Hate this life? Try a second one.

Does anyone remember Second Life? Is it even still a thing? I was rummaging about in the archives when I came across a piece I wrote for the Sunday Times twelve years ago. It appeared on Christmas Day.

………………..

Christmas is a time for miracles. Before the week is out, we will look back, shake our heads in wonder and say: “It’s a miracle we survived.” Personally, I am not prepared to chance it. Taking crime, taxi drivers and the aberrant nature of my family into account, the odds of not surviving are disproportionately high. I don’t have enough money to flee the country. I do, however, have plenty of time. Time which I intend spending with my new friends in my new life. My Second Life.

The godlets at Linden Labs must have taken a lot longer than six days to create this world. It’s far more complicated than the one I’m living in at the moment. I am told that once I have explored this vast digital continent teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity, I might even find a perfect piece of land on which to build my dream house. This is wonderful news. In my first life, I can barely afford the rent.

Then I discover something that sets alarm bells ringing. Millions of US dollars flow through Second Life each month. Although the virtual currency is called the Linden dollar, it can be converted to genuine American money at LindeX, the SL Linden Dollar exchange. Excuse me? I will have to spend real money? On stuff that doesn’t actually exist? This feels wrong. Very wrong. Drowning my gut instinct with a shot of whisky, I cross myself and take the plunge.

The SL website opens on a digital babe wearing a bikini top, short skirt and giant black and white wings. She is standing on the edge of a forest. Cute. Damn cute. I want to find her and take her to a Christmas party immediately.

The only thing that scares me is Second Life’s logo. It’s some sort of eye with Mayan overtones. I find it disturbing. It reminds me of the eye above the pyramid on the US dollar bill which, as everyone knows, is a secret symbol of the Illuminati.

A registration form asks me to choose a Second Life name. I am disappointed to find that I can choose only my first name. The second I must source from a variety of options. Not a good sign. Overtones of Big Brother. Hints of Stalinism. Why is my right to freedom of choice being trampled on before I have even joined their world? They also want my real birth date ‘for my own protection’ and a genuine email address. Sweat trickles down my spine.

Surnames range from Adamczyk to Zhangsun, with a whole bunch of Boomhauers, Gigamons and Obolenskys in between. You can’t be a Smith but you can be a Skinstad. Jones is out but how about Jaxxon? Or Tigerpaw? Or Demonia? Why can’t I just be me, Ben Trovato? Sadly, no Trovatos are allowed in Second Life. The closest I can come is Benjamin Trenchcoat. But it is not to be. Not only is the name unavailable, but my first name is not available with any of the surnames on the list. This means there are countless Bens waiting out there for me. It’s a depressing thought.

Then, finally, a name nobody has thought of. Joumase Troglodite. Far from perfect. I’ll probably spend most of my time spelling it to the girls that I meet. But what the hell. If I have anything in Second Life, I have time. It’s not like I’m going to get old and die. Oh, no. None of that mortality nonsense for me. I don’t care what happens to me in my first life because I will remain eternally young and virile in this brave, new world. Whoops. Get a grip.

Now I must select my doppelganger. I have 12 avatars to choose from, none of whom look remotely like me. I’m assured that I will be able to change my appearance at any time. This is good, because I choose to be some sort of half-rabbit, half-rat and I know that even the girls in Second Life would balk at opening up to a snaggle-toothed rodent.

Another form has just popped up. It wants my real name. Maybe I should legally change my name to Joumase Troglodite. That would fox them. They also want to know what country I come from. Things are bound to go horribly wrong. Why would I make it easier for them to track me down? I put Sierra Leone.

Then, instead of being plunged into a brightly coloured utopian paradise, I am encouraged to Upgrade to Premium Now! What’s this? For $6 a month, I can get land on which to build, display my creations, entertain or run my own business. In return, I will receive a one-time grant of L$1250 (that’s Linden dollars) plus a weekly allowance of L$300.

My sphincter tightens reflexively. I am sorely tempted to Skip This Step, but I hesitate. I have been in strange places with no money before and I know how ugly things can turn. I tell myself that this is not Guatemala. This is a place that doesn’t exist anywhere outside my imagination. Somehow, this makes it all the more terrifying.

Without my weekly allowance, I’ll be just another random rodent slouching down the street with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It will be a very bleak Christmas.

A payment form flashes up. Well, that’s my cover blown. I fill in my credit card details and submit. Not Authorized. No reasons given. Maybe it’s because I have provided them with two different real names. I skip back a couple of steps. Punch in my real name. Switch Sierra Leone for South Africa. I still get rejected. Already in trouble and I haven’t even tried to sell someone a fake Rolex. What kind of dysfunctional world is this where you have to tell the truth at all times?

It’s no good. I close down and start all over again, feeling increasingly like a refugee trying to get a permit to live in South Africa.

I try once again to upgrade from basic to premium, this time choosing the $9.95/month option.

Something seems to have worked. I’m told that my next bill is due on January 8, 2008. Although my account reflects a zero balance in both Linden and US dollars, I am allowed to buy 512 square metres of land. With what? Where’s my one-time grant? My weekly allowance? Where’s my vast digital continent teeming with people? I’m going to find a way to bust into this cursed world. And once I’m in, I’m going to rob a bank or mug someone. They leave me with no choice.

It takes 15 minutes to download Second Life. And there it is. Wow. I am not alone. There are 49 610 people logged in right now. At 9pm on a Saturday night. How terribly sad.

Up pops a Critical Message. Residents must treat each other with respect and ‘refrain from any hate activity which slurs a real-word individual or real-world community’. There are Behavioural Guidelines. Contravention of the Big Six will result in suspension or expulsion from the Second Life community. They don’t tell you what the Big Six are, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

As if by magic, I appear on Orientation Island where I will learn to move, communicate and modify my behaviour. A bit like a cross between a high-tech kindergarten and a reformatory.

Half a dozen avatars drift about looking just as lost and confused as me. Our names hover above our heads, making anonymity impossible. I feel exposed. Someone called Ahmadeno Camel gives me the lazy eye and saunters past. Then I walk into a rather plain-looking avatar going by the name of Esme Alsop. What’s the point of going into SL and then giving yourself a name that reminds people of the ugly girl who works upstairs in accounts? She stands there looking at me for a while. Great. That’s all I need. Cornered by Esme Alsop telling me about her operation while the other avatars fornicate and carouse all around me. I turn and walk away.

I am no longer the rodent I was when I started this tomfoolery. I am now a handsome young avatar in jeans and a black shirt. Rather nice, if you ask me. A girl with long black hair and a French-sounding name moves away before I can get close enough to talk to her. That’s the French for you.

Talking is done through a stereo headset and microphone or by typing in your comments. Conversations appear on the screen, making typing errors seem like some sort of speech defect.

I turn around to find the sublimely named Satine Odriscoll watching me. “Hey babe,” I type. “Wanna grab some egg nog?” She stares at me in silence. No response. What’s the matter with this girl?

Have you lost your hands?” I type. Still nothing. “Are you a mute?” I add. Suddenly she runs off. In tears, probably. Why do I feel so bad? That’s not even me. It’s just some stupid avatar. But part of him is me. Don’t we share a consciousness? Oh God. I feel an existential crisis coming on. Or is it metaphysical? Isn’t this meant to be fun? Why am I thinking so much?

One of the tutorials on Orientation Island involves going to the library and fetching a torch. I want a beer, not a torch. Anyway, I do as they ask and I am pleased to see that it is a torch of the flaming variety, not one of those dainty plastic orange numbers which would have made me look a bit LGBTQI.

Uh, oh. Someone called Samehabo Kanto has snuck up behind me and is clearly ogling my bum. What does she want? Why doesn’t she say something? What if it’s not even a girl? I’m not turning around. In my confusion, I somehow manage to attach three or four flaming torches to different parts of my anatomy. Everyone avoids me after that. I can almost hear them whispering, “Here comes that Torchboy freak. Run!

Bored with the tutorials, I inadvertently take off my pants. Luckily I have on a pair of white undies. This will almost certainly make my intentions a little clearer. I look around for someone to chat to, but I find myself all alone. Oh my God! Those aren’t undies! That’s my bum! I’m naked! And here comes Joss Ninetails! Don’t panic. Play it cool. Joss glances at me and carries on walking as if she comes across naked men in the street all the time. Maybe she’s from San Francisco.

Impatient to move on, I give the tutorials a miss and walk down a road that takes me to Help Island. I feel my spirits sink. Where is Christmas Party Island? Rum ‘n Coke Island? Hot Monkey Sex Island?

Then I have some sort of fit. My head shakes violently back and forth. Am I sick? How will I ever find a doctor? Fortunately the shaking stops after a while and I wander off. I walk and walk and walk and see nobody at all. Great. Lost my way. Lost my pants. But look – I can fly! I soar over the sea and back across the island looking for parties to gatecrash.

When I finally land, Disco Randt comes up to me and asks me why my pants are off. I shrug (there is a long list of gestures, including laughing and smoking) and type, “you should know – you took them off.” Disco replies, “yeah right” and hurries away without a backward glance. My first conversation! I am so excited that I have to sit down for a bit.

Help Island is proving to be no help at all. I need to teleport to the mainland where everyone is having fun. But I can’t find the teleporter. I begin to suspect one needs a degree from MIT to work it all out.

I come across a billboard warning Residents not to ‘grief’ one another. Griefing can range from shooting, bombing and pushing, to more subtle forms of intimidation. There are guns and bombs on the island? Where? I must get some at once! Girls are impressed by weapons. Okay, some are terrified, but mostly they are impressed and they will fight among themselves to chat with me. But it’s no good. I can’t find out where to get the bombs and guns. Everybody I ask walks away from me. Some of them even run.

Hello, what’s this? Someone with the unfortunate name of Bogdan Pausch drives past me and parks at the edge of a shimmering technicolour mountain. He gets out of the car and I hurry over. “Give me your car or I will shoot you,” I type. Bogdan gives a tinny laugh. No fear. Nothing. How does he know I’m not armed? Bogdan wouldn’t last a day on the streets of Johannesburg. I try to force my way into his car, but it doesn’t work. Bogdan laughs again.

I spot Joss Ninetails and chase after her. I ask her if she can help me get to the mainland. She types, ‘Hi Joumase. Follow me’. I go weak at my virtual knees and start walking after her but I’m momentarily distracted by Creij Sciarri. She has a magnificent pair of wings on her back. When I turn around, Ninetails has disappeared. Damn! She was my last chance of getting off this cursed island.

I fly out over the ocean and once I am far enough from the coast, I press the ‘stop flying’ button in the hope of putting a swift and painless end to my second life. No such luck. I just kind of float there for a bit, then fly back to the island. At least in the real world I can kill myself.

I need help getting off Help Island,” I type to no-one in particular.

Somehow I manage to teleport myself somewhere. Probably to another part of Help Island. A group of people are standing about chatting. Great. Maybe they know the way out. But from what I can pick up, they know very little about anything at all. For a moment, I think I have landed in a section reserved for retards suffering from Tourette’s. They have mouths like sewers and say LOL in every sentence. They also ignore me completely.

I am bitterly disappointed to discover that Second Life is infested with the same half-witted imbeciles who inhabit the real world. There must be reasonably smart people somewhere in this godforsaken world. But where?

Disconsolately shambling along a path leading to nowhere, I come across another enormous billboard. It features a resident with some sort of No Entry sign over his crotch. The message is: “Please Don’t Walk Around Naked.”

Nearby, a knot of people are gathered. I wander over to eavesdrop on the conversation but I can’t understand a word. It looks like Spanish. This is meant to be Second Life, not Vida Segundo.

Feliz navidad,” I write, my avatars’ hands making little typing movements. The lads stop chatting and turn to look at me. “Donde esta las senoritas?” I ask. One of them fires a burst of what looks like Catalan at me. Then they take turns laughing and walk off. “Bloody foreigners,” I type quickly, but it is too late. They are already out of range.

It’s 2am in Cape Town – 4am Second Life time. I go to bed, naked. When I wake up on Sunday morning, I find that Second Life has taken over my brain. I can think of nothing else. This can’t be good.

Dumping reality in a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor, I fire up the Acer with fresh enthusiasm. Today, I’ll buy a house. Today, I’ll find a Christmas party. Today, I’ll … hang on. Where’s my money? I’ve paid $9.95 and there’s still nothing in my account.

I have no idea where I am. Cuwynne Deerhunter walks up to me. She is well-dressed and neatly groomed. I’m glad that I have my pants on. Without wasting a moment, I type: “I am hungry. Please can I have some money to buy a loaf of bread? And maybe a house.” She calls me a loser and stalks off.

With nothing better to do, I drop by the offices of Uthango, the first South African not-for-profit company to open virtual offices in SL, to see if someone there could lend me money. Apart from me, the place is empty. Then again, it is a Sunday. I suppose they are all at home slaughtering cows or polishing their Ferraris or whatever it is that black diamonds get up to over weekends.

I teleport somewhere else and when I materialise I find that I have gone all limp. I am standing motionless, chin slumped on my chest. “Come along, off we go,” I shout, stabbing at the arrow keys. Something is wrong. In brackets behind my name is the word (Away). Away where? It’s as if something stole my brain while I was being teleported. Inexplicably, I am still able to remove my pants. I whip them off in the hope that someone will notice and come to my rescue. But nothing. I stand there for ages, rooted to the spot. To the casual observer, it must appear as if I am intently studying my willy.

Joumase Troglodite has gone away. Where or why, I cannot say. There is nothing for it but for me to go away, too. I think I’ll go to the pub on the corner where the girls are friendly and the beers are cold. Spending Christmas in the real world might not be so bad, after all.

Buy buy baby

Hark, the Christmas tills do ring. The season of giving, taking, looting, stabbing and shooting is almost upon us. The Little Drummer Boy has already driven me from at least two malls.

All you can do is laugh. You have to, otherwise you’ll cry. This is where my new book is useful.

As you know, if you’ve been paying attention, Durban Poison is available in proper bookshops like Exclusive Books and Wordsworth. Other shops might have it, too. If they don’t, burn them to the ground.

If you want your copy scribbled in, you’ll have to buy it right here on this site. Just click on the Contraband link. You wouldn’t be the first. In fact, I’m on my way to the Post Office right now to despatch the first bunch of orders. I have even provided photographic evidence in case you think I’m lying.

Stock is limited, as is my enthusiasm for continuing to pay for packaging, postage and driving to the Post Office.

Contraband

‘Durban Poison: A Collection of Vitriol and Wit’ by Ben Trovato is the funniest book I’ve read all year

The dark side of change

It’s unlikely I was the only one suffering from a minor medical emergency last Sunday. Having tried all the regular remedies – aspirin, fried food, suicide – I dragged my shattered carcass off to the shop and bought a few cans of Coke.

I don’t usually drink this filth for political reasons, which, at this point in time, are a little hazy. I think it had to do with the bottlers in Columbia hiring paramilitary thugs to murder employees caught drinking Pepsi. Or something. I don’t know why I cared. I might have been going through my social justice warrior phase before discovering it doesn’t pay very well.

On Sunday I couldn’t have cared less if Coca-Cola turned out to be the official sponsor of the Trump family. I needed to dilute the massive amount of post-World Cup beer that had caused my blood to stream about as well as Telkom Wi-Fi on a rainy night in Diepsloot. Coke can adulterate, corrode or kickstart just about anything and it was my last shot.

I ripped the can open and guzzled it right there in the shop. There was a moment when everything went quiet. Like that scene when a bomb goes off in Saving Private Ryan. Instead of being stricken with temporary deafness, like Tom Hanks, I clutched my throat and, eyes swiveling wildly in my head, retched clumsily into a conveniently placed ornamental palm. Like Gary Busey in, well, real life.

I thought I’d been poisoned. It tasted as if the paramilitaries had spiked it. Once my internal organs calmed down, I inspected the can. “Plus Coffee” it said. And, in the event that one’s hangover was affecting one’s vision, in bigger letters, “Real Coffee From Brazil”. To make absolutely sure the customer knew what was happening, there was even a picture of coffee beans on the side. I didn’t notice any of this when I bought it because nobody in their right mind pauses to check if their Coke has been contaminated with anything other than the usual cola-related toxins.

What kind of crazy person would come up with such a terrible idea? This is not the work of a normal crazy person, that’s for sure. This is off the charts. Have people built up such a tolerance that they now need a caffeine boost with their sugar?

We have all, at one time or another, been exposed to children speeding on sugar in a confined space. I have been on long-haul flights with children who were given Coke to drink. They react as if they are being electrocuted. Now imagine them having the new Coffee-Coke twenty minutes into a thirteen-hour flight. They would kick the back of your seat so violently that you’d end up with a splintered coccyx and, a month after disembarking, a kidney transplant. The runty savages would be fighting among themselves to get into the cockpit and everyone in economy class would spend the night praying for engine failure.

My point is that people should just leave good enough alone. Remember that old slogan, Coke adds life? Okay, it doesn’t if you work for a bottling plant in Bogota. But for those of us far downstream of the production line, Coke has done its job adequately.

What would happen if someone had to drink a Klippies and Coffee-Coke? I shudder to think. Actually, I’ve been shuddering for three days. I wish it would stop.

I’m not the only one who doesn’t want things tampered with. Take Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of the EFF, for instance. An educated and sensitive man, he was deeply conflicted when the Springboks won the World Cup. There are black and white players in the team, which meant he could only voice his support whenever a darkie had the ball. The moment it was passed to one of the neo-colonial, counter-revolutionary puppets of the West, he had to shout “Phansi amaBhunu!” or look away and pretend he hadn’t seen. It couldn’t have been easy for him. The final whistle must have been particularly awkward. Not everyone can make it clear that you’re cheering the black players only. You’d need a PhD in political science to pull that off.

Simultaneously angry, happy and sad, Ndlozi turned to Twitter and offered his congratulations to Siya Kolisi. The white players, he suggested, should get their congratulations from Prince Harry. The prince, who has made it abundantly clear that he has had quite enough of white people in general and his family in particular, was off drinking beer in the Boks’ changing room. Harry would have noted that Faf de Klerk, while possessing the instincts and agility of a Miniature Schnauzer, is developing a bit of a boep. Being a gentleman, he refrained from pointing and laughing.

Our benign president, Cyril Ramaphosa, is also encouraging change. He said we should do like Siya says and work together. That’s fine for Siya to say. His house is a hotbed of racial unity. Personally, I’ve only ever known blondes to be nothing but trouble. Brunettes, too. And redheads.

Comrade Ndlozi’s political doppelgänger down at the shallow end of the gene pool, Oberstfuhrer Steve Hofmeyr, offered to translate Cyril’s message. “Let the Siya injection make you numb so you don’t fight back when we grab your land from under your arse because you’re white.” Translated from the original Afrikaans, obviously.

Steve bravely left his land unguarded and went to a friend’s house to watch the final. He couldn’t watch at home because he destroyed his DStv decoder a few months ago. I can’t remember why. Perhaps because it was black.

So that’s the thing. We don’t want change in this country. Not really. If we did, we’d do like the Ecuadorians and Chileans and take to the streets in our millions and refuse to leave until someone did something to fix the economy. If Eskom started working and Jacob Zuma stopped appealing, we’d have nothing to complain about. We would be lost without our healthy sense of fear and loathing of those who look, think and talk differently to us.

#ImStaying because I can’t wait to see what Cyril doesn’t do next. I also want to feel what it’s like to live in a country that’s been accorded junk status by all three major ratings agencies. Not every nation can achieve it, you know. You have to really not work at it. So far it’s only two out of three. Hopes are pinned on Moody’s delivering the coup de grâce in three months’ time.

For now, though, let us link arms with the likes of Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, Irvin Jim and Helen Zille and go laughingly backwards into the future.

 

 

  • Don’t forget to visit the Contraband page and order your signed copy of my latest book, Durban Poison.

Get your Durban Poison here!

I promised that my new book would be available on my website and, lo, it has come to pass. Praise be.

I’m happy to devalue your copy by scribbling something in it. If you want it inscribed to someone other than yourself, supply the name in the box marked Order Notes.

There is limited stock available. Seriously. I am not just saying that to sell more books. I’m not like the others. Also, given the reputation of the Post Office, early orders are advisable unless you want to get it in time for Christmas 2020.

PDFs of my other titles are also available. Just click on Contraband.

Contraband

 

 

 

 

Boks, beer and a brand new book

Right. It’s the day after the big win and I know how you are feeling. But you’re in luck. I happen to have the perfect cure for a crushing hangover. It’s my new book, Durban Poison, and it will help tremendously in the recovery process. Laugh or die. The choice is yours.

Published by former smasher of drugs and crasher of Ferraris, Melinda Ferguson, the book has been selected by Exclusive Books for inclusion on The List. It’s also available in other bookshops and online. And as an ebook.

In the next few days you will be able to order a copy right here on this site. If you like, I’ll devalue yours by scribbling something in it. I might even get around to posting it. Coming on top of the Bok win, this really is the cherry on the koek.

What a time to be alive.

 

Durban Poison PR

https://www.iol.co.za/sunday-tribune/i-aim-for-100-words-per-beer-ben-trovato-talks-new-book-36052829

 

 

 

Officially opposed to the official opposition

So Mmusi Maimane has, with rat-like cunning, jumped ship and left his party floundering like a stranded snoek. We knew this was coming the moment he held Herman Mashaba’s hand aloft and declared the former Joburg mayor a hero for stabbing the Democratic Alliance in the ribs.

I was going to write a fresh column but I am currently having a little trouble giving a fuck.

Here’s something I wrote to the pastor eighteen months ago.

…………….

Dear Mmusi Maimane, Bleeder of the Opposition.
Congratulations on finally getting rid of your mayor in Cape Town. Patricia de Lille is extremely dangerous and I’m not saying that just because she is a woman. She was born in Beaufort West, for heaven’s sake. It was only a matter of time before she started selling crack and bludgeoning councillors with her mayoral chain.

You’ve had a rough time of it lately. There will always be barbarians banging at your gate, but more worrying is the enemy that lurks within. The old Democratic Party should never have allowed the New National Party to wheel its Trojan horse into what is now your house. Not your fault. You were fresh out of school at the time. Sometimes I forget how young you are.

You addressed a rally on Freedom Day and made the rookie mistake of suggesting that white privilege was getting in the way of ending black poverty and needed to be addressed. This might have gone down with the great unwashed, but not so much with some of the senior members of your party. By senior I obviously mean white.

Your remarks struck a jarring chord with your silver-tongued shadow minister of public enterprises, Natasha Mazzone, who held up her father as an example of why not all whites were privileged. You’ll be familiar with her tweet but here it is again, just to give you one more sleepless night. “My father arrived from Naples in Italy, he was dark, and could not speak English or Afrikaans, but he was a great chef. He built himself up from nothing to make a good life for his family.”

She has a point. I remember seeing the signs along Durban’s beachfront in the 1980s, “Whites Only – No Blacks or Italians”. It was a struggle for those Napoleons, or whatever the hell people from Naples are called. A new kid appeared in my grade eight class after the second term and didn’t seem to speak any language at all. I liked him. A couple of days later the history teacher threatened to kill him if he didn’t provide his name. It was Giovanni Aquavelva or something. The teacher excused himself and ten minutes later the alarm went off and everyone ran outside into what appeared to be some sort of police ambush. The last I saw of Giovanni he was being carried off in the jaws of an Alsatian dog. He’s probably still trying to get his matric at a school in KwaMashu.

Not being able to speak English or Afrikaans clearly counted in the Mazzone patriarch’s favour. Whoever hired him and helped him on his way to becoming a great chef must’ve mistaken him for a well-tanned mute from Margate. If word had got out that he was Italian, he would have been lucky to find work at the Soshanguve Wimpy.

There seems to be a pattern here, comrade. May I call you comrade? I know the honorific is generally reserved for active members of the league of revolutionaries, but as a white man I find it prudent to call all black people ‘comrade’. Unlike AfriForum, some of us think it a bad idea to continue hammering nails into our own coffin.

But getting back to the pattern. Most of your problems seem to be caused by women. Who among us can forget Lindiwe whats-her-name who claimed to have been human trafficked into the DA and was eventually granted asylum by Harvard University?

You also tried to muzzle your predecessor, Helen Zille, who seems to have developed either a drinking problem or a thinking problem. She does have her moments of lucidity, but then gets onto Twitter and all hell breaks loose.

Then you had Dianne Kohler Barnard sharing a Facebook post by a flaming cockwomble who suggested that life in South Africa was better under the Fuhrer PW Botha.

And Phumzile van Damme resigned as the DA’s spokesperson earlier this year to spend more time “studying” and starting a “family”, which is political code for “I can’t be around these people any more”.

So, in the end, it was De Lille’s radio interview with Eusebius whats-his-face that enabled you to sever all ties with her. “I will walk away from the DA once I have cleared my name,” she said, recklessly violating section 3.5.1.2 of the party’s code of conduct.
Big mistake. Firing her on those grounds, that is. What you should have done is gone around to her house with a baseball bat and made it clear that even if she did succeed in clearing her name, she wouldn’t be walking anywhere anytime soon. You want to leave the DA? Fine. But you’re gonna have to crawl on broken legs, baby. Get Mazzone’s people to do it. They know. Then again, Mazzone and almost everyone in your party has a lot to learn about omerta. If there’s one thing the DA could benefit from, it’s the Mafia’s code of silence. Do your people ever shut up?

Because nobody really knew why you wanted De Lille out so badly, the charge sheet was released this week. It seemed a bit limp, to be honest. I’ve been accused of way more serious stuff over the years and have never been asked to leave anything apart from a couple of pubs and one or two marriages.

People say the DA is misreading the mood of the voters. They are only half right because fifty percent of your voters are preoccupied with menstruating and menopausing and you’d be a fool to guess what kind of mood they might be in. As for the men, well, it’s hard to say. When South African men get in a mood, they don’t necessarily blame their political party and change sides. They might murder their wives and girlfriends or drag the family off to Perth, but it would take more than a palace coup in the mayoral chambers to get them to vote for the ANC.

Besides, a thundering tsunami of fresh crises and scandals will crash down on us between now and the next elections. The dogs will keep barking for as long as the caravans keep coming and going. It’s when the dogs fall silent that we need to start worrying.
Speaking of baying hounds, I see the media has begun turning on you almost en masse. I can’t understand it. You were their darling for years. It’s becoming increasingly clear that you need a big move, and the sooner the better.

I suggest you declare the DA a guerrilla movement and start wearing camouflaged battledress. Get yourself a pair of aviator sunglasses and a beret. No, not a beret. A top hat. Instead of going to the bush, you hole up in the coffee shops. There’s a fabulous steampunk outfit in central Cape Town called Truth. The baristas look like insouciant rebels who travel through time and, best of all, they’re black. It’s perfect for your headquarters. You could be the Jonas Savimbi of our time, but better dressed, more eloquent, clean-shaven, slimmer around the hips and, when things get tough, you reach not for an AK-47, but for a mug of gourmet home-roasted coffee. In no time at all, you’d win back the white voters you’ve lost in the past few weeks.

By the way, condolences on what President Ramaphosa did to you in parliament the other day. “We will be the first to defend Mmusi Maimane against those in his own party who deny racial inequality,” said the wily coyote. It was like handing a thirsty man a poisoned chalice. Ancient tactic, divide and conquer. Instead of simply sitting there looking forlorn, you should’ve leapt to your feet and told him in no uncertain terms where he could stick his Machiavellian strategies.

On the other hand, we all welcome a kind word when days are dark and friends are few.

Hello darkness, my old friend

If our capacity to believe anything hadn’t already been terminally blunted, we might find it hard to believe that load shedding is back again. Here’s a piece I wrote eight months ago. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

………………….

I was on deadline when an Eskom attack dog was unleashed on Twitter, snarling that stage 4 load shedding was imminent and anyone who had a problem could meet him outside in the parking lot. Like cancer, there is no stage 5.

Hysterical, I ran naked around my shack in the milkwoods shouting at the cat to get ready. A few hours earlier we had been subjected to stage 2, resulting in lukewarm beer for me and tepid milk for her. We were less than impressed but at least we weren’t panicking. There was still stage 3 to go.

But that didn’t happen. Proceeding directly from stage 2 to stage 4 meant that something terrible was happening. We weren’t sure what it was because Eskom won’t tell us how it’s possible to go from months and months of wallowing in electricity to having almost none at all. In the space of a few hours.

They don’t explain because they either think we are too stupid to understand or they fear that we will unite across racial and political lines and march on Megatwatt Park and burn their building to the ground. So. Stupid it is then.

The cat licked her paw and set about washing her face. She must have seen some truly appalling things in her life to be able to remain calm in the face of a stage 4 clusterfuck.

Seven minutes later the lights went out. I hadn’t even found my pants yet. The cat raised its damp paw and pointed at its mouth. I pretended not to see. “Mroww,” she said. I am semi-fluent in cat as I’m sure she is in English but we keep it to ourselves out of a mutual fear of exploitation.

I can’t see you!” I shouted. “You’re a black cat in a power failure on a moonless night in a country poised to hurl itself into a stygian abyss. Give me a break.” She yawned and fell over. It was all I could do not to follow suit.

The ill-advised advisories began oozing out like ectoplasm. “Generating units are still tripping”. So am I, bro. But you don’t see me plunging the country into chaos.

Expect defective traffic lights.” Oh, please. It would have come as a tremendous shock to get a message that all traffic lights were working.

Since this morning we have unexpectedly lost six generating units and are consequently at war with Germany.” Oops. I’m getting my chilling announcements mixed up. I sympathise with Eskom. Things go astray. I’ve lost many things over the years, including my car keys, mind and virginity. What I don’t understand is how you unexpectedly lose six generating units, which are probably bigger than, say, a Bic lighter. Perhaps they meant it literally. Everyone went on lunch and when they came back, six units were missing. People will steal anything these days. But they probably mean that the units were lost in much the same way that soldiers are unexpectedly lost in battle. A management sniper firing deadly bursts of incompetence and neglect brought them down in the prime of their lives.

Eskom should at least have the decency to erect a memorial in their honour. They gave their lives so that we could, however briefly, have light. There could be a Tomb of the Unknown Unit dedicated to all the unsung units who have sacrificed their lives since the great plundering of 2008.

Weirdly, Eskom still blames us. There’s too much pressure on the system, they whine. It’s those people in Durban. The temperature drops below 28 degrees and it’s out with the electric blankets and turbo-charged heaters, draining the national grid and forcing the rest of us to suffer horribly. Selfish bastards.

Trapped knee-deep in a treacherous quagmire of political compromise and public expectations like a deer in the headlines – I mix better martinis than metaphors – our noble president announced the other day that Eskom would be unbundled. Generation, transmission, distribution. Many of us would also like to see the utility’s top management split into three parts. Head, torso, limbs.

Ramaphosa’s plan means that bribes will in future have to be split three ways. The old days of one family and a couple of cadres getting everything are over. This is a perfect blend of capitalism and socialism and works very well in a model kakistocracy such as ours.

However, a dark cloud looms over this exciting new dispensation. It comes in the form of a man who is no friend of the ruling class. Or of cosmetic dentistry, for that matter. Irvin Jim is his name and unionising is his game.

As the lord and master of the National Union of Mineworkers, his task is to reject anything that might cost a worker his job, even if it means saving the country from ruin.

I’m not a union basher by any means. I happened to be living in London when Margaret Thatcher unleashed the cavalry on striking coal miners. I urged my fellow squatters to rise up and join me in sourcing bigger, meaner horses and riding against the mounted police. Sadly, they were incapable of rising at all. Eventually someone took the hash pipe from me and shortly afterwards I was asked to leave.

But this is different. For a start, it’s not easy to find hash in my area and although there are horses nearby, they are programmed to attack anyone who isn’t blonde, female and doesn’t drive a Range Rover.

Irvin Jim believes that the president’s plan is nothing short of a conspiracy to privatise Eskom. This would lead to a reduction in the workforce, which, in terms of size, is bigger than the Dutch army.

Jim is not a big fan of alternate energy because you only need three people and a dog to run a wind farm. When it comes to solar energy, all it takes is someone to let the cleaner in once a week to give the panels a wash. Jim should live in a country where everyone has a job for life and benefits to spare. Jim needs to move to Cambodia, which has an unemployment rate of 0.3%. This impressive accomplishment has nothing to do with the fact that the Khmer Rouge killed a third of the population. There’s something about Jim that reminds me of Pol Pot. I don’t know if it’s the bogus smile or the sheer bloody-mindedness of flying in the face of all that is right for the common good.

I say let’s put Eskom in private hands. From where I sit I can see my neighbor having a braai. He doesn’t have any friends, but nor does Eskom. The fire has gone out and he is on his knees throwing up into the swimming pool. Let him run Eskom. He couldn’t possibly do a worse job.

I’m on deadline and it’s a race against time to finish this before the beers get undrinkable and the pirated battery in my laptop loadsheds itself. Don’t talk to me about pressure on the system.

Municipal mayhem

There are few six-syllable words in the English language that fill one with more dread and loathing than the word ‘municipality’. Not in every country, obviously. It might seem hard to believe, but there are parts of the world where people don’t fall to their knees weeping or laughing when they hear the word spoken aloud.

Growing up in Durban, a career with the municipality never crossed my mind. Frankly, a career in anything never really occurred to me until fairly late in life. Back then, white people were guaranteed a position at the municipality. It’s where you went if you didn’t know what you wanted to do but your parents were threatening to put you in a wheelchair if you didn’t get a job.

I had friends who worked for the council. I didn’t think any less of them. That would have been impossible. I never understood what any of them did because my eyes glazed over the moment they began explaining. I do remember asking, “Isn’t it boring?”

Things have changed a fair bit since then. If you have a friend who works for the Durban municipality today, you are far more likely to ask, “Isn’t it dangerous?”

The other day someone tried to poison the acting mayor. This was after the actual mayor, Zandile Gumede, was suspended by the ANC. Not, as you might imagine, by her ankles from the Connaught bridge. That sort of punishment will come when the rule of law has been completely obliterated. We’re still at the gnawing-away stage.

Gumede was subsequently fired. Party members are poised to punish her further by electing her chairperson of the ANC in the eThekwini region. The Asset Forfeiture Unit raided her properties today and took a bunch of shiny new cars away.

Anyway. If I were starting out again, I would definitely want to work for the Durban municipality. When I had the chance, Sybil Hotz was mayor. I don’t remember her at all. Then again, I had just returned from two years in the army where I learnt how to kill, drink and get high. It’s surprising I could find my way home. I googled Mayor Hotz to refresh my memory. It seems she’s best known for having opened the Umgeni Bird Park.

Across the country, municipalities are struggling. Not only to lower the bar set by mayors like Gumede, but to get people to pay them for services allegedly rendered. At the end of March, ordinary people like you and, well, you, owed our 257 municipalities at least R50 billion for rates, services and traffic fines.

I don’t understand. There are municipalities, mainly in Limpopo, that, if you, as a job-seeker, respond in the affirmative to the question, “Are you or have you ever been a gangster?” will hire you on the spot. Smart, industrious individuals with a clearly defined criminal bent are highly sought after in the civil service. So why, then, are so many municipalities battling to get people to pay up?

If there’s one thing gangsters know, it’s debt recovery. They need to be given free reign to express their creativity. Employees are wasted sitting behind their desks idly committing minor fraud and whatnot. Encourage them to get out into the fresh air. Thuma mina. With a baseball bat. You might even find Discovery Health will want to include it on their rewards programme.

Nearly fifty municipalities are collecting less than half the revenue owed to them. The Treasury can’t even ascertain the rate of collection of another 24 municipalities, presumably because nobody answers the phone and there’s a rabid dog at the gate.

When I was a kid, a girl from down the road borrowed fifty cents from me. In today’s terms, that’s, like, R50 000. When the end of the week came, I went over to her house to collect on the loan. She laughed and said she’d break my arm rather than pay me back. As a compromise she offered to show me what makes girls different to boys. Best fifty cents I’ve ever spent.

But, hey. Don’t beat yourself up if you are in arrears and plan on staying there indefinitely. A man from the council will be along to do that for you. Well, he would be if I was in charge. The government itself owes municipalities R10 billion. I don’t really understand how this can happen. Aren’t they all members of the same gang? It’s like a massive money-laundering pyramid scheme run by the most disorganised crime network in the world.

Point is, it’s essential that municipalities collect the debt they are owed. Stealing is only sustainable if supply keeps pace with demand. And, man, the demand out there for free money is second to none. Municipalities go bankrupt when plundering outstrips income and bailouts. It’s basic accounting, a subject I got nine percent for in matric and which goes a long way towards explaining my current situation.

It gets more complicated. Municipalities also owe creditors R150 billion. If you live in the Free State and your local council owes you money, don’t even bother ringing the bell. A neighbour will have been paid to say they’ve all gone to a funeral. You might glimpse the twitch of a curtain as you drive away. Assuming the curtains haven’t been stolen.

Several municipalities have run out of money entirely and are in overdraft. They are, in the desperate yet eternally polite parlance of the most ignored man in public office, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, in a state of distress and close to collapse. We have all been there, mostly on a Saturday night, but, unlike municipalities, we can’t blame the sponging class or cadre deployment for our appalling behaviour.

Standing upwind from the others, awkwardly shuffling their goody two-shoes and trying not to look overly righteous, are eighteen clean municipalities. Coming as a surprise to exactly nobody, most of them are in the Western Cape. The other 239 festering councils remain curled up in the foetal position whimpering, “Go away. It wasn’t me.”

Here’s a final fun fact. Two out of three municipalities filed financial statements and performance reports so unintelligible and flawed that they might as well have been scrawled in Aramaic on Wimpy serviettes.

Invited to protest? Don’t forget to RSVP.

Ted arrived at my house at 6am on Sunday with a garbage bag full of bleeding meat and seven cases of beer. “I’m here for the braai,” he said. I explained that there was no braai, grabbed two six packs and tried to close the door. He admitted he might have got the day wrong. I pointed out that the last braai I had at my place was in 2016.

“Okay fine,” he said. “I got the year wrong.” His meat was leaking all over my front step so I let him in. The neighbours have already reported my house as a health hazard and I didn’t want any more trouble.

Also, it made no sense to spurn what appeared to be half a zebra and enough alcohol to kill three wildebeest – the perfect antidote to any Sunday. I found the braai rusting gently beneath the milkwoods. In the absence of firelighters, Ted suggested we use one of my books.

“Why don’t you join Ace Magashule’s private army?” I said. “They’re looking for people like you.” Ted seemed offended and said he might just do that. I said they wouldn’t have him, no matter how good his book-burning skills were, because he was white. He seemed to think this was an even bigger insult and threatened to take his zebra and beers and go where he was wanted.

I opened a beer in his face and pointed out that the only people who wanted him were the Durban North police. He said in that case he would stay. I said I’d choose the book while he harvested fuel from the milkwoods.

Finding a title to burn wasn’t easy. Ace’s droogs are at least clear on what needs to be destroyed. I eventually settled on the DSM-IV. Most of my readers will be familiar with this title. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has been around since 1952. Crazy people have obviously been around for a lot longer. The DSM-V came out in 2013 and the American Psychiatric Association will publish a new edition just as soon as they can work out what the hell is wrong with Donald Trump and his supporters.

Ted was delighted. He said if we couldn’t start a fire with 818 pages, we didn’t deserve to be South Africans. He came up with the inspired idea of pairing our past paramours with various chapters and then burning them chronologically. This proved too complicated so we did it alphabetically. The abrasive attention-seekers, anxious anorgasmics and antisocial alcoholics got the kindling going nicely and the milkwood was well ablaze by the time we tossed in the tyrannical sadists, unprincipled narcissists and vacillating negativists.

I must warn that this method of lighting a fire is not for the faint-hearted. It comes with an almost inevitable tendency to begin diagnosing friends and family, before eventually turning on each other. Ted accused me of suffering from things I had never even heard of, and when I tried to get the pages from him for verification, he thrust them into the fire and claimed that my subsequent attempts to club him with the braai tongs simply confirmed his diagnosis.

With the zebra crackling merrily on the fire, talk turned to politics. Ted felt that, as white people, we needed to do more to blend in. He said that thanks to the efforts of Afriforum, the Suidlanders and Steve Hofmeyr, we were making ourselves about as welcome as mongooses at a cobra convention.

One of the reasons white people stand out is because they aren’t protesting. It’s an age-old African tradition to take to the streets. Not only is it the only way to get on CNN, but it keeps you warm and is tremendous fun. Okay, getting a rubber bullet in the face isn’t much of a laugh, but think of the camaraderie! The singing! The dancing! White people have to be one drink shy of a stomach pump before they are confident enough to sing and dance in public.

When it comes to protest songs, linking arms and singing Sugar Man comes a poor second to toyi-toying to Dubula iBhunu.

Ted said that finding the time to protest is half the problem. Thanks to unemployment, it’s easy to put together a flash mob of several thousand darkies at pretty much any time of day or night. But whiteys have jobs and children who constantly need ferrying to and from a multitude of activities aimed at helping them to one day become well-rounded expats.

“We’d be quite good at burning stuff,” said Ted. “We wouldn’t even need the book of madness. Tyres burn just as well.” Perhaps. But there are standards to maintain. For instance, white people wouldn’t want to burn just any old tyre. They would have to be imported Michelin all-weather radials or lightly used Pirellis at a push. Perhaps Tiger Wheel & Tyres would be prepared to sponsor us. The tyres would obviously have to be delivered to the scene of the protest.

“We would also be okay at throwing things,” I said. Ted agreed, saying white people were brilliant at throwing soirees. I opened a fresh beer in his face and explained that I was talking about things like rocks and petrol bombs.

This would open the way for interesting new business opportunities. Projectiles-R-Us could offer a range of bespoke items from mosaic-studded hemp bricks to recycled glass containers pre-filled with eco-friendly biofuel.

The revolution would become an aspirational one, with the more marginalised folk striving to afford the expensive hand-crafted weaponry being used by their white counterparts. Demonstrations would also become regulated, with protestors being given a number and asked to wait their turn. When their number is called, they step forward, throw their custom-made object at the enemy and return to the back of the queue for a well-deserved glass of chardonnay.

“Who are the enemy?” Ted asked. I gave him the lazy eye. “Don’t you mean who is the enemy?” And that’s all it took. He called me a filthy pedant so I stabbed him in the leg with a half-chewed rib. He retaliated by taking his trousers off and throwing them into the fire. White people really don’t know how to fight. He is going to have to up his game if he hopes to take to the streets. We all are.

The importance of beeing

A group of planet-hugging social justice vegan warriors has declared bees The Most Important Living Species On Earth. You say important, I say arrogant. I booked this table, not you. I don’t care that you are a honey bee. Show a little self-restraint. Now you want some of my beer? Please. Help yourself. I will use my superior skills to swat you away. Oh, look. You have deployed your magical powers to call for reinforcements. The Floyd Shivambu brigade has arrived. Full of aggression but no follow-through. You are nothing but … argh! Bastard! See now? For no good reason at all, you jabbed your pointy little bum into my neck and are currently on the floor dying from massive abdominal trauma.

Bit of a design flaw there, old mate. You’d think your kind might have learnt by now not to go about attacking things seven million times your size. On the other hand, I suppose you’re not to know which of us will go into anaphylactic shock. Fortunately, I’m not allergic. Having difficulty swallowing would seriously impede my ability to write.

Not only has the bee been accorded the rank of emperor of all creatures, but it has also been described as the ultimate pollinator. I think everyone needs to calm down. For a start, I am the ultimate pollinator. I need only make eye contact with a woman for her to fall pregnant.

Bees only care about one thing – nectar. It’s like bee cocaine. It is not uncommon for them to have trouble with the sweet stuff and for all we know there are rehab facilities within the bigger urban hives.

They suck up nectar like Ace Magashule sucks up other people’s money and store it in their stomachs until they get the chance to pass it on to another bee. I don’t know how they do this but I imagine it’s pretty disgusting. At some point it turns into honey. Or so they say.

Here’s the thing, though. In spite of having received the award for Most Valued Insect, these capricious little assholes aren’t consciously trying to help the planet. I doubt they even care much for the environment. All this pollinating is done by accident. If they knew that they were saving humankind from extinction, they’d probably stop. Bees are fickle like that.

As far as I can make out, after bringing the queen a cup of tea and honey on toast in the morning, the girls head out to collect nectar. They also like to get a bit of pollen on their legs because it makes them look sexy. Pollen is bee leggings. You don’t want to be that bee who doesn’t have pollen on her legs.

The queen also fancies a bit of pollen now and again. Pollen is apparently protein. When a bee returns to the palace, she stuffs the pollen into an awaiting cell. I was once stuffed into an awaiting cell and it wasn’t very pleasant.

Thing is, we don’t really care about the queen’s pollen habit. All we want is for the bees to keep transferring pollen from male flowers to female flowers. And, obviously, make sure that Woolies never runs out of honey. Bees are nothing but airborne sex workers spreading flower love wherever they go.

“Ooh yes, Miss Bee! Rub your polleny legs against my quivering stigma! Where’s it from this time?”

“Mr Marigold on the corner, Miss Primula. Had a big anther on him, too.”

Some time later, Miss Primula produces seeds or fruit with no unpleasant consequences for Mr Marigold, who continues to fertilise the local blossoms with help from the world’s smallest mobile sperm bank.

You might have noticed that I refer to the nectar-gatherers and pollen-wearers in the feminine. This is because all worker bees are girls. Boy bees are known as drones. They don’t have stingers and prefer to stay at home servicing the queen.

As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, the point is that all this pollination is done inadvertently. If I had to discover a cure for cancer while mixing the contents of my stomach with the neighbour’s rose bush on a Friday night, would I be heralded as The Most Important Living Human On Earth? Of course not. I’d be abducted by masked men hired by a company that makes chemotherapy drugs and disappear without trace.

What I’m trying to get at is that bees might not, in fact, deserve the apex award. Pollen is the real hero, here. But we can’t give pollen VIP status because there’d be complaints from the fragile tissue-clutchers who are unable to spend more than ten minutes outdoors without sneezing themselves into a coma.

Did you know that more than 25 million Americans are allergic to pollen? This pales into insignificance when you consider that three billion people are allergic to Americans.

Bees are dying out faster than the public protector’s chances of winning a case. Some blame pesticides and deforestation but I reckon there’s a good chance they are offing themselves. The females have had it with doing all the stinging and gathering and the lads can’t face another night of shagging a massively overweight queen.

The only reason we want to protect bees is because we’re lazy. Let them do the heavy lifting. We don’t even have to pay them. But if there were no bees, we’d find a work-around. Scientists recently 3D-printed a working heart and babies will soon be grown in artificial wombs. I’m sure we could find a way to encourage the shrubbery to have sex without the help of miniature flying assassins.

You know who really deserves the title? Chameleons, that’s who. They come in a range of colours, know how to move to a reggae beat and would never dream of hurting you.