Monday, November 19, 2007

Gogol Bordello

I have a new favourite band called Gogol Bordello. They are roughly labelled as a Gypsy Punk Rock outfit with a Ukranian lead singer, 2 Russian fiddlers, Israeli accordian player, an American drummer and 2 eastern women that prance around the stage in striped stockings with fire buckets on their feet...thats right, fire buckets on their feet!

So catchy is their music that it had a bunch of crazy drunk South Africans trying to cosack dance on rickety tables in a little Lesotho mountain lodge where I inadvertantly introduced it at 4am one morning. They are massively cheesy and they rock! Check them out on:

Hey, hey, hey, lalalalaaaaaa

Lion man answers the call

Not one day after my hunting post, I received this youtube kinda highlights what true bravery bordering on stupidity is all about! Lets see you get on your bellies and wiggle towards that with your hunting knife you big men you...


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get stuffed

On my way back from an amazing weekend of riding my mountain bike in the Tuli block on the SA/Zim/Botswana border, I passed a number of hunting farms on the endless straight road to Alldays. It got me thinking about the old debate about the merits of hunting, its role in conservation and the kind of people that want to pay big money to hammer a chunk of lead into a fellow being.
At the outset, let me say that I am fully aware that to hunt for food is perhaps many times more noble than the cowardly purchasing of that trimmed and packed beef fillet from your nearest Woolies. When you hunt for your meat, you cannot hide from the death that is required and that we are so perfectly shielded from in our modern lives of convenience. I will not dig further into this aspect except to say that even a sense of pleasure from the kill could be justified when the result is food on the table. We are predators, as evidenced by our teeth and the fact that our eyes are on the front of our face and not the sides - we stalk prey looking straight ahead.
My beef, so to speak, is with hunters that hunt to put trophies on their wall. Presumably, this means that they wish to make a statement about their courage, their cunning and their power over all beasts. They will tell you that it requires many hours of walking, lying still and sometimes coming home empty handed...doesn't sound like a whole bag of awful suffering to me! Sounds a lot like a game of golf to be honest.
Once this justification of the hardship of the hunt has been shown up as weak at best, the trump card is usually to highlight how dangerous a wounded animal can be thereby implying the courage of the hunter to be out there pitting his wits against the savage beast with nothing but a 458 with high quality telescopic sights allowing accurate kill shots from hundreds of meters away. To this epic display of knightly bravery I would like to propose the following - if this is all about proving your courage, why not leave the gun at home, leave the professional hunter and the backup guns, leave the telescopic sights, pick up a knife and go out there pick a fight with a grumpy lion. Not so keen any more? No doubt that is because the chance of you winning the fight have dropped from roughly 99.99% to about 25% assuming you are an ace with a knife and don't flinch when that 250kg beast launches itself at you. Can you then really claim that shooting something like an elephant or a lion is an act of courage? I think not. The Masai kill lion with spears and the pygmies in the Congo attack and disembowel elephants with sharp blades by running underneath their bellies and cutting them open. They do this to protect their flocks and feed the village respectively and it doubles as a display of manliness.
So, by my estimate, if I was giving awards for the lion hunter of the year, it would go to a young Masai who walked out on his own to face an angry lion with nothing but his toothpick of a spear, his courage and his conviction. I don't see wealthy American and European hunters lining up to try and win my fictional award this way. Yet they insist on running the old courage line past us to justify their barbaric 'sport'. Shoot lions if you must, you insecure children, it adds money to the overall conservation effort, but please spare me the photos of you posing on the body of the culled animal, smiling like a triumphant buffoon who thinks he has proven his courage. All you have proven is your lack thereof. Congratulations, what a man, get stuffed!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Its because I'm 'black', yo!

I am determined at some point in the next year to apply for an Affirmative Action job in South Africa as a 'black' male. Now this might be a strange thing for a 'white' guy to do but I have been having quirky little daydreams in which, sitting in the interview, I get to put the onus of proof onto the interviewer and his panel of race-conscious, eager, bright-eyed social engineers. Let us make it clear that I probably will not want, or get, the job I apply for and it will probably end up being more awkward than funny as these things often are but there is a sense of comedy stalking the whole enterprise of AA and BEE and the ongoing racial classification in South Africa.

In the old days, the NAT's, architects of apartheid were suddenly faced with the same dilemma...what do we do with those who claim to be white and are coloured, Indian and are black, coloured and are black and so on. Teams of race 'officials' looked at hair, noses, fingernails and other arbitrary bits of body and made pronouncements that sometimes even split families into two distinct racial groups, the consequence of which, in apartheid South Africa, can only be imagined. The Apartheid Museum has a page from the national race records stating in the given year how many whites officially became coloured, how many coloureds officially became white and so, laughably, on.

We now know from DNA studies that there is fundamentally no inherent difference between humans beyond the obvious physical and cultural ones and since no too members even of the same race have the same appearance reading anything into this would seem silly. In one extremely amusing recent addition to the debate, a local TV show had local celebrities tested to find out which geographical area of the world their ancestors came from, something which DNA can tell us. Some 'white' people turned out to have African and Khoi DNA and in one case a stunned Tim Modise was told he had Germanic as well as Khoi roots- he seemed very perturbed to be a black part of the 'master race'!

Back to my mildly odd, somewhat satisfying musings about claiming 'black' status. I figure that if, by modern science, Tim Modise is germanic, I could very well be Khoi or African and since all humans, by current thinking and archaeological discovery, come from Africa, I could very well be 'black' by our current definitions. I could have been overlooked by the apartheid government, a lucky escapee into the 'white' camp and now I could come 'out of the closet' so to speak and declare my true nature, a proud 'black' man in every way. Since compulsory DNA testing is not yet required for job applications in our beloved little country, I would ostensibly be within my rights to claim 'blackness' and be entitled to all of the privileges it now entails. I could put my name down for an RDP house, join government departments, get Telkom shares at a discount and enroll at all those cool exclusive clubs for black people like the Black Lawyer's Association, The Black Management Forum and so on. I could go undercover at the AWB or the Boeremag, treading carefully since I would be be in for a pretty hard time if they found out I was actually 'black'.

Oh, and I could apply for the position of President of SARFU, DNA test Jake White and should he also prove to be black like me, I could entice him back to coach our Springboks to 2011 victory.

Surely its time to move on from all these childish clubby, clubby games we play now? 'White' and 'black' pretty much have no meaning any more, yet a country that fought against racial classification and WON is doggedly hanging onto the concept. I think we need to move on but maybe its just because I am 'black'... ;)

Sunday, October 28, 2007


I visited Bloemfontein for the second time in my life this week which happened to coincide with the annual curry cup final between the Freestate Cheetahs and the Gauteng Lions. For those of you who don't know, Bloemfontein along with Pretoria are supposed to be the cities that embodied apartheid above all others in South Africa's dark years. The locals are supposed to be a tough crowd, Afrikaans speaking and so passionate about their rugby team, the Cheetahs, that any suggestion that another team could beat them is supposed to be followed by an ass whippin' of note.

Orange people where everywhere. Orange flags were flying from the cars, shops were draped in orange, joggers wore orange socks and some loyal fellow had even airbrushed an orange Cheetah onto his restored 1960's Cadillac! 'Looks like the rumours about ass whompings might be true' I thought, 'these guys are nuts!'. Biltong was sold out and news arrived that the world cup winning Springboks would be in town for the final, hosted in Bloemfontein for a lap of honour. To call it fever pitch is to equate hurricane Katrina to a dust devil puffing harmlessly through a Fouriesberg mielie field. The local newspapers had dubbed the final as a 'Katgeveg' (cat fight!), which I thought was a pretty smart headline considering the Cheetahs were up against the Lions. The town was alive with crazed rugby fans and they were all in orange.

I was therefore slightly horrified when my business partner Allan randomly asked the biggest guy we had seen in Bloem if he was a Lions supporter and wanted to buy a red T-shirt. The guy's smiling retort was 'net om my gat te vee' (only to wipe my ass with) but all in good humour and actually wished Allan luck for the game. Now Allan could care less about who won the game but his amusement was peaked by stirring up the locals, presumably just to see if he could, so he tried harder. 'The lions are going bite those wimpy Cheetahs in half on Saturday with their massive teeth and then spit them out...ggggtoo', he fired at the next huge guy walking past...'only if you can catch us, you fat cats', the smiling orange fellow winked back.

Not getting much joy from the local huge white Afrikaans rugby fans, he found a tiny black guy in an orange T-shirt and said 'you are going to be sad on Sunday'. 'Why', said the confused stranger? 'Because the Cheetahs are going to be making a mew, mew and lions are going to be tuning GRRR, GRRR' he prodded. The little black guy stopped, turned around walked up to Allan and stared him in the eyes. 'Are you a Lions man?', he asked. 'GRRRR', said Allan. The little guy pointed his finger in Allan's face and said, 'Aaaaiy, when your lions are dead tomorrow and my cheetahs are still running around them laughing, come back here amalungu' staring at Allan like he meant it. Finally some anger from a fan, Allan was encouraged, gave the guy a pat on his back and offered him a lions T-shirt. The guy looked at him and said, 'never, never, I am Cheetahs for life. Down with the lions, down', winked at me and walked off.

This went on for a while but when Allan started picking on school girls wearing orange, I guessed it was time to head for the B&B. The Lions got trampled, the Cheetahs took it 20-18 and we fled but not before adjusting my perceptions of Bloemfontein. The city has friendly people of all colours and they stand together for their team without the crazy savagery I was expecting. In fact the biggest savage in town happened to be a temporary Lion's supporter, out for a bit of sport...

Monday, October 22, 2007

You asked, I did my its your turn Mr P

After a weekend of rugby highs and Lucky Dube's murder lows, I find myself compelled to write about the latter...and I am a HUGE rugby fan. I saw Lucky Dube in concert a number of times and it is a tragedy to have a man of his talent taken away from us.
In his world cup departure speech President Thabo Mbeki stated that he wished all of us to stand together and to help in the fight against crime. It is a phrase that has been thrown into every speech on crime and I would like to examine it. What does he mean exactly? Should we all become cops? Should we all stake out a corner on dodgy streets to snap photos of hijackers in action? I hope not. That would be promoting vigilantism and chaos.
So hopefully he means report crimes to the police when they happen and simply be a responsible citizen. I don't think anyone would NOT be doing these things already and this can't be the central problem facing police. I think the average South African is careful, vigilant, knows that 10111 is the number to call and won't hesitate if they are threatened. Hell people are even closing their suburbs off and building higher walls and installing tracking devices into their cars to deter criminals. People have organised marches against crime, demanded that more be done about crime to the point where Mr Ngakula, the safety and security minister, told parliament no less that South Africans who 'whinge' about crime should leave the country. So mixed signals are being sent out from those in power. Can the good people of South Africa do more or is that an empty request being used to divert attention from the real issue?
I guess it is all about priority. Where is crime and the will to fight crime on the government’s national agenda right now? Somewhere behind the transformation of our rugby team and the succession battle and that is probably why we have a problem spiralling out of control. Sort out the crime you get easier transformation anyway, you get stability, investment, you plug the brain drain, you promote reconciliation, you collect more tax from the newly invested foreign nationals which goes into HIV roll-outs, better health care and education all providing economic growth thereby further reducing crime.

If government really wanted to get those stats down and cut this nonsense out they could. They are, however, taking a half-hearted stab at it because most of them seem to share the thinking that pops up periodically…its all because of our past. Even if that was 100% true, and I do not buy that for a second, it is still simply an excuse from people who are not performing in their job. Excuses at the top level are not tolerated in the corporate world for non-performance, why should they be tolerated in government?
So I believe that Mbeki's speech was just rhetoric to be seen to be dealing with the issue of Lucky Dube's shooting in front of his children. Now just in case I was wrong and our president does, in fact want my help, I have put down a few ideas since none seem to be forthcoming from the guys in charge…

1) Get smart! Hire bright dedicated people into the police force and out-think the criminals. It worked superbly for SARS and paid itself off in no time. Why not the police? Why were they prepared to pay big salaries at SARS? To make more money out of tax, of course! Well, there will be an economic benefit if you sort out crime too, just not as obvious. Involve universities, business and communities. Out-think them. It is a radical problem needing a radical solution that may be complex and strategically involved.

2) Organise. Police stations should not be spending man-hours doing admin for the public when we have a crisis on the go. They should be focused on solving crime. Get rid of jobs that do not contribute to the cause like signing affidavits and making certified id book copies. Farm them out to other institutions.

3) Here is a radical one! Offer retired white male executives, those 'evil, nasty' men that benefited from apartheid, the chance to come in and use their lifetime of managerial skills, at a cut price for their country. They could manage the organisational side of police stations like a business and free the cops up to hit the bad guys? Any takers?

4) Use our army here and not in the Congo. Form units dedicated to certain types of crime. Units that hunt cash heist robbers, units that hunt hijackers and units that hunt armed robbers. Well-trained, well-equipped, highly mobile response units that respond quickly to certain codes with the intent to catch in the act. We are paying them salaries anyway and they could keep battle-ready in case of Zim’s invasion…;)

5) Alternatively, use said army to slowly take back streets of choice. Perhaps central JHB is a good place to start? Post two armed soldiers in radio contact on every street corner for a week. Any criminal stupid enough to commit a crime will be caught like a spider in a web and he will never be able to outgun the law. Arrest for the smallest crime. Keep this up until area is safe and then expand. Immediately return at first crime in safe area and repeat. Slowly drive criminals away from key areas.

6) Here is another radical one; form think-tanks of criminals in prison and allow them to redeem themselves and earn parole by working out where the next big crimes might go down or how to stop them or who to arrest. They think differently and might have a new angle. Success gets rewarded, they feel useful to society. Repeat offence after the program gets life and you get announced as a program member on your first day back in the slammer.

7) Stop these ridiculous courtroom and jail escapes. We are not fooled. It is either an inside job or the security is pathetic. Fix the one and root out the other. No more!

8) Use technology, cameras especially. We have state of the art video surveillance equipment to catch speeding motorists, why not expand that to a camera network in a city that can track criminals on recorded footage after the act? Follow them to an area, camera by camera, get pictures of their faces and publish them.
And so I could go on. I have listened to my president who voiced his own disgust at the death of Lucky Dube and I am working together with him to solve crime as he asked me to do. I have done my little bit today, I have shown I care. Now it is his turn to show me that he cares and that he has the WILL to fix this mess, regardless of who is responsible for it or how hard it is. Good people are dying, excuses are just not good enough.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I saw the funny side of SA crime this week. Now the rampant crime in SA is not very funny at all as Sir Anthony Sher's moving documentary so poignantly pointed out BUT those of us living here, wallowing in its stink so to speak have to find ways of coping with its proximity and this week we invented a new game to take the edge off. Let me explain...

My friend Mark got robbed. He is actually, despite being the victim of a crime, quite amused himself in a throw-up-the-hands kind of way. Firstly, burglars broke into his fenced complex and scaled the side of his 4-story building late one evening while he and his fiance were asleep in the house. The daring buggers swiped his laptop, their clothing and his mountain bike and had the audacity to lower all the loot to the ground using his windup extension cord! He phoned me pretty peeved the next morning (Sunday) but happy not to have run into them in the passage.

Monday, he arrived at work to discover that his offices had been broken into and that amongst other random things, his backup flash-disk for his laptop had been swiped - one year of data lost! Two days in a row. People clucked in sympathy but some of us started wondering, was it possible? A black little hat-trick was on the cards but we didn't dare contemplate it.

Tuesday brought amazing news! Although not directly, he had been a victim again! HAT-TRICK!!!!!!!!!!!! Thieves broke in and stole copper cables from a substation near his office and his whole factory stood still for a day while the council tried to fix the problem. The third one was under contention for a while but the panel gave it to him in the end...well done Markus, my first friend to get a hat-trick! Compulsory round at the Jolly Roger!

So Mark got the first 'hat-trick', Birnie has the award for 'best tackle' on a running cellphone thief, John is current holder of the 'biggest hit' for a beautiful open-hand slap on a rapist we caught in the park one morning on our weekly bike ride and I narrowly avoided the booby prize when some guy unsuccessfully tried to rob me with his finger (I could see it wasn't loaded). Starting to feel left out just a touch, I managed to snap up the award for 'harshest initiation by a team' when no less than exactly 15 guys, a full rugby side, with automatic weapons held up a happening bar and restaurant in Northern Joburg and chose me, out of the 400 people lying on the floor, to be the 'bag man'. It involved getting a gun in the face and going around asking my friends for their wallets and phones. Yes!!! On the scoreboard at last...

Sad, sick little game isn't it?