Tony Grant
Tony Grant

Stealing chickens

Professor Steven Friedman, sir, I write in response to your blog entitled “Eskom, Zuma and some people’s nightmares“. As a white South African, I am greatly disturbed by you (a professor) casually calling disgruntled white South Africans “racists”.

Please allow me a little story to illustrate part of my point: I once met a lovely old Xhosa man, Innocent, who resided just a few kilometres outside Lusikisiki in the Transkei. He taught me how to steal chickens in seven easy steps. It’s quite simple, really; you just have to be really careful, and clever in a classically pathetic, African, conniving sort of way because chickens, when disturbed, can make a hell of a noise — and people too.

First step: Innocent’s particular technique was to smoke some really strong dagga before commencing this enterprise. This was done by mixing it up with Boxer pipe tobacco and then rolling it in newspaper. Smoking this makes one incredibly relaxed, lazy and what some might call pathetic. However, there is a part of the mind that “opens up”, for lack of a better phrase, and as a result makes the user cleverer than the rest of the people (and even the dogs) around. Innocent instructed me that this was the best mindset to occupy when approaching this kind of “work”.

Second step: You’ve got to be familiar with the dogs and the people, and if they are around (and they don’t own the chickens), buy them off — in the Transkei, with a piece of bread or a half-jack, respectively.

Third step: You’ve got to sneak up on them (the chickens) really gently. This particular method works only at night when the chickens are sleeping.

The fourth step of the exercise (this is while you’re crouched right next to a chicken perching, usually, on a stick) is a sleight-of-hand trick that requires both of your index fingers. Did you know that if you tap a sleeping chicken on its claw, it lifts its claw and then puts it back on its perch without waking up? It’s a similar response to a knee-jerk reaction in humans. So what you do is tap the chicken on its claw. The chicken lifts its claw and puts it down again — except your index finger is where the perch used to be (the chicken is sleeping and doesn’t know the difference). You then do the same to its other claw with your other index finger.

Fifth step: You promptly pick up the chicken, which is perched on your fingers, and bugger off as quickly and quietly as possible.

Sixth step: Get rid of the evidence by cooking and eating the chicken as quickly as possible.

Seventh step: Deny any accusations that may find their way to your door.

Eighth step: If you cannot successfully rid yourself of those accusations, blame other people around you.

I’m telling you this story, Professor, because its picture of Africa is a real one. This picture was for me a strong contrast to the picture of the Africa that I had experienced through most of my childhood: white government schools, visiting aunties for tea in china cups, Pick n Pay, cricket games on well-manicured pitches, whites-only beaches, SADF … I’ve conveyed the idea of it all being “very organised”, I hope.

The Transkei picture, however, was completely different: it decidedly lacked any kind of organisation at all — a slower pace, pathos, laziness, but also a beautiful, childlike incompetence … to which I am not necessarily opposed.

As a child I had it drummed into my head from various sources of authority (and I quote) that “k*fs are lazy, and that they would rather steal than work”. Now, as an adult, well, I do read the newspapers (a ridiculously long list of corruption trials involving leaders — I don’t need to mention the names; all kinds of complaints about service delivery; leaders being caught driving drunk; a president who refuses to communicate with his own people; an upcoming president whose favourite song is Bring Me My Machine Gun; Zimbabwe). Well, honestly, Professor, what would you have me think?

And if I were a racist, I certainly wouldn’t need those “Zuma succession” and “Eskom” headlines in trying to justify my beliefs.

The chicken-stealing episode of my life actually had very much prepared me for the acceptance of a new South Africa; it gave me some idea of where we were going. It made me realise that the minority white society was going to have to absorb a majority black society, and that that would include some people like Innocent. It also gave me a perspective on living here 13 years later, and having some such people in leadership positions.

Just before I left the “Skie”, though, as it is known to some whiteys who have travelled it, I asked Innocent a philosophical question: “What would happen if the chickens ever woke up while we were busy with them?” That, during all those beautiful, star-lit nights, was my greatest concern.

Innocent’s answer was something like this: “Chickens may make a noise, but they still can’t talk. Don’t worry about the noise; nobody listens to chickens!”

I doubt that the two stories mentioned above (Zuma and Eskom) would even make a tiny little dent on the psyche of the average racist (and I bet I know more racists than you do, sir). I am, however, myself not a racist (note the chicken story: how could I be?), but I’ve stopped sweating the big stuff, which has subsequently become the small stuff, because that way I can be happy, and I like being happy.

I don’t know who the racists are with whom you had dinner, Professor, as you don’t mention their names. However, I have not witnessed the white people with whom I have dinner moaning about black people as such; I have only seen them, on occasion, laughing at black people (maybe with a dry sense of humour), at that beautiful, child-like incompetence (its evidence will be found in the headlines of most local newspapers) that is part of the character of Africa — a part of Africa’s people; a part of the Africa that we all love! (And black people have been doing many funny things lately, have you noticed?)

White people are different to black people. I’m not talking about the so-called “scientific results” received from measuring the heads of different races, like they did in those early schools of European psychology. I’m not talking about the colours of our skins. I’m saying that although we are all South African (black and white) we have very different cultural histories, so why can’t I laugh at black people and why can’t they laugh at me?

I personally find the Chinese and the Australians very funny too. Does that make me a racist and a xenophobe? I find women funny; does that make me sexist? I find gay people funny; does that make me homophobic? If I burst out in a holy fit and screamed at the top of my voice, “Oh Jesus!” — would I then be anti-Semitic?

The part of your commentary, Professor, that disturbs me is that you casually describe the white people around the “suburban dinner tables” as “racists”. Well, maybe I’m a casual racist, a casual sexist, casually homophobic and casually xenophobic. I do, though, need to live in defence of myself. And if the whites on the talk radio station were losing their tempers, well, people do that. Thank God we’re a passionate nation.

My point is that to go around calling people racists is not nice, and I think that is what caused the storm in the teacup.

I love Africa; all of Africa. I’m prepared to take the good with the bad: the crime, the corruption and so on … and I just feel that’s the way it will always be (in my lifetime, anyway). Let’s call a spade a spade. Let me laugh, and let me get angry.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments, love is not love which alteration finds …” said William Shakespeare.

I can’t love Africa any other way. I can’t love it for what I might wish it was. I can only love it for what it actually is. It’s like being in love with a woman who is an alcoholic: sometimes we just need to accept imperfections. Whether Innocent is stealing chickens in Lusikisiki or some hot-shot politician is stealing public money in Pretoria, I’ve honestly reached the point where I’m struggling to give a damn. Many white people are reacting like that now, I’ve noticed. It’s all just gotten too much. It’s a joke. I’d rather think about what I’m having for dinner.

It seems to me that you’ve caused a lot of noise in the chicken coop. (Even this casual chicken has reacted.) But then again, as Innocent says, chickens can’t talk. I’m just a bit worried, though, that someone may read your immediate associations between whites and racists, and think me a racist because I’m white. I’m not a racist; I’m a casual racist. There’s a difference!

Anyway, this is my point: it’s the fault of the Jews and the Indians who work at Eskom. They are in cahoots (you know what they’re like), and are stealing the power, planning to use it against the Palestinians and the Pakistanis. Their intention is to liberate the entire Middle East from Cape Town to Cairo. No one knows this because they all look alike and that’s confusing, but I can see right through the filthy bastards …

Thanks for your time.