Whose rights – who’s right?

Did you enjoy your Valentines day?

Stupid looking pink sparkly thing on your blog? Soppy card? Chocolates? Flowers?
WAIT! You bought flowers?!?

If you’re in the USA (and a fair number of accidental tourists to 6000 miles… are) then your lovely bunch of roses probably came from Columbia or Ecuador and were grown and cut for the love of your life by exploited workers. Still, it’s better than other Columbian crops imported into the USA, I guess. Fairness in Flowers is an organisation campaigning for better rights for cut flower workers. Their page is worth a read.

Human rights organisations and campaigners do a great (if highly subjective) job of alerting us to these issues. However, I can’t help but think that their position is undermined by the odd stupid campaign thrown in, seemingly because some organisations have nothing better to do.

This week was pretty quiet, so Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, dived in to the row over the Mosquito device, dramatically calling it:

a sonic weapon directed against children and young people

and arguing that its use constitutes:

a disproportionate interference with an individual’s right to a private life

Quite a soundbite over a device whose effect is compared to “the level of irritation of going downstairs without turning off your alarm clock – you can ignore it for a couple of minutes but after five minutes it starts to get annoying.”
Woo. That’s infringing my right to watch Vuyo Mbuli in peace right there.  

Evidently, the week in which Garry Newlove was kicked to death in front of his family by a gang of teenagers after confronting them when they vandalised his car, was a little busier for Shami, despite the fact that the anti-social mob had long been causing a “disproportionate interference” with his and his family’s right to a private life.

Shami also missed the death of Mi Gao Huang Chen, beaten to death by a group of teenagers who regularly gathered outside and vandalised his takeaway shop.

I’m well aware that these incidents are rare and far more serious than the usual issue of chavs outside the local chippy, but they are the product of an escalation of that problem – one that can be prevented by using the Mosquito. For example, a South Wales shopkeeper says:

The problem we have is large gangs of youths that congregate in the entrance way – hanging around, drinking, and I know other narcotics can be involved.
It ranges from them being annoying to intimidating customers and staff to outright physical assault.
One customer has been mugged for their alcohol, and in the time I have been here there have been three occasions where someone has tried to stab me.
The problem comes and goes. When it gets bad it generally lasts for three of four weeks.
At certain times before we counted over 40 people outside the shop.

The Mosquito has reduced the problem massively. It still happens, but nowhere near the same amount. It has had a positive effect. Customers have praised us for it.

or how about this:

Gurmes Chatta, 54, runs a general dealers on Chiswick Road, Hylton Castle, an area where teenagers regularly congregate.
In recent years he has seen damage done to his shop by yobs kicking footballs and has suffered verbal abuse. But now Mr Chatta says the problems have virtually been wiped out by his Mosquito device.

I’m also well aware that more needs to be done to sort out the problem of anti-social teenage behaviour than just moving them on from trouble hotspots. But hey, it’s not a bad start.
I think Shami has missed the point. Jumping on the trendy bandwagon of criticising the Mosquito while conveniently ignoring the rights of the thousands of people whose lives are made a misery by anti-social teenage gangs is blinkered. That sort of thing puts me right off listening to anything else her lefty group has to say.
And her doing it in an irritating high pitched whine which annoys people of all ages is somewhat hypocritical.

No. Don’t ban the Mosquito. Use it wisely as part of a bigger scheme to get teenagers off the streets.

And send me one so I can enjoy the footy in peace over the weekend.
Do you perhaps have one that will deter wives from wandering in front of the screen just as a goal goes in?
That would also help.

Sticky: SA Blog Awards 2008

I’ve never won anything in the blogging world. Ever.
The closest I came was finishing 7th in the Best African and Middle East Blog category in some worldwide competition in 2006. If it had been just Africa, I might have stood a chance, but when you’ve got Middle East sob stories coming in right, left and centre like US missiles in Fallujah, it was never going to happen. The sympathy vote is everything – hence my first line.

Some (like Mark Tamburro, for instance) would argue that it’s because this blog actually isn’t very good, but I would beg to differ. It’s certainly had its moments as we’ve covered everything from sport to politics, from air crashes to TB and from Danny DiVito to fictional gay veterinarians.

Who could forget the Big South African Crime Post, the preview of the Super 14 final between the Bulls and the Sharks* or your introduction to braai talk?
Of course, there’s more than just those bits of literary genius. You can always head to the archives to learn more.

If you’ve scrolled down slightly, hungry for the prose, desperately seeking further enlightenment, then you’ll realise where all this is heading. Yep – you’re being asked to please click the button below and kindly spend a whole 30 seconds of your valuable time nominating this worthy blog for SA Blog Award Glory.

nominate this blog

If you do take the time to click the link, please also leave a comment on this post. If you follow these instructions within 10 minutes of reading this and tell 6 other people to do it too, then you will receive a free iPod from Microsoft, hand-delivered to your door by Jacob Zuma wearing a kanga**.  Furthermore, if you are in South Africa, you will be spared load-shedding for at least the next 20 seconds. Possibly.

Nominations are open until 22nd February. So, dear reader – please click, fill in your details and help catapult 6000 miles to SA blog award glory. It’s got to be worth it for that nice warm, fuzzy feeling that you’ll get. And this being Africa, there may be some cash in it for you too if things work out well.

* including gratuitous pictures of Sharks cheerleaders.
** Terms and Conditions apply.

Never give up

In some ways and despite its somewhat amusing headline, the Cape Times story which I read this morning was rather sad. But you just can’t help but read a piece entitled: 
Escaped mental patient stones police and jumps into Durban harbour.

The fact that someone is so ill and so out of their mind that they have to be locked away from society is tragic. That in desperation, they then escape, attack police cars and injure a police officer before throwing themselves into a harbour is perhaps even worse.

But as ever in this crazy country, there is an funny side too. And it’s a lesson that many of us would do well to remember: Perseverance is a wonderful trait.

An hour-long chase ensued before the man jumped into Durban harbour.
While in the water, he was still “very aggressively looking for anything to throw”.

Presumably, there weren’t many stones floating around, but this being in an industrial harbour, god knows what he could have found to fling.

Never give up.

Out of the frying pan

Once again, Eskom is to blame.

Newlands got load-shod mid-afternoon and the traffic lights on the M3 never really recovered. It was all a bit of a mess and I joined the queue by the Aquarium.
At this point, anyone that knows Cape Town thinks I’m lying. I wish I was. But no, my journey home from work is 15km and I queued solidly for 14½ of them. It took about 2 hours.

And it’s only going to get worse. But not for me. The city is upgrading Hospital Bend – perhaps the largest interchange on the outskirts of Cape Town – where the N2 meets the M3 and traffic mingles across 10 lanes near some zebras, on the bend next to the hospital –  an old, famous and listed building.
It all sounds quite romantic, but you’d be amazed how many of the cars coming from the right want to go left and vice versa. Weaving happens and then chaos regularly ensues (at least twice each weekday).
Fortunately, it looks like someone from the council has finally noticed this and they’re going to sort it out.

It is a condition of the contract that at least two lanes of traffic must be maintained in each direction for the duration of the project. This will lessen the disruption of traffic flow and consequent inconvenience to motorists.

Two lanes each way, huh? Down from five each way now. Yeah, right. That’ll lessen the disruption nicely.
Never mind – it’ll only take a couple of years. And then we’ll have this for the zebras to look at:

Click for largeness
All new Hospital Bend. Complicated is the new sexy.

All very pretty. But since my work is moving out of the city centre and a little way north, I won’t have to contend with Hospital Bend on a daily basis anymore. I was rubbing my hands together in glee and laughing in the way that only truly lovely people can, when I was told that while the City were taking Hospital Bend to bits, the Province would be upgrading Koeberg Interchange.

Bugger.

Because if you thought that Hospital Bend was a bit of a design error, then you’ll love Koeberg Interchange:


Koeberg. Indescribable without swearing.

Koeberg Interchange was designed by Willie van der Plooy – a nasty, bitter individual with a hell of a temper, a drink problem and complex psychological issues including a vendetta against all forms of road transport after he failed his driving test six times in a single month. Legend has it that he hid himself away and studied long and hard to become a civil engineer, then got his own back on an unsuspecting Cape Town driving public one evening by downing 6 bottles of Klippies, popping a couple of tabs of LSD and coming up with a new design for the crossroads of the N1 and the M5.
Some say he invoked Beelzebub through ritual worship and got him to fart on the plans, such is the barbed, twisted, evil nature of the junction. These days, tourists and locals alike flock from miles around to sit in massive queues and gaze miserably upon the fetid industrial heartland of Cape Town awaiting their turn on the aging concrete spirals.
And van der Plooy is no more, assassinated by terrorist group The Provisional AA in England for coming up with the concept of the M25 in retaliation for being charged an extortionate taxi fare on a trip to London in 1958.

So it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for me. Stick a few decent CDs in the multichanger, bang up the aircon, sit back and crawl to work up the M5 instead of up the M3.

Love it.

Why are you still here?

No, dear readers. This isn’t a question for you. 
We all know why you’re still here. It’s the almost ethereal, magical, magnetic attraction of the prose you read on these pages. It’s a completely understandable and excusable addiction.
No, this was a question I was asked by the Molton Brown Boys over a particularly tasty curry at Bihari last night. I guess it’s at this point that I should explain that the Molton Brown Boys are a group of friends that get together for a curry and a beer every so often and discuss everything from Borat through to cement statistics.
We were drawn together by our shared outlook on life and our penchant for fine soaps. Deal with it.

So – why are I still here?

The question was posed, I believe, in response to the current “bad news” vibe in South Africa and my ability, as a UK citizen, to up and run back to the safety of Blighty at any time. Why would I want to stay?

Let’s look at the bad news: electricity shortages, crime*, bloody awful customer service. Sure, they’re huge issues – especially those first two. If you’re samzn0, then you’ve obviously had a particularly bad couple of weeks in January and the third one is a big problem too.
But if you want to complain about something else, then you actually have to dig a bit. You could moan about the Government, but some would argue that in many respects, they’re doing a pretty decent job – it’s politics and no-one ever agrees about politics.
You could moan about the inflation and interest rates, and it is a real drain on one’s finances each month, but these growing pains come with a developing economy and frustratingly high oil prices.
You could moan about Bafana Bafana’s exit from the Afcon tournament, but they got drawn in the Group of Death – Senegal are out too. Who’d have thunk it?  

No, life isn’t always easy here, but then is it always easy elsewhere? You see, I believe that wherever you run to, you’ll still find problems and drawbacks. Maybe not as acute and as pressing as those here, but irritating and frustrating, nevertheless.
Examples? Is Gordon Brown everyone’s cup of tea? How much is a litre of petrol in London? And what are England’s footballers doing this summer?

There’s always the plus side. The bit that some people in South Africa (and virtually everyone on that appalling internet forum) try to bury under all the bad stuff. And yes, there are also plus sides wherever else you go in the world as well.
I’m not stupid. I keep an eye on the news and what I see and hear “on the street”. I’m aware of the challenges SA faces now and in the future.
But perhaps part of the lure of SA is the rollercoaster ride between the bad news (which is often pretty bad) and the good bits, which are actually exceptionally good.

There’s the weather, the lifestyle, the food, the scenery, the braais.
There’s the people, the smiles, the optimism, the hope, the World Cup(s). 

It’s hard to define the experience of living in South Africa right now. If one were only to review the newspapers and the news websites (like the people on that forum do), then one would get a horribly skewed version of the country. Actually living here, it’s not like that at all. I’m typing this in a brightly lit room on a PC which is working absolutely fine. I haven’t been murdered today.
Note that I’m not making any claims about customer service though.

One must take the rough with the smooth. And the smooth in South Africa more than makes up for the rough.
I’m staying put, thank you very much.

* Interestingly, the moaning about crime has dropped significantly since the recent round power cuts began. Evidently, even your highly-trained, seasoned moaner can run out of negativity.