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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Rubrieke | Columns > Christina Engela: Fundamentally Speaking

Bread and circuses


Christina Engela - 2011-08-11

Untitled Document

Last week I had the pleasure of having to get up really early for work, at around 4 am, when all respectable birds were still asleep. It was while having breakfast a little later that I heard something faint, a kind of singing chant in the distance that reminded me of a Muslim call to prayer. I really had to strain my ears to pick it up, as the very light wind at that time of morning affected the clarity, and it faded in and out. It seemed to me that it might very well be that, from one of the mosques in the old part of town somewhere. I began to wonder if I was imagining it, but no, there it was, for a whole two or three minutes. It brought a smile to my face as I wondered why I had never heard it before. I heard it the next morning too, while having breakfast, confirming to me that I had not imagined it.

At the end of the week I received an e-mail notice that some people in my area (Richmond Hill) were angry about the "disturbance" coming from North End so early in the morning and were drawing up a petition about it. I was stunned. Could people really be so small and anal about such things? Apparently so.

First, North End is several kilometres away from Richmond Hill; and second, if you are asleep in Richmond Hill at 4 am you certainly will not be woken up by it. We are not talking about a racket or a din here, not by any means. And it's not as if it continues until daybreak, or for longer than a few minutes. In short, you basically have to be awake to hear it, so what is the problem? On the other hand, there is really no pleasing some people, is there? I have to wonder about the potential double standards being applied here by this individual. He lives in Richmond Hill, which, as all the locals know, has a Christian church virtually on every corner, and so come every Sunday morning, the sound of bells ringing hardly raises an eyebrow. Which makes my point: Why does this fellow not launch a petition to silence those as well?

Or is it a case of "I am a Christian – I can hear church bells ringing from where I live"? Is that perhaps what is bothering him? Does hearing a Muslim call to prayer from my breakfast table make me a Muslim? No. Does it wake me up when I'm trying to sleep? No. See my puzzlement? Live and let live, fella. I don't see any need to complain unless you live right next door, and unless the house next to you suddenly sprouted a minaret without checking with you and your neighbours first.

Cleaning ladies around the country are protesting on Women's Day because they are being paid a minimum wage of less than 2 000 ZAR. Yes, it is shocking, I agree. I couldn't imagine surviving on that kind of money per month. No wonder they call it "peanuts". Of course, when you consider that people who do certain types of work that require more mental and educational skill earn around R4 000 per month, how do you justify it? Ah, now it gets tricky, because nobody wants to do dirty work, do they? Pay them a little more and they might actually stop moaning for a while and smile for a change. The only problem is, it's never enough, is it? With all the crippling strikes we've seen in the past six months alone it's amazing the economy hasn't failed yet.

The one strange thing about this little item that makes me mutter "Only in South Africa" is that the main motivation for an increase appears to be that some of these women need to support up to nine children on their small wages. Right. Whose fault is that? Did anyone force them to have nine kids? Is that the employer’s fault? Aren't there plentiful supplies of condoms and other contraceptive agents available in our "condomwise" country? Doesn't our wise, all-knowing government encourage children to get pregnant in order to get the 250 ZAR per child per month grant to avoid working? What gives, folks, and where do you draw the line?

Women's Day is a nice, touching gesture, isn't it? Sure, everyone could use another day off – but does it really mean anything to women? Is it a reminder that things need to be done in this country to create equity between the sexes socially, economically and politically, or is it just an opportunity to flood the news with images of women partying at public events toasted by prominent government figures talking about doing it? I tend to agree with the women who stayed away from these events, saying that they feel it won't help them in the least. They need action, not talk. The government has been talking for years, and still they are no better off.

Women and children are lumped together with the disabled folks in one big government ministry, as if being young or female is also a social disadvantage. I don't know ... is it? I think this "patriarchal culture" I heard about on the news again tonight needs a swift kick up the caboose – a reminder to hubby dearest that respect has to be earned, not just given on say-so – and that if he wants to sleep peacefully at night he needs to remember that peaceful sleep is a condition of fair and equal treatment of the other. It's time there was an end to the incompetence and corruption leading to rape and hate-crime cases being postponed repeatedly and delayed for up to three years and court documents and dockets conveniently disappearing while the rights of people – of all sexualities and genders – are trampled.

Yes, most companies are employing more females, even in roles traditionally occupied by males – but not because they are better workers, but because on average they pay us less. Sad but true. Equity? Really? Equal pay for equal work, I say. Now that's equality. What does the equipment between your legs have to do with the quality or quantity of work a person can deliver? Unless we are speaking about the sex industry, I can't see how it matters half a damn. Can you? Fix that before bragging about how women have been advanced every single Women's Day, okay? It's getting repetitive.

The emperors of Rome feared the power of the common citizen, and they feared they would be toppled by uprisings or other political forces fuelled by dissatisfaction with their rule. They placated the mob by providing distractions – wars, campaigns, but more importantly, entertainment. They laid on expensive games in the arena, lavish events – and this entertainment saved their rule on many occasions. Free bread and circuses lulled and sussed the noisy infants upon whom the ruling classes depended back to their somnambulant existence. I can't help but wonder at the similarity between this ancient principle and current events such as Women's Day, Freedom Day, Youth Day. Make a few of the right noises, and the crying baby goes back to sleep and all is right with the world for a while again.

The next thing on my list of peeves is our friend Juliaas. Yesterday was supposed to be "D-Day for Juju" – at least, according to the ANC, and all the papers too – and what happened? Nothing. N – O – thing. "Postponed indefinitely," they said on the news last night.

These past few days the ANC made a big thing about Malema being brought to book for his loose-cannon activities, running his mouth off and generally acting as if he was an actual government figure, etc, before senior party leadership yesterday – and in the evening news a spokesperson said it was "postponed, perhaps indefinitely", supposedly in the interests of party unity. Right.

Of course, he's won. How else could this blatant and obvious capitulation be interpreted? Friend Zuma doesn't dare go against him – because he realises that if he does, Juliaas could just start his very own little political party – and all the crazy, ignorant and racist youth supporting the ANC would follow him, making it even more obvious that the ruling party is an apartment block being carved up and sold à la sectional title to the highest bidder. Checkmate.

The simple truth is that the senior party members cannot go against him or be seen to put him in his place, because they will risk disunity in the party, or a complete breakaway of the Youth League and his supporters from the main body of the ANC and the tripartite alliance. The COPE breakaway in 2009 was a costly lesson to the ruling party, one they clearly do not wish to repeat. It might seem to them, after all, to be an even bigger embarrassment to the ANC than hurling racist abuse at a journalist in front of TV cameras.

It seems that Juliaas has pretty much won this battle – he's defied calls by reasonable people to have him removed as leader of the ANC Youth League for several years now. Despite every shenanigan this chap gets up to, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how insensitive, he still weathers the storms he creates – and in his post as youth leader too. What's to stop his rise to leadership of the ANC, and even the presidency? And then clinging to power for 30 years? We know how it works on our continent by now, don't we? Barnacles clinging to the hull of the ship, stealing streamlining and energy from its progress through the oceans of common sense. He is, after all, Bob Mugabe's understudy, isn't he? His overtly fanatical, communist and racist followers have already cried they will stop at nothing to see that he is allowed to continue sowing chaos and discord wherever he goes, making idiotic, irresponsible and divisive comments about nationalising mines and farms and banks. It seems they actually believe they will be better off for it if it happens. Poor fools.

Enjoy the last days of democracy in South Africa, folks. Communism and socialism are on their way, barring a miracle or two. Before long, things like "There's no such thing as transgender or gay in Sepedi" may become slogans, then policy.

Eish.