NEWS & ANALYSIS

Battling Covid-19 on the beaches

Andrew Donaldson on the ANC govt's bizarre and counter-productive obsession with beachgoing

A FAMOUS GROUSE

VARIOUS warnings appeared on social media over the so-called festive season that the New Year should not be celebrated as an end to the misfortunes of the previous 12 months. Several of these memes had as their theme bubonic plague and the Black Death. As the Wife of Bath herself may have put it: “Well, 1346 was a queynte of a year. Here’s to 1347!’” 

According to an item in The Times, the joke may have been started by one Jonathan Healey, a history fellow at Oxford. It was he who drew attention to a little-known diary entry by Samuel Pepys: “The Year of Our Lorde 1665 hath been such a terrible one for ye plague. I cannot wait for 1666, for which I have especial excitement to trye the newe bakery that hath opened on Pudding Lane.”

Be that as it may, one harbinger of continued misery that most concerns us is the resurgence in the news cycle of the idiot police minister, Cheek Bile. 

The Bek evidently welcomes the attention generated by executive overreach, and this may explain the flapping Maurice Chevalier-type white trousers worn at Camps Bay on December 16. If you’re going to throw your weight around and bother the public in terms of new lockdown regulations, why not dress like like a paedophile ice-cream vendor? Young women do so enjoy being hassled by creeps when sunbathing.

It is clear from subsequent posts on social media that the beaches have once again become a major battleground in the country’s doomed struggle with the pandemic. Once again, there are stirring video clips on social media of SAPS members running after surfers set to the theme music from Chariots of FireSome commentators are angered that the police should waste their time in such a manner when they could be running after proper criminals. Others find it amusing, but not in a kind way.

For my part, I welcome any form of exercise the cops may get. This could be a life-saver. Sceptics and anti-vaxxers argue that Covid-19 is a hoax, nothing more severe than the flu, and they point to the fact that, for all the coronavirus scare-mongering, the country’s leading cause of fatalities is still death. But the fact remains that morbid obesity is a major underlying condition endangering the lives of many infected by the virus. 

I suspect also that the police resent enforcing this aspect of the lockdown. Certainly, news reports of drunk cops are an indication of profound unhappiness with the job. 

The beach, of course, can be a bit of a bitch, as revealed by a video clip of police frantically digging a patrol vehicle from the sand as the tide rolls in at Cape Town’s Sunset Beach. Twitter wasn’t kind. Some commentators suggested, unhelpfully, that they would have offered assistance, but you know, they weren’t allowed on the beach. There was even some mention of Cnut.

Meanwhile, it appears the very concept of “beach” is a difficult thing to nail down. This hadn’t stopped the dreaded Clarice, another terrible 2020 hangover, from having a bash at it on Tuesday. In her capacity as prime minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has now added a muddled definition to the disaster regulations to include estuary mouths and “any location within 100 metres of a high-water mark” – meaning beachfronts, some promenades, and a number of coastal paths are now technically out of bounds. To wit: 

“A ‘beach’ means the sandy, pebbly or rocky shore between the high-water mark and low-water mark adjacent to the sea. or an estuary mouth – extending 1 000 meters inland from the mouth. The definition also refers to any location within 100 metres of the high-water mark, including the sea and estuary themselves adjacent to the beach. Private property is excluded. An estuary is defined by section 1 of the National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act, 2008. Beaches that are open to the public in non-hot-spots, such as in the Northern Cape shall only be open between 6:00 and 19:00, and will be monitored for compliance with all health protocols and social distancing measures.”

While the rest of the world actively takes steps to curb citizens’ unhealthy indoor activities in a bid to curb infection rates, South Africa militates against such harmless activities in the fresh air like walking on the beach. It is madness, and it is hardly surprising that the Western Cape devolutionaries want out and are revolting.

Social cohesion at the crease

The Proteas came in for stick for not taking the knee before this season’s matches, opting instead for the raised fist, which they considered the more appropriate gesture. As you can imagine, this did not go down too well with the sopping naffs and dribbling defectives who get excited about such things. 

Rather than defend the team’s decision or, better still, just shutting up, the interim board of the profoundly troubled Cricket South Africa claim the criticism of the players is justified. Its hectoring chair, Justice Zak Yacoob, has made peculiar noises about a wasted opportunity “to show the world that we’re united in opposing racism at every turn”. Various other chunterers have also expressed their displeasure. The Star was especially patronising and claimed the Proteas do not “seem to fully grasp what an important gesture taking a knee is, especially in a South African context”.

However, judging by their statement on the issue, it seems players are well aware of the significance of taking the knee – so much so that, “through a process of deep democracy”, they’ve disregarded it for a gesture they feel is more relevant in that vaunted South African context. The team noted that it was an American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who initiated the gesture and that it had “deep significance in the USA political environment”, adding:

“In the same vein as Kaepernick, we would like to use our sporting platform to raise awareness around an issue that matters deeply in this historical moment. We want to do so in a way that unites us around a gesture we own, which speaks to and resonates in our South African context, and which is connected to our own history of struggle for human rights.

“The raised fist is a powerful gesture in our own history, as expressed in the iconic images of Nelson and Winnie Mandela on Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. In this context it was a powerful gesture of triumph, an acknowledgment of the struggle against apartheid, and a commitment to continuing to fight for equality, justice and freedom, while also honouring the religious and cultural responsibilities of every member of our team.”

The Proteas added that the raised fist, which has a history within the US civil rights movement, had been adopted as an iconic “human rights salute” in other sporting arenas, most notably by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. 

Some cricket fans find all this deplorable. One Twitter user suggested the team’s matches may be boycotted as a result: “When COVID is over there’re will be no change in spectators at the stadiums because we do not support #comunism signals of clenched fist the way #proteas do !!!” (sic

realflyingdutchman (for that is his Twitter handle) describes himself thus: “War veteran. Decorated police officer. Hate liberals. Love WW2 history. #Trump is still the President #MAGA supporter. Non drinker Non smoker. Love jokes.” With a CV like that, it’s very likely that he’s delivered a few rousing communist signals to lefty ears in his time. 

Most supporters, I suspect, don’t care too much about any of this. When it comes to cricket, it is cricket that is of chief concern. 

But I welcome the Proteas’ decision. We live in an age where enforced piety overwhelms. We are expected to collectively participate in so many of these nebulous acts of “solidarity” that they all become utterly meaningless. Rather than take the knee in an ovine, supplicating manner, the cricketers gave the matter consideration, and opted to raise a fist. Good on them. Only the truly spiteful, the bullies and the ideologues, would disrespect their decision.

(Made-up) tales of herring-do

Among the books I caught up with over the break was Anton Harber’s So, For the Record: Behind the Headlines in an Era of State Capture (Jonathan Ball), an entertaining if distressing tale of how renowned “investigative journalists” were played like fish by Jacob Zuma’s security establishment. The book has been generously received, and one newspaper praised this “masterfully crafted account of how the Sunday Times became the modern day Ozymandian parable” as essential reading, “not just for media scholars but for anyone who consumes news in bits and bytes nowadays”. 

I’m not entirely convinced by the reference to Shelley’s poem. Something from the bloodier Greek classics would have been more helpful, considering the blind hubris and toxicity of those who contributed to the downfall of a once respected institution. 

Still, it was fun to revisit the misadventures of former Slimes colleagues. Harber’s account barely scratches the surface of the deceit and loathing that characterised the newspaper’s editorial and management environments and it was a pleasant exercise to fill in gaps and omissions that were perhaps the result of legal considerations. In this regard, there is a whopping bonkbuster of the “thinly disguised biography” variety waiting in the wings. This would not be amiss, given some of the award-winning fiction the newspaper has published. 

There is some irony here. At his book launch in October, Harber spoke about tackling “brown envelope journalism” and how reporters had corrupted themselves, a culture which had resulted in some of the worst journalism he had encountered: in particular, the long-running fakery of the SA Revenue Service’s “brothel” cooked up by the ST’s investigations team, Mzilikazi wa Afrika (real name Leonard Ndzukula), Stephan Hofstatter and Rob Rose. But, lest we forget, Harber too has played a role, albeit inadvertently, in the promotion of this culture with the establishment of the Taco Kuiper Award for investigative reporting. 

Noble in intention, the award boasts that it it is the country’s most prestigious journalism prize. Yet it can be accused of being a grubfest that rewards the recipients of misleading information slipped their way by their corrupt and self-serving contacts in government departments. You can call it whistle-blowing, but it smells of career advancement by backstabbing. The bigger the target of such internecine treachery, like revenue service enforcement chief Johann van Loggerenberg, the “better” the journalism. 

Embarrassingly, the Taco Kuiper convenors last year withdrew Rose, Hofstetter and Wa Afrika’s 2012 award for their Cato Manor killing reports “due to elements of the story being called into question”. Rose has returned his award, but not Hofstetter and Wa Afrika. I can’t comment on Hofstetter’s motives, having never met him, but Wa Afrika’s decision to keep his Tacky Kipper does not surprise me. 

Shortly after I joined the Sunday Times in 1998, Legendary Len revealed to me his pop star ambitions. He dabbled a bit on the keyboard, but was thinking about getting a guitar. It was foolish me, but I lent him one of mine to see if the instrument was his thing. More than two decades later, and despite increasingly angry demands that he do so, Wa Afrika still hasn’t returned it. Ever the narcissist, he even played me his home recordings. Quite why he thought I’d ignore the fact that these recordings were made with my guitar, and that I wanted it back, I cannot say. But it speaks volumes of his morality. 

To the barricades. Maybe

I had hoped that, by now, the orange smear in the White House would be behind us. But no. The world’s most unwanted golfer and leader of America’s domestic terror movement continues to bother this column. As I write, Donald Trump is poised to become the first and only president in US history to be impeached twice. Some commentators believe this a waste of time. Why bother, they argue, he only has a week left in office. But that’s the point, he’s still in office for another week.

Until then, however, the second American war of independence reportedly resumes this weekend, with the FBI warning of possible armed protests across the United States as Trump’s supporters and other far-right yeehadis press ahead with plans to unsteal the election ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

Personally, I can’t see any protest action being anywhere near as dramatic as last week’s events at the Capitol. The big lesson of that attempted coup is wear a mask when you’re toppling legitimate governments. Not out of concerns for Covid-19, but for identification purposes. Posting selfies of yourself running amok and vandalising government buildings is not recommended. Many have discovered this to their regret, as US law enforcement agencies report an unprecedented wave of anonymous callers eager to shop their “patriotic” neighbours. Others have lost jobs and have been shunned by their communities. 

The lesson learnt by Boise, Idaho “freedom fighter” Josiah Colt — a name straight out of a Louis L’Amour novel — is bitter but instructive. First, he bragged about his rampage through the US Capitol, posting a video on Instagram in which he referred to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a “bitch” and a “a traitor”. He also incorrectly boasted that he’d sat in her chair in the chamber when, in fact, it belonged to the vice-president, Mike Pence.

A day later, though, when he realised the possible consequences of his behaviour, there came a grovelling apology in which he admitted he’d “brought shame upon myself” and was seeking legal advice. In a message to CBS2 News, he said:

“I love America, I love the people, I didn't hurt anyone and I didn't cause any damage in the Chamber. I got caught up in the moment and when I saw the door to to the Chamber open, I walked in, hopped down, and sat on the chair. I said my piece then I helped a gentleman get to safety that was injured then left.

“While in the Chamber I told the other protesters that this is a sacred place and not to do any damage. Some of them wanted to trash the place and steal stuff but I told them not to and to leave everything in its place. We’re still on sacred ground. 

“I sincerely apologise to the American people. I recognise my actions that have brought shame upon myself, my family, my friends, and my beautiful country. In the moment I thought I was doing the right thing. I realise now that my actions were inappropriate and I beg for forgiveness from America and my home state of Idaho. My intention wasn't to put a stain on our great Country's Democratic process.”

Gosh, how nauseating. Perhaps it would have been better if he’d just kept quiet. How much more settled our stomachs would have been.

Fishy business

Meanwhile, and further to divided countries that must now come to terms with living apart, the Brexit saga continues. Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) we do not share commentator John Kane-Berman’s peculiar enthusiasms regarding Britain’s departure from the real world and prime minister Boris Johnson’s free trade deal with the European Union. 

Perhaps JKB’s sentiments had been swayed by the December 23 emergency Commons debate in which, according to the Financial Times, “various Tory MPs put Mr Johnson’s name into the same sentence as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Alexander the Great”. 

Amid the jingoism and bluster of sovereignty and emancipation, a great uncertainty, to put it mildly, hangs over the country’s economic future. Many feel that Brexit is most certainly not “done” and Johnson’s deal merely defers the important decisions, such as whether the EU will allow the UK economic “equivalence”. Some Brexiteers, however, believe that it’s down to the cod, and that control of fishing waters is more important than any economic impact this may have. This sorry state of affairs was best summed up by two headlines that appeared in Little England’s newspaper of choice, the Express.

On Sunday, January 4, the tabloid trumpeted, “We’re in charge now! Norwegian boats BANNED from UK waters during hardball fishing talks”. This triumphalism appeared over a report that began: “The UK has banned Norwegian and Faroese vessels from fishing its territorial waters until a new agreement can be made with regional fishing authorities.”

The next day, the Express thundered, “Fishing fury: UK boats stuck in harbour after BAN from Norway, Greenland & Faroe waters.” The story now? “Boris Johnson is failing to safeguard the livelihood of UK fishermen currently unable to visit seas off the coast of Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands because no deals have yet been struck to allow them to do so, a UK company has warned.”

There will be more of this sort of nonsense in the months to come.