsed. And his job title – Chairperson – geddit?
This has led to him being the laughing stock of South Africa, and, since the video has now had close on 500,000 views on YouTube – the world.

But this all happened last week and this whole story should be finished, gone, disappeared into the annals of internet history. And indeed, we would all have moved on if it weren’t for the actions of one man: Mr Nhlanhla Nene. He’s now threatening to sue the SABC for… well… “something” because of the embarrassment he has suffered. As 5fm’s Breakfast DJ Gareth Cliff mentioned this morning – with each serious comment Nene makes about the incident, the more comical it becomes. If only he could just laugh along with us… but no.

I wasn’t going to show you the video. It’s old news and while it is quite funny, there’s really only so much amusement that one can derive from a bloke falling off a chair on live TV.

But, since he wouldn’t let it lie:
Ladies and Gentlemen – I give you Nhlanhla Nene: a fat bloke with no sense of humour.

Heh heh – he fell off his chair. Again.

Cape Town “still here”

Following the arrival of the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt in Table Bay over the weekend, demonstrations by daft environmental groups have stepped up at Cape Town harbour.

Earthlife Africa spokesperson Keenen van Wyk said that although there wasn’t much they could do to stop the vessel from entering South African waters, they would protest outside the harbour as soon as the carrier arrives.

“Having this big nuclear vessel in our waters poses a danger and threat to humanity,” said van Wyk. “There are no safety precautions in place. Anything could go wrong, and then the people in the Western Cape are at risk.”

I can assure the concerned world population, including Keenan van Wyk that despite the presence of this nuclear-powered monstrosity in our waters, Cape Town is STILL HERE. This should actually come as no surprise: I have briefly researched the USS Theodore Roosevelt and it seems that it has a long record of not exploding in cities all over the world.

I figure that this must be just good luck since according to Earthlife Africa “there are no safety precautions in place”. Either they have just had a whole heap of good fortune or they have just got some really well-behaved uranium.

For the record, the USS Theodore Roosevelt is moored in Table Bay, about 15km south of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station just up the coast which, in a show of solidarity with the big warship, has also not exploded today.

ADDENDUM: 6000 miles… wishes regular reader G(asinB) a speedy recovery after his recent surgery and will raise a glass on Saturday regardless! 🙂

That Zapiro cartoon

Ever since The Sunday Times published the “rape” cartoon that the entirety of South Africa is now talking about (that would be Sunday), I have been literally inundated with an email asking what 6000 miles… readers should say when asked about it, in order to remain “on message”.

This cartoon was removed at the
request of Zapiro’s legal team.

6000, September 2009

Exhibit A: the cartoon in question.

Looking around the SA interwebs, plenty of others have already had their say:

“While we accept that cartoonists have the licence to express controversial views, yesterday’s cartoon is in extremely bad taste and goes way beyond limits of acceptability”
“The cartoon rubbishes the collective integrity of the alliance and constitutes yet another continued violation of the rights and dignity of the ANC president.”
“In a country where we have a serious scourge of fighting violence against women and in particular, rape, we need to be very careful how we use the notion and the concept of rape loosely to demonstrate any form of perceived abuse.” [link]

and for the other side:

“Good for you dude. That cartoon is an absolutely accurate description of the state of affairs… so I’m doing my part to spread it around.” [link]
“There is a very, very pronounced tendency in this country towards exceptionalism, as if our politicians are more sacrosanct than politicians worldwide. That I take issue with.” [link]

For me, Zapiro (the pen name of cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro) has taken things a step too far on this occasion. I have issues with his trivialisation of rape and his portrayal of abuse of women for political ends and also his imagery (again) linking Jacob Zuma with rape – 2 years on from JZ’s acquittal for that crime. It seems likely that Zuma will now sue for defamation – he may feel that he has a strong case, given Shapiro’s apparent vendetta against him.

Please don’t think that I am naive as to what Shapiro is trying to say – I wrote about the whole situation just last week. Disappointingly, the astute, amusing, politically savvy and downright insightful political spectator and commentator has let himself down with this particular piece of work. Many would say that in just stirring up this fuss, he has achieved his objective – to publicise the issue of JZ’s inevitable presidency versus his corruption trial and the difficulties that poses for this country. I think we were all aware of that issue anyway.

I just feel that it could have been done a whole lot more tastefully.

Brian and his failing neighbourhood

One of the few sites I unfailingly enjoy reading is Brian Micklethwait’s eponymous blog. It has a unique combination of a blend of subjects and topics that generally interest me, together with an endearing, informal, almost narrative writing style. It’s easy, interesting, pleasurable reading.

However, even by his usual high standards, I felt that Brian excelled himself earlier this week. And I would have written about this earlier had it not been for a combination of sick offspring, football matches in filthy weather and a rather garlicky farewell to Jonny Harvard. But since these things all contrived to delay me, I’m writing about it now.

I think that the main reason that I enjoyed Brian’s post about enjoying living in a failing neighbourhood so much was because I have been wanting to write about the same issues from a South African perspective for some time. I’m not sure that I live in a failing neighbourhood – I don’t think the same rules apply here as in the UK. But I can certainly agree that ignoring local electronic noises (burglar alarms) is a full-time occupation here. 

In failing neighbourhoods, nobody does anything about electronic noises except regret them, on their blogs if they have blogs, otherwise silently.  In “successful” neighbourhoods, the damn neighbours are all over you at the slightest excuse, borrowing sugar, wanting you to have their keys when they are away on holiday and feed their pets, telling you what their names are and what they do.
Now you may be asking: if I hate people in general so much, why do I live in a big city?  But that’s the whole point of big cities.  In big cities you can avoid getting to know nearly everybody, and still have lots of excellent friends, in the form of the 0.000001% or whatever it is of people who live there who make really nice friends for you. 

Much like Brian, I could never live in a rural location. I was born and brought up in a city, I studied and worked in a couple of cities and then I moved to Cape Town, which is a really big city. I love to hear the rumble of urban white noise: silence scares me. But equally, I find that living in an urban environment allows me to blend in, to be lazy and not make an effort to meet new people, but not to feel guilty about it. In fact, it’s even easier in South Africa – a country where we all hide behind big physical walls as well as the metaphorical ones we share with other nations.

As for my neighbourhood, its a pleasant enough place: mature, leafy, decent, quiet. Perhaps too quiet. 
I do know my neighbours’ names. I do smile and say hello. I do look after their house while they’re away. Why? Because they are nice people and it’s no trouble really. But equally, deep down, maybe because of the scare stories you hear and read all the time, perhaps you feel that you never know when you might need a friend. Thus, if I hear their alarm sounding during the night, I will call the next morning to check everything is alright. OK, it might be a bit late to help out if there was an incident, but then this is SA, where a friendly bloke with a gun hurries to your doorstep to chase away the bad guys if your alarm sounds anyway.

But one problem with living in such a quiet area is that there is always an alarm going off somewhere and because it is a such a quiet area, you can always hear it. Sometimes just a single woowoo, but more often for hours at a time, punctuated every three minutes or so by a gap just long enough to make you think it’s stopped, before it dives back in to your ears, invading your headspace again. And you know that it’s a false alarm and that there’s no-one home, and that the friendly bloke with the gun can only ring the bell at the gate and shrug and walk away when there’s no response.

If the idea of this noise is to alert me to something wicked going on (or having gone on when the noise began) to the point of me actually doing something about it, it is failing.  When it stops, I will forget about it.  Until it stops, all I will do is sit here wanting it to.

Interestingly, most of these alarms seem to sound on sunny weekend afternoons in the summer, when all one wants to do is braai and crack open a cold beer or nine by the pool. Or maybe that’s just when I hear and hate them the most.

All in all, I think city life gives me the best of both worlds. I can hide away just enough to make life bearable without inconveniencing myself. I can happily play my part in the symbiotic relationship with the people next door. I can smile at passers-by while I wash my car in the driveway, safe in the knowledge that it will go no further than a good morning. And the annoying electronic noises are no intrusion when compared to living under the microscope in a rural environment where you get concerned villagers enquiring about your bowel habits if you hit a spot of mild constipation.

To borrow and adapt a phrase I recently read: Non-Capetonians often complain that most people in Cape Town are unfriendly.  That’s pretty much the point of the place.  That’s exactly what’s so great about it.
(That and the mountain.)