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South Africa gets me down

June 20, 2007

Take equal measures of the worst aspects of Afrikaner nationalism and Stalinism, and mix with the worst excesses of capitalism. Mix in a bag of incompetence, and a slice of corruption, and bake for 13 years. Serve with large helpings of gravy.

What I find most difficult about South Africa is not the major issues. The crime, the massive structural inequalities, the enduring problem of racism – these are all things I expect from a country just emerging from the shadow of three and a half centuries of colonial domination.

It’s the pettiness of the everyday that gets me down, like the fact that the police can’t stop murder and rape, but they’ve got no problem arresting you for unpaid parking tickets, or for smoking a joint. You’re an easy target, and it gets their stats up.

Or how about TV licences? Personally, I have a problem paying a TV licence to get pro-Government and pro-corporate propaganda pumped into my home. South African television is terrible, and it often seems that as much time is spent on ads – or on the channel advertising itself – than on content. And we have to pay for that?

There are stories of people who had there TVs stolen in the late 1990s, and never reported it because they knew the police won’t do anything. Now they’re getting hit with ten years’ worth of unpaid licence fees, and threatened with jail if they can’t pay.

Then there’s Telkom, and stories like the one about the man who had to wait 8 months for a broadband line. How are we every going to be able to interact with the rest of the world if our citizens aren’t able to get online? If we had cheap Internet and a working postal system, women’s sewing co-operatives in the townships could set up online shops and sell their products overseas. Or whatever.

Then there’s the postal system: last Christmas, my dad – who lives in the UK – bought educational toys for my young nephew, and posted them to SA. Nothing arrived – all stolen by the posties (and here’s where I disagree with the CWU, who oppose CCTV cameras in the workplace – your members are robbing us blind and undermining an essential service, either find a way to stop it or accept CCTV).

So my dad bought the presents all over again, and paid a courier company a fortune to send them in time for Christmas. They got there all right – only to be opened by dour customs officials who made my brother pay import duty on them.

Why do we have to pay import duty on toys, books and CDs? Isolating us culturally doesn’t support the local market, it just makes it parochial. They cut import duties where it really mattered – on textiles – and threw a hundred thousand people out of work as a result.

Then there’s stories like this one, which break your heart: a young woman hangs herself because she’s given up trying to get an identity document from the department of home affairs, after trying for two years. She needs the document if she wants to get a job, vote, register to study or exist officially in South Africa. Pensioners needs it to draw a pension.

“Goodbye Thando, your mom loves you so much. I am going to rest with my father, where I will not be asked for my ID.”

That might sound excessive, but any one who’s had to deal with home affairs will confirm it’s a fairly rational reaction. They are simply impossible.

Welcome to the new South Africa.

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