Llewellyn Kriel
Llewellyn Kriel

Bizarro world and the problem of the parallel universes

I worry about the proliferation of multiple universes in South Africa.

There, I said it. Now I must write very quickly before those nice men in their white coats come to take me away.

Parallel Universe #1 exists between city dwellers and rural folk. Move away from the large metropolitan areas and it is as if you have been beamed up to a different planet where concerns are different, attitudes are different, and cultures, conversations and conventions and even the very fabric of the towns are different.

A recent trip to the Northern Cape highlighted this. As far as every single person I spoke to at filling stations, roadsides, farms and bank queues between Jan Kempdorp and Prieska was concerned, what was happening in Polokwane meant absolutely zero. For all intents and purposes, it may as well have been happening in Helsinki or Vladivostok or Krung Thep Maha Nakhon.

It wasn’t that those people were stupid, unsophisticated and uninformed. They live in a parallel universe that only occasionally brushes against this one. Our rulers have made themselves irrelevant out there and there are more important things than a bunch of yahoos and yobs ululating and singing about machine guns in a place they still know as Pietersburg.

Parallel Universe #2 exists between logic and the anachronistic communist/socialist paradigms. I suppose a simpler way of saying this would be to refer to Sandile Memela‘s blog and the 35-odd responses it has attracted. The words are similar, but the deductions are of the kind Monty Python parodied in the famous “Professor of logic” sketch.

This means we are constantly talking at each other. Most postings by black people (although it is not exclusively blacks) are almost impossible for me to comprehend — and I sincerely mean this in great humility.

It worries the bejabbers out of me, because the very essence of the communications subjects I taught at varsity was “to be understood”. People can only truly disagree with what they comprehend. Everything else is mere supposition and pointless he-said-she-said contradiction. From there the offshoots of slang, jargon, argot, code and semiology derive. But I’m sorry — I just don’t get it. These are the people who control my destiny and hold my fate in their hands … and I don’t understand what they are saying.

And the third clearly discernible Parallel Universe is the ideological one. I suppose it is best characterised by the unbridgeable chasms that exist between so-called cultures. Every culture has a hierarchy of norms and social mores. This is to overcome conflicts when an ethical premise — say, loyalty — finds itself at right angles with another; say, sanctity of life. The society’s historical prerogative will determine which ethical premise holds sway over the other.

Thus to the Inca loyalty to the king was far more important than self-preservation or the sanctity of life. It was nought to sacrifice your first-born if the king so decreed. This principle underpins suicide bombings. It also determines much of what we see torturing our country — the ancient black tradition that sets greater store by loyalty to friends or benefactors above social injustice. Witness Thabo Mbeki’s unflinching loyalty to Jackie Selebi and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (remember he appointed both) — irrespective of their crimes, whereas Zuma Simpson, our buffoon-playing court jester, was fired on the spot as deputy capo. There was, after all, no way a Xhosa could tolerate such shenanigans from a Zulu. Doh!

These parallel universes support the injunction by a very senior police officer who is acquainted first-hand with all the behind-the-scenes skulduggery (as good as any John Preston) at the weekend. “If you have children here in South Africa, get them out as quickly as possible!” the officer told me. “Just one more year!” I replied.

Dishonesty and duplicity are white European values that are frowned upon, but blithely tolerated in our demockracy.

The upside, of course, lies with the new generations of enlightened and forward-thinking people of all races. They’re entering high school now and, if they can survive the rigours and rubbish that pose as FET, they will leave school and enter university in 2013 and the workplace in 2016 and begin taking some real leadership in 2020 — there might just be a future for this country. Maybe that’s the democracy Cohen and I see coming “To the shores of need,
past the reefs of greed, through the squalls of hate”.

If not, will we see Skielik (which ironically means “suddenly”), Swartruggens and Umlazi and Hermanus and Ixopo and Khutsong and scores of other flashpoints be the Sarajevos that set our sub-continent ablaze? There are many, too many, highly placed and well-informed people who say that what the world expected to see in 1994 is today only school-fight-as-trigger away. And those who should be preventing a holocaust either lack the will or couldn’t give a shit. Or, the best, just deny its imminence.

The continent, of course, just bounces like a pinball from crisis to disaster to war to reconstruction and back again. This month it’s Lagos; next month Nairobi; March, say, Bamako; April, how about Addis? And so we go. It is totally naive to expect much help from there. Chindia? Yes … maybe. But as for our toyi-toyi soldiers — well, the mightiest defence force on the continent doesn’t even have a Rooivalk gunship or two to send to Darfur.

Hey, I hope these people are all wrong. I hope I am just a paranoid, frightened old white guy who has seen too much and been lied to too often and too well. I hope we can get our universes in unison. But I doubt it’s going to happen in my lifetime.