Return of the impimpis!

Jeremy Gordin says SA is no country for old men (or women), who would like to walk their dogs

When in 1978 TS Garp wrote that “we are all terminal cases,” I figured he’d hit the proverbial on the head, and since then nothing’s swayed me from his view, other than the case of Schabir Shaik.

I’ve been thinking about Garp and related matters because of the Covid-19 virus and the local lockdown. I have thus also recalled that, though I’ve never had a farm in Africa, I once had a press card but no longer do.

The press card is an issue for me because I thought I could at least have kept some sort of journal from the frontline for Politicsweb readers, a first-hand account of the lockdown.

I had in mind something along the lines of Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, about the Great Plague of London. A fascinating book, by the way, not for the reasons the lit-critters find it so (Defoe wrote it some 55 years after the Great Plague happened, so academics argue interminably about whether it’s fiction, history, or history-cum-fiction). It’s beguiling for the remarkable and unexpected similarities you find between the worlds and peoples of London 1665-6 and our world in 2020 [1].


There’re also certain differences that interest me between Defoe’s 1665 and our local 2020. Although there was a lockdown in the most afflicted areas of London in 1665, Defoe’s narrator (“H.F.”), imaginary or not, didn’t need a press card to move around. Nor was H.F., courtesy of what is known by the Woke as “apartheid’s spatial legacy,” trapped in a mainly white suburb, as am I.

So here I am, hinnênî my Lord, 67 years’ old, diabetic, afflicted by spinal stenosis, and press card-less not in Gaza but in Parkview, Johannesburg. But this is by no means a real frontline. For example, a friend living overseas asked me “whether the good citizens of Parkview are being sjambokked?” As far as I know, we’re not, but we do face other sorts of coercion, of which more later.

Another asked how I’m handling “home arrest so far”? Well, it’s not house arrest per se; I can go out to buy food or medicine. But if you read, for example, Helen Joseph on the subject (see here.), you’ll note that she – and even those put under more Draconian house arrest than she, whom she also discusses – in fact had more freedom of movement than I do; and, though she doesn’t discuss it, it seems she could have purchased liquor and smokes (which we are bizarrely not allowed to do, a very sore point indeed with my gorgeous wife, and so it should be).

In short, caveat emptor. I must acknowledge from the get-go that my problems or, if you prefer, challenges, are those of a privileged whitey – whose only contact with the “world” is email, internet, TV, WhatsApp, and cellphone (the last two until I over-sanitized my cellphone). I’m not complaining; merely explaining my parameters. I’m doing so not just for Polweb readers but for those out there who might accuse me of being a privileged whitey (which, as I have noted, I am), and therefore argue that my views and experiences are of second-rate value only. This approach by some is tantamount to mental sjambokking and could, who knows, have a negative effect on my mental wellbeing and therefore my immune system.

For example, on 25 March, before the lockdown, when I recommended a Polweb article of mine on the community WhatsApp thread, I was dumped on from a dizzy height by a moderately known foreign correspondent, his real reason later revealed (by himself) to be that it had appeared on Polweb; a couple of others joined in, including the partner of a revered former constitutional court judge. So much for freedom of speech, the free flow of ideas and community solidarity.

Then, on day 3 of the lockdown, when I was, as it were, a sitting duck at home, the Sunday Times was delivered containing Peter Bruce’s column. It was headlined “Cyril more than repays the trust some placed in him” and Bruce wrote inter alia: “... Ramaphosa is finally leading. ... It was on these pages that I punted him ahead of the last general election, to much abuse from the gallery. But I know what a decent man he is.” I needn’t really point out that this level of irrelevance, at a time of national crisis, is damaging not only to me but to others.

Yesterday, day 5, Bruce then took issue (see here) with a recent RW Johnson Polweb article (see here). Fair enough; there’re times when I want to, sometimes occasionally do, take issue with Johnson. But Bruce went on to insult Politicsweb and its contributors: “But [Johnson] is stuck writing for arguably the dottiest of all the many digital ‘news’ publications that now demand our attention – Politicsweb. Politicsweb is obsessed with the traditional SA media, me included, and almost any reading of it comes with a swipe or two at ‘mainstream’ journalists. It’s [the swipes] relentless. ...Johnson, though, is the best of Politicsweb.”

Shamepies, Bruce seems to be feeling the heat in his frontline dugout in Stanford in the Cape. There might be one or two of the Polweb commentariat that are “obsessed” with Bruce; but overall, I fear Bruce flatters himself, as he is wont to do. Dotty? Nope, just alternative to the so-called mainstream, thank heavens – and a place that allows even the dotty to have their say, which is more than can be said for “most of the digital ‘news’ publications that now demand our attention”.

By the way, at the end of Bruce’s piece, by which time he has agreed with Johnson, he writes: “We got downgraded because we’re not credible anymore, even to the most ardent believers. We have run out of road and Covid-19 won’t hide it. What will Ramaphosa do?” Well, given he’s a “decent man,” he’ll presumably do something constructive provided it’s along the lines suggested by Bruce (that’s if Bruce actually suggested anything – I forget). But don’t hold your breath, Peter.

Onto more serious issues. On day minus-1 (was it?) I had the pleasure of seeing on TV the President wearing SANDF gear. Apparently, there was some criticism of him for doing so. The Defen(sive) Minister Nosiviwe Noluthando Mapisa-Nqakula spent about five minutes of a Covid-19 press conference explaining why Ramaphosa should be allowed to wear military fatigues. Well, fine. I thought he looked (what my daughter would call) kewt. If the president wants to walk around looking like Winnie-the-Niehaus, it’s okay with me.

But what about the actual SANDF personnel whom one witnessed on TV a day or two later, bullying homeless people in downtown Johannesburg (and apparently cutting up rough in Soshanguve and Alex later)? I’m neither an overly critical person nor do I have much interest in military matters. But I was distressed as a citizen to note that quite a few of the soldiers were very fulsomely structured. Unlike POTUS, I never managed to skip military service so I could tell at a glance that none would be able to complete that good ol’ staple of basic training, the 2,4 km run in under 12 minutes, probably not in 45 minutes. Mind you, by the look of things, the Chief of the SANDF General Solly Zacharia Shoke wouldn’t be able to do so either. Surely the so-called “ANC tummy” ought to be precluded from those serving in the SANDF?

Much more serious issues. An oke such as I with spinal stenosis and diabetes 2 needs above all to walk/exercise. Ja, ja, there’s yoga and Pilates but I don’t know enough to do them effectively. Now, initially, the Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, an apparently sensible albeit long-winded person, said it was fine for people to go for a walk, including with their dogs. This approach was (and is) in keeping with the UK and other places which also have a lockdown.

But then the cabinet’s resident goon, Minister of Police General (really?) Bhekokwakhe “Bheki” Hamilton Cele, perhaps doffing his ever-present chapeau in the direction of former president Jacob “having a pet dog is not the African way” Zuma, kiboshed that rather unpleasantly.

Point is, though, the whiteys nearly lost it, especially the ones in suburbs such as mine, and including me. I can go shopping by foot, thus getting some exercise, but Olsen the bull terrier is very perturbed. I walked him on his leash around the house, inside the fence, 20 times on day 2, clockwise and counterclockwise, but I could tell from his expression that he was concerned about my sanity.

Most worrying, however, is this. When I was a youngster (circa 1960), reading Sherlock Holmes stories and wanting to be a detective, my father – a bit of a leftie, you understand, and probably anxious about getting attention from the security branch – said to me, “You know, the police really don’t do much detective work at all. What they do have is an efficient network of informers. It’s very successful.”

“History” has shown my father to be correct. More to the point is that the denizens of my suburb have started reporting on the WhatsApp thread those whom they have spotted breaking the rules. Two of these have been “an elderly lady” walking her dog by herself and a single jogger running through the suburb before dawn.  You don’t have to be as clever as General Cele to grasp that a person walking or running by her- or himself is not likely to imperil the rest of us with the dreaded virus.

But a species of collective hysteria has taken hold, so much so that others are saying they will inform the police as much for the sake of the naughty ones as for themselves; and so much so that the local city councillor put out a message asking residents not to force her to use her powers of reporting.

Gadzooks! Remember those novels about life under the Nazis in Paris, 1943? “I’m sorry, madame; I have to tell the Gestapo you are hiding some Jews in your basement. It’s as much for your own good as ours.”

Parkview is chockfull of impimpis! The lockdown is taking its toll, even on this non-frontline.


[1] Defoe’s science is not by the way all that wonky: “And here I may be able to make an Observation or two of my own, which may be of use hereafter to those, into whose Hands this may come, if they should ever see the like dreadful Visitation. (1.) The Infection generally came into the Houses of the Citizens, by the Means of their Servants, who, they were obliged to send up and down the Streets for Necessaries, that is to say, for Food, or Physick, to Bakehouses, Brew-houses, Shops, &c. and who going necessarily thro’ the Streets into Shops, Markets, and the like, it was impossible, but that they should one way or other, meet with distempered people, who conveyed the fatal Breath into them, and they brought it Home to the Families, to which they belonged.” Defoe, Daniel. A Journal of the Plague Year (p. 65). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.