Every so often — rather more often than is bearable, actually — a mail arrives in my inbox, a forward of a forward of a forward. It’s always called something like “Enough is Enough” or “Show the Government You’ve Had Enough” or (like today) “Is Crime Out of Control?”.
These emails are always the same. Calls to action from self-appointed champions of the rights of the “innocent”, the “ordinary”, the “hard-working” citizens of South Africa. Wave after wave of futile email mass action, attempts to rouse people to sign petitions, email this or that minister or (like today) the President, to save South Africa from a perceived future riddled with disaster.
Today’s campaign asks us to SMS the President to tell him that Crime is “Out of Control”. According to this mail — and the weekend papers — President Thabo Mbeki said that crime isn’t, in fact, “out of control”. The 8 “ordinary people” the weekend papers managed to scientifically sample say it is, in fact, “out of control”. The writer of this email, and initiator (one presumes) of this SMS campaign, obviously also believes crime is “out of control” since there is no option to SMS the word “no” to the provided SMS number. Only “Yes. Yes, crime is out of control.
In fact (yes, these are still kind of important), Thabo Mbeki quoted last week, in his open letter on the ANC website, the NEC statement that “we need to make every possible effort decisively to tackle this challenge, drawing on the resources and capacity of all sectors of society in a united front against crime.” And that “The ANC will [..] seek the broadest participation of all sectors of society in this mass campaign to mobilise communities and isolate criminals”.
Yes, he also made some points about the crime statistics having decreased since 1994. Which is also, actually, a fact.
The South African Whitey — and I can assure you, this SMS campaign and probably all of the regular emails of this kind, is generated by such a person — is not interested in facts. By Whitey I don’t mean someone with white skin. I mean the whinging, whining, complaining, dissatisfied, terrified, alienated soul that drives up and down the streets of Sandton or Bedfordview or Gardens or wherever secretly wishing everyone of a different culture or political standpoint would just hurry up and die of AIDS as quickly as possible so that they can get back to the sweet, safe middle-class life they deserve.
The Whitey (of which, say, Tony Leon is an excellent example), is incapable of grasping the complexities of a multi-cultural society. Cannot accept responsibility for his role in setting up the impoverished society of which crime is an inevitable consequence. Will not credit the ANC government with anything but corruption, reverse racism and nepotism. And believes that they will still, one day, have to leave for London or Toronto or Sydney where all the best South Africans already live anyway because, well, that’s the first world and they do things properly there.
Fuelling this is the Whitey mass media, that loves nothing more than printing inflammatory articles based on selective quotes from political speeches peppered with vox pops from Mrs Tshabalala of Dobsonville or Mr Van Rheede from Mondeor.
What “out of control” REALLY means makes no difference of course. No equation is offered to determine whether it is or isn’t, nor is any required. If my son was murdered last year, or some famous historian was murdered last week, that’s all that’s really needed to win the argument. And god help you if you argue against this position because, well, it’s obvious isn’t it? Anecdote equals truth.
I’m not saying South Africans are particularly prone to this kind of hysteria, because it’s a phenomen anywhere. All you need to do is listen to the news in the US to know that we’re no worse off. Still, this kind of crazed, uninformed crap is despicable wherever it occurs. And I get really angry when I see this kind of ill-considered pseudo-mass action because it simply fuels the bullshit.
It’s an equally trite point perhaps, but if people spent their time and energy trying to improve the country rather than simply registering their complaints we might actually achieve the future they pay lip service to wanting. Instead, they want to score points against a government that has arguably achieved one of the greatest political, economic and cultural transformations the world has ever seen.
Complaining has never achieved one useful thing in this country so far as I can tell. And it’s no surprise really. Rewards are reserved for those who actually do something. And sending an SMS message then going back to life as usual doesn’t count.