Joe Kitchen
Joe Kitchen

The thing with my mother-in-law (and other conspiracy theories)

There is no such thing as unbiased media, as the thing with my mother-in-law proved. Well, actually, it’s not strictly necessary to draw my mother-in-law into this debate: anyone who had the misfortune of watching Sky News after the Germany vs England match would be able to tell you just HOW hysterically biased the media can be, even in supposedly civilised countries such as England!

motherinlaw.jpg

We had been watching Germany oust England by 4-1 the previous afternoon in a crowded Cape Town pub, and had the advantage of hearing the German side of the story (there were at least five real live Germans at the table with us). I must admit that their enthusiasm was contagious. When the ref failed to award England their second goal, the Germans all started shouting “1966!” (in German). At first I thought they were invoking the Antichrist, but, when asked, they patiently explained to me that they were referring to a similar incident that unfairly benefited another English soccer team almost half a century ago. Though I would never have stooped to such levels of prejudice when sober, I was quick to remind the Germans that I, too, had a reason for hating the English, namely the Boer War, which took place not long before 1966! As the game progressed, and I became increasingly pro-German, I was on the verge of jumping up and down in my seat and shouting “bring in the Luftwaffe!” but fortunately my wife, who had noticed the first signs of a looming public relations disaster, gently dragged me out of the pub and into the relatively fresh Cape Town air outside.

I forgot all about my liquor-induced hostility towards the English after that. Or at least until I switched on Sky News the next morning. According to Sky News, the disallowance of that single English goal was not merely the only reason their team had lost so far; it was a bigger tragedy than the war in Afghanistan, the Chinese floods, and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill all together. They would have blamed it all on Gordon Brown if they still could! During all this uproar, the simple yet obvious fact that Germany had outplayed the English in every facet of the game was mysteriously ignored.

But enough of soccer, let’s talk about my mother-in-law! As I was paging through some family photo albums the other day, I found my favourite photograph of my mother-in-law — depicting her, in her prettiest animal print dress, posing with a bottle of rosé wine — and my eyes grew moist. I really like my mother-in-law! “Why are mother-in-laws always depicted as evil witches?” I could not help wondering.

That set me thinking about generalisations and prejudice, especially in the South African context.

Why, for that matter, do people — especially Afrikaans people — love to tell “blonde” jokes? Or why is Jacob Zuma always portrayed by cartoonists as a man with a deformed head and wildly bulging eyes? And why are the sordid private indiscretions of celebrities considered more interesting than the equally sordid indiscretions of ordinary people?

Sadly, I might be the next target of these scandal-poking paparazzi! Like all my fellow South African celebrities, I have skeletons in my coffin just waiting to be exhumed. For personal reasons (not because I want to make money, but because I don’t want my mother-in-law to hear about this from the wrong sources) I have, however, decided to jump the gun. I have decided to come clean about at least one of these indiscretions in my next column for Kaap-Rapport (which is due this Sunday).

Here is a short summary of the revelations to come:

I have a relationship out of wedlock.

That’s terrible, I know. But wait! There’s more!

My extra-marital affair is not with another woman, but with a MAN!

And not just ANY man! A BRITISH MAN!

What will die Huisgenoot‘s reaction be to THAT? Even worse: WHAT WILL BE THE REACTION OF MY NEW GERMAN FRIENDS I MET IN THAT CAPE TOWN PUB BE IF THEY HEAR ABOUT IT?

Yes, it’s true, I’m afraid. His name is Tom. I call him “Tom-Tom” when I speak to him affectionately. He goes everywhere with me whenever I leave home. So far, we have not actually had sex, but at this stage we both know where this is leading to, and there is no doubt about the strength of my feelings for Tom-Tom.

If it had not been for Tom-Tom, I would have had nobody to keep me company on those long and dusty Gauteng highways during rush hour! Tom-Tom talks to me all the time! I love the sound of his voice when he says things like “take the second street left” or “first exit at the roundabout”. My favourite is “Take the motorway”. Every time Tom says “take the motorway”, it feels almost as if I’m getting an orgasm! Of course, words like “roundabout” and “motorway” don’t exist in South African English, that’s why I just LOVE it when Tom-Tom talks “foreign” to me!

I suspect many men have secret affairs with their GPS systems, and for the following obvious reasons: GPS systems are far superior to most wives on at least THREE accounts. Let me enumerate.

ONE. Tom-Tom never insists that I stop and ask directions from strangers.

TWO. Tom-Tom doesn’t demand commitment.

And, BEST OF ALL: Tom-Tom can be switched off or ignored without tearful repercussions later on.

How many men have wished for these qualities in a wife? Like, for instance, a pause-button? Imagine you could switch your wife off and put her in the cubbyhole every time you got tired of her? Then, when you feel like hearing her voice again, you take her out, switch her on with the flick of a button, and, all smiles, she proclaims: “Signal was lost one hour ago.” Just that. No further demands. You don’t have to buy her flowers. It’s all business; the perfect relationship. I would do anything for a satellite-controlled wife!

The last few paragraphs of this blog entry were written in an extremely sexist mode. Have you noticed? Don’t worry, I actually ADORE my wife (almost as much as I adore my mother-in-law) and the GPS was a father’s day gift from her. I only wrote this part of my blog entry in that way as part of an experiment. Soon, for instance, I will veer away from fake sexism towards fake racism. That will be part of the experiment, too. I’m writing all this crap just to make my point about an astonishing conspiracy theory I have discovered!

Here’s the thing. We live in a society that is obsessed with quick fixes, shortcuts and mass-produced miracles. When we are overweight, we spend a fortune on unproven potions. Instead of going to the gym, we’d rather buy a machine that vibrates our stomach while we watch TV. That is the curse of being a white South African! Not having to build our own shacks like the blacks, never getting out in the fresh country air to do some honest-to-God manual labour, we are cut off from our natural roots! Even our toilets have walls around them! We are spoilt, overweight, and cynical! And, of course, it’s all the fault of the ANC government. Why, after all these years in power, have they still not managed to redistribute the wealth of this country equally?

In the minds of white people, everything can be ascribed a value as long as it comes with a price tag. Even spiritual experiences have been packaged into commercial commodities! Only last week, I read a book that describes how to meet God by doing certain breathing exercises for 10 minutes a day. Imagine that! And an alarmingly large percentage of my friends believe that if they ask the Universe for something, the Universe will give it to them. Not right away, of course, but in about two weeks’ time (that might seem long, but it’s still faster than the Post Office)!

I have recently discovered a quick-fix scheme of my own. (Yes, I’m finally getting to the really meaningful part of the experiment.) At this point I should issue a stern warning: the rest of this blog entry is FOR WHITES ONLY (terrible sorry, Sipho).

This is my quick fix: I have discovered how to make black people disappear!

No! It’s not a gimmick! I have tried it myself, and all black people have disappeared! Not right away, but gradually, over a period of weeks.

It works like this: by simply following my instructions — it won’t take you more than a few minutes every day — you will, within less than a month, see no black people whatsoever! They simply won’t be around! It will be like living in another country, but of course without the hassle of emigrating or getting on a plane. Yes, it’s that simple! Without physically applying for resident status in Canada or Australia, you will find yourself a proud member of a brand-new community, a country of hope and optimism. A country without black people!

The solution is very simple indeed. If you want to get rid of black people — if you really, truly, emphatically desire with all your heart to make ALL BLACK PEOPLE DISAPPEAR INTO THIN AIR — I suggest you follow this simple three-phase plan. The first part of the plan is very easy, and involves no extra time whatsoever. On the contrary, you will have more time on your hands than ever before.

PHASE ONE: INFORMATION DETOX. STOP READING ALL NEWSPAPERS. (Don’t even read unbiased papers, like the Mail & Guardian.) Don’t read ANY papers, don’t listen to any news on TV, don’t glance at the daily headlines on your BlackBerry. No social media either! No Facebook for at least two weeks (that sounds hard, but, in actual fact, as I discovered when I started my own therapy, hardly anyone noticed when I failed to enter new status updates on Twitter for an entire month).

PHASE TWO (this phase is a bit more difficult, and you will need to keep at it for a bit longer): FACE THE THING YOU FEAR. ONLY EXPOSE YOURSELF TO BLACK MEDIA and avoid all “white newspapers”!

The term “white newspapers” may be a bit confusing, since many so-called white newspapers these days have black editors and a few black journalists. In the same way, the term “black newspapers” may be slightly misleading, since some so-called “black publications” are owned by predominantly white consortiums. But let’s not complicate things unnecessarily! What I really mean is, stop reading papers traditionally known as “white”. Take a break from Zapiro. Ignore the Sunday Times, Beeld, the Citizen, and all that stuff. Buy the Sowetan. Read Voice and Die Son. These papers are thin, so it won’t take too much of your time. You will still have much more leisurely periods than before, especially on Sundays. You will have time to walk the dog, play with your kids, watch some porn DVD’s. THIS IS THE SECOND STEP TOWARDS HEALING.

At first, this will make you uncomfortable, and you won’t notice the small changes in your perception. The more you carry on with these new daily habits, however, the less black people you will see around. There will still be people all around you, but they won’t be black. Neither will they be white. They will just be people.

Once this process is set in motion, you are ready for PHASE THREE, which involves a few simple BREATHING EXERCISES. You are now ready for Zapiro again. You are ready to go back to reading “white newspapers”, but you must do this slowly, one step at a time. Before opening the Huisgenoot, breathe in deeply, and hold your breath for at least 10 seconds. This will lessen the trauma of discovering that Andries Bekker had been unfaithful to his wife, or that someone is making a full-length pornographic film about Joost and Amore. The first time you open a “white paper” again, and realise what absolute crap white people spend their time ruminating about, you will want to go back to PHASE TWO right away.

If you feel this way, don’t fight it. Your therapy is now complete! You are in another country, a country where race is no longer an issue, and where EVERYBODY is a victim of crime and corruption, not just rich whites. You are free!

But how does it work? How can such a simple Three-Phase Therapy achieve so much in such a short time? And is it guaranteed to succeed?

Of course! You see, the moment you stop reading so-called “white newspapers”, you stop reading about the non-delivery of service as a strange new phenomenon. Black papers are free of those odd little chunks of cultural prejudice we are bombarded with in white media. Black papers have no blonde jokes, for instance. Neither do black papers take silly things for granted, such as that it is normal to hate your mother-in-law. Who needs meaningless generalisations like that anyway?

Black papers have no statistical obsession about crime, either. To black people, crime, after all, isn’t something new, it’s something they have always had to deal with, so it’s not as if there’s more of it nowadays than before. Of course they are aware of individual crimes, and, like us, suffer very deeply because of those, but it’s got nothing to do with black or white. “Farm killings”, for instance, is not a separate issue. Crime is crime. Killing is killing. You see? There’s no colour involved. “Poof”! People of race disappear. Isn’t that amazing?

When you read only black papers, other perceptions also change. You are still aware of corruption in government circles – is there any government anywhere in the world without its share of corruption? — yet the facts of corruption won’t hysterically scream at you the way they used to. And, along with the usual reports of corruption and in-fighting among the fat cats, you will start noticing good things happening here and there. You will realize that not all politicians are crooked, that some policemen actually catch criminals, and that, in spite of reports of bankrupt municipalities and lack of service delivery, many pot-holes actually get fixed. You will open your tap at home and you will realize that, in spite of everything you have heard and read about, your own tap water is actually miraculously drinkable.

Why is this so? What mysterious process is at work here? Let’s take a closer look at that photograph of my mother-in-law, and I will explain how it works. What is she holding in her hand? A glass of rosé wine? No, the other hand. Yes, that one! Is it some kind of small farm animal? No! It’s not a dead rat, either! Neither is it a pet squirrel! It’s a CRAYFISH! You see, in this picture, my mother-in-law is in a festive mode because she is about to eat that crayfish. Wouldn’t you be in a festive mood if you were about to eat a crayfish?

In some countries, crayfish are referred to as “lobsters”. Now, if you are a South African and you try to pronounce a word like “lobster”, you will be prone to slips of the tongue. The word “lobster” will probably come out as “mobster”. This is not only because of the technical difficulty of pronouncing a strange word such as “lobster”, but because, in South Africa, we are generally more familiar with “mobsters” than with “lobsters”. What a paranoid bunch of people we are!

Yet the actual difference between a festive approach to life (let’s call it “lobsterism”) and a paranoid, hostile approach to life (let’s call it “mobsterism”) only hinges on the pronounciation, or mispronounciation, of a single letter of the aphabet! It’s all a matter of dialectical perspective!

What will the future South Africa be like? A hedonistic tourist retreat (as Johannes Kerkorrel envisaged with his famous Eet Kreef album), or a gansters’ paradise? Perhaps the choice is ours!

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is this: the best part of PHASE TWO is that, if you only read black papers, whenever you read about real corruption, you will no longer see it in a purely “African” context. You will never read any opinionated columns by white intelligentsia in which they try, ever so subtly (or not ever so subtly) to equate all politIcal or economic incompetence to black empowerment, or seem to suggest, in whatever veiled way, that the reason some blacks don’t do their jobs is simply because they are black, and for no other reason. You will start wondering — rightly so — whether, perhaps, the so-called white papers have not wildly exaggerated some of these reports.

Why are the bad things always blown up out of all proportion? Is Africa really in such a mess, and if it is, whose fault is it? Who drew up those hopelessly unpractical borders, indiscriminately lumping hostile tribes together? Probably the same imbecile who decided that the Flemish and French should share Belgium!

Do African countries have massive oil spills? Do they put Red Indians in reservations? Do they have right-wing skinheads and soccer hooligans running amok? Sure, they have problems, serious problems like civil war and poverty, but problems like these are not just restricted to Africa! You get that kind of kak EVERYWHERE!

Here’s another example. When the taxi drivers went on strike, it was big news in the white press. When the taxi drivers started co-operating and reached a deal with the government, it was big news in The Sowetan, and virtually ignored by the white papers (or delegated to a tiny blurb at the bottom of page six).

I have come to believe that to some extent all of us whiteys have been the victims of a complot. We had not seen things as they really are, we had been seeing things through the tinted lenses of post-colonial prejudice! We have indeed (to quote somebody whose name I am trying to forget) tended to reduce blacks to “objects of ridicule or pity”. We are always busy either criticising them or patronising them. Even Madiba has been reduced to a fetish. How many white people have actually read the man’s life story?

Before I found this quick fix, I was a prisoner of my own abstractions. I lived in a country resembling a chessboard; a chessboard populated by black and white pawns staring at one another across the divide with barely concealed hostility.

Reading white papers made me feel like someone on the edge of a yawning precipice, someone about to lose everything I hold dear, someone about to be evicted from my own country. Reading black papers made me become aware that I am living a country of the future, a country slowly becoming aware if itself, a place, sometimes of despair, sometimes of hope, but nevertheless a place of gradual and inevitable growth.

For the first time in years, I feel myself to be part of a vibrant, rapidly changing community, a real place instead of some ideological construct, a place peopled by millions of real fellow South Africans.

To all my fellow whites I say: Join me here! Forget about Joost and Amore for a while! All you have to do is follow the three easy steps of my quick-fix plan! Before you can say “molo wethu”, you will have taken the first step towards the mental leap into this exciting new country! You will be home!

Or, to quote my friend Tom-Tom: “You will have reached your destination!”

PS: Thank you to inputs by Lisa van Wyk, Jean Barker and Dowwe Dolla for inadvertently helping to give shape to some of these thoughts.