South Africa — Alive with Possibility. So trumpets SA Info, self-proclaimed “gateway to the nation”, and echoed by Brand South Africa, “custodian” of SA’s image. SA Tourism opts for the slightly less in-your-face “It’s Possible”, but the theme remains common.
It’s an alluring slogan. It speaks of vibrancy and vitality. It resonates with promise and hope.
So does the jerky filament lure of the Angler Fish or the enticing little wormlike fleshy protuberance on the tongue of the Alligator Snapping Turtle. Despite the millisecond reaction speeds and inescapable jaws of both creatures, they are slow, ponderous predators. Without these cunning traps, they would surely die. Evolution has endowed these marvellous predators with a way to catch their prey through incredible guile, patience and subtlety.
To brand this magnificent, picturesque and incredibly alluring country as “alive with possibility” is a clever and beguiling mimicry of nature’s resourcefulness and versatility, in which even the fatally ponderous and suicidally inept can survive. But there are times when clever slogans come perilously close to being overt government propaganda, if not outright bullshit. If it’s government propaganda, the, by definition of this country’s skewed proportional representation, it is African National Congress propaganda.
But by being deliberately obtuse and ambiguous, neither the limp-wristed Advertising Standards Authority nor South Africa’s woefully dysfunctional legal system can — or will — do anything to unmask the truth. After all, the slogan is not a lie. Nor is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
IAAF secretary-general Pierre Weiss in a wondrously muddle-headed gobbledegook statement perpetrated what is bound to go down in the annals of verbal fuck-ups. Of the ill-starred Caster Semenya, the unfortunate victim of every mishap biological, dermatological and ideological, Weiss (the splendid irony of his surname cannot go unnoticed) said: “It is clear that she is a woman, but maybe not 100%”. WTF does that mean? Does this twit mean the 800m women’s world champion is not 100% a woman, or that it is not 100% clear?
By the same linguistic idiocy, we can say that it is clear that South Africa is a democracy, “but maybe not 100%”. With the same inbred hillbilly nonchalance we can say that SA is “alive with possibility, but maybe not 100%”.
Since we seem so enamoured of “unpacking” things in this country — another clever pun on all of us who would aspire to higher standards in the developed world — let’s unpack the vocabulary so thoughtfully chosen by the wunderkinder of marketing.
There can be no denying that SA is alive. This is a nation which has won global admiration for its ability to survive the horrors of man’s inhumanity to man even up to this very day, of war-and hate-mongering a la Julius Malema and Eugene Terreblanche, of injustice and ineptitude, of crime, corruption, communism and cronyism and of racism and reverse-racism and neo-colonial-post-modernist bigotry. And still bounce back.
This is a land which has shown itself able to survive more than three-and-a-half-billion years of unimaginably tumultuous geological upheaval to produce vast riches. Indeed, consensus is that South Africa is the very origin of our species. Today it is a vast, panoramic, glorious home to unsurpassed grandeur, vast vistas and beauty that can only be seen to be fully appreciated.
This is also a country of kaleidoscopic talent, of transcendent art, music, literature and craftsmanship. So much greater the pity that a myopic, vengeful and incompetent ruling elite has succeeded in hounding an astonishing majority of exceptional minds out of South Africa.
While the “aliveness” of SA is unambiguous — despite the best efforts by extremists on the right and left of the political spectrum ably supported by a vast and untouchable criminal empire — the word “possibility” is far more vague, nondescript and deliberately ambiguous.
Oh, of course, the authors intended it to mean every positive, rose-tinted, all-forgiving, inspiring and upliftingly good thing, but history is awash in the blood of good intentions. The slogan “Arbeit macht Frei” (Labour liberates) is noble and imbued with the dignity that comes from hard and honest work. It adorned the gates to Auschwitz and numerous other Nazi extermination camps. It meant anything but what its author Lorenz Diefenbach intended in 1872. Then again, he, like our own power-addicted rulers, was a serial nationalist of the type Albert Einstein loathed and called the “measles of mankind”.
It is possible (in the sense of imaginable or conceivable) that prosperity, liberty, justice and equity could come to all South Africans. The fact that it has not only proves the long walk to freedom is paved with good intentions. Legendary singer/poet Leonard Cohen’s iconic ballad Democracy put it so eloquently: “Sail on, sail on, oh mighty ship of state, through the squalls of need, past the reefs of greed. Sail on.”
It is equally possible that fear and dread can stalk our streets and front yards, that poverty and lives of vacant hopelessness can blanket vast swathes of the land, that deceit and moral decrepitude infest the corridors of Parliament as palpably as they do those of Luthuli House, and it is possible that a country’s president can manipulate and subvert the rule of law as easily as a sprinkler salesman can find loopholes in Canadian immigration laws.
At the “fading of the light”, possibility is a scrawny skeletal “deadman walking”, his vacant eyes staring uncomprehendingly from beneath the “Arbeit macht Frei” sign. Possibility is powerless, where probability is ripped and buff. Possibility is a paper promise, where probability is money in the bank.
The fact that South Africa remains “alive with possibility” bellows its satisfaction with obscene ordinariness, loud-mouthed mediocrity and luxuriating swinelike in the squalor of the lowest standards acceptable.
Would that SA was a country alive with probability. Then we could all be proudly South African without excuses, alibis, caveats or codicils. And 100% so.