The insect inside

Jeremy Gordin on his metamorphosis as occasioned by ANC misrule

Today’s lessons – as in the texts read aloud during a church service – are the Metamorphoses (“Transformations”) written by Ovid, and The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung) by Franz Kafka.

As many of you will know, Ovid wrote his poem in about 8 CE after being exiled (no trial, no hearing) from Rome to the Black Sea by Emperor Augustus – a considerably more efficient and effective, but no less malicious, doektator than Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Kafka wrote his short story in 1915, about salesperson Gregor Samsa who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect.

But for our (or my) purposes we don’t need to know lots about the texts – just Ovid’s famous first line, In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora,” “Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed into different bodies,” as translated by Ted Hughes. Regarding Kafka, it’s necessary to recall just the desperate and frightening feelings of powerlessness experienced by Samsa.

On Tuesday late afternoon, quite a few houses ran out of water in Parkview. So, no water for coffee, tea, or cooking, or for your pets; or, perhaps more seriously, for ablutions – and this, you might have noticed, is the time of Covid-19, during which time we should all wash our handies ad nauseam.

There was, it was said, a burst pipe somewhere in the area. There ensued the usual miscommunications on the community’s WhatsApp thread, so much so that being my intrepid self – and also being one of the trusting dimwits who hasn’t laid in any store of water (I made the same mistake regarding wine and whiskey during the booze-purchasing window) – I went in search of the burst pipe. There was nothing where it was supposed to have been; the houses there were all still and dark.

So, I drove to about four blocks away, to where the council has been digging up the pavement for the past few months. Lo and behold – a veritable Jet d’Eau of which even the inhabitants of Geneva, Switzerland might well be jealous. I took my pics for the WhatsApp thread and the incident was reported to the Johannesburg water department.

An hour or so later, about 9pm, I snuck out by foot into the dark night, “En Una Noche Oscura,” as St John of the Cross would have it, to walk down the road a bit to pick up a bottle of water kindly offered by a dear friend, the man I call the world’s most charming hypochondriac. (Need to know just how dire things are for you, given that small spot on your skin, slight pain in your leg, or minor rasp in your throat, give him a shout. Obviously, he didn’t hand me the 5L bottle of water; he left it at his gate and fled.)

Outside I encountered a water dept. lorry, the engine of which sounded gravely ill, and two or three fellows on foot, fiddling with a dry hydrant on the corner. “What’s the trouble?” I asked. “We’re looking for the burst pipe,” one replied. “Ah,” I said and re-directed them.

Apparently, the men from the council stopped the leak and left. But then, on WhatsApp, there emanated what my Latin teacher at Brakpan High would have termed a grievous wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42).

Why? ... The Jet d’Eau had simply shifted 10 metres down the street to the next corner.

Another team allegedly came back in the wee hours of Wednesday but was unsuccessful in its endeavours. The unterste shirre (bottom line) is that, as I write this, it’s almost 48 hours later and there seems little chance of water flowing through the Parkview pipes any time soon.

In the interim however there have been some interesting developments. For one, our doughty and long-suffering ward councillor informed us that the “bad news” “is that the offending pipe is a HDPE [high-density polyethylene] pipe that Jhb water don’t carry stock of, so they need to outsource a replacement section”.  Aha, I thought, an excellent opportunity for our tenderpreneurs; I’m always in favour of assisting our struggling business community; it’s not for me to wonder why the water dept. doesn’t keep in stock one of the major components of its water reticulation system.

Second, presumably thanks also to the efforts of our councillor, the depot arranged on Wednesday, at about 3pm, for two water tanks to be sent to Parkview. There were however some small difficulties. According to anguished WhatsApp messages, there was neither water in, nor a tap affixed to, at least one of the tanks. Bloody Parkviewians, hey? Never stop complaining. 

We return now to my comment above: “it’s almost 48 hours later and there seems little chance of water flowing through the Parkview pipes any time soon”. Well, actually, it’s still four hours to go until the 48-hour mark. But I need to send this piece off asap – because today we’re having stage 2 load shedding at 16h00.

Happy days. I pay so much towards electricity, water, rates, and taxes that even I’m embarrassed to divulge the amount here.

In short, we have a situation in which the citizen – s/he who pays for electricity and water – gets charged in inverse proportion to the bad or non-existent services s/he receives. No water, no electricity – or intermittent water and electricity – but the cost just keeps climbing.

But! – I hear you cry – at least you get electricity and water most of the time. What about all those folks who live without either?

I know about those folks – and I’m sorry for them. But though my situation is mostly and generally better than theirs, I feel as though I’ve been ground through a metamorphosis, like all those gods, goddesses, humans, and inanimate objects in Ovid’s poem.

I dreamt in the early hours of this morning that, having gone to sleep in my home in Parkview, I then woke up – but I hadn’t, like Gregor Samsa, been turned into a gigantic insect. What happened was I turned on the taps but there was no water, I switched on the lights but there was no electricity, and then I stepped outside – and there I was standing outside my shack in Diepsloot, extension 1.

Some would say that it’s better to see the sun rise in Diepsloot than in the suburbs of Gaza city, Damascus or Khayelitsha. Probably. But even aging white men – who, according to some, are responsible for many if not most of the troubles in the world today, especially in South Africa – don’t like to be treated like insects.

And people who, in reality, wake up in Diepsloot, or Khayelitsha, also don’t like to be played for fools.

As regards me, the electricity might come back on this evening (if one of the sub-stations doesn’t trip, as it inevitably does), and water will eventually flow through the taps.

But, given what the coterie of ganovim (thieves) who run this country have done, and are still doing, given the massive feelings of anger, powerlessness and frustration they’ve engendered, I’m not going to be too surprised if “Voetsek ANC” metamorphosizes soon from a social media line into the kind of action the fat and complacent are not going to like one little bit.