William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Mad dog lawmakers and Englishmen go out in the midday sun

The infantalisation of society continues apace. Instead of instilling a modicum of common sense and self-responsibility, most governments find it far less onerous to just swaddle their citizens in cotton wool and park them in front of the TV.

This week the South African government tabled draft legislation to make it illegal for school tuck shops to sell sweets and cool drinks to the kids during break. Of course, what the government should be concentrating on instead is ensuring that kids are not arriving at school hungry, that they are not being sexually abused at school, that they are not smoking tik behind the loos and that they get enough basic education to know what a balanced diet is.

But to start with, that means a functioning school meals system. That is, a system that everywhere provides wholesome meals rather than the often intermittent deliveries of stale bread that occur because corrupt tenderpreneurs – appointed on the basis of blood or political ties – are literally stealing the food out of the mouths of our children.

It means, also, a dedicated, competent and committed teaching corps. It means tender systems that are not compromised and corrupt. It means police and prosecution authorities that don’t answer to political masters that are able to influence their actions.

And critically, it means putting the emphasis on the hard graft of making processes work, rather than just sitting on one’s backside in Parliament, decreeing Utopia. This is difficult for legislators, who confuse simply passing laws with actually making a positive difference.

The tuck shop legislation will no doubt be passed, to join all the other ‘benchmarked’ legislation that is often inappropriate to a developing nation, whose priorities are inherently different from those of the developed world. A telling example is the intention to ban alcohol companies from sponsoring sport in any shape or form.

Laudable and understandable for a European or North American nation but in South Africa these sponsorships make a huge difference to the development programmes and sporting academies that they fund in townships and rural areas – initiatives that the government is unable to provide. These not only give disadvantaged youngsters a recreational outlet that emphasises teamwork and self-discipline but make possible the dream of becoming a professional sportsperson.

Once these sponsorships, mostly provided by beer manufacturers, are banned, what is more likely? That these bored-out-of-their-minds youngsters will foreswear alcohol? Or that they will alleviate the tedium of their lives with ample amounts of cheap dooswyn and some heavy breathing over the paint-thinners container?

Governments want dutiful citizens who are psychologically dependent on Big Brother. One only has to look at the Western nations to see how an insidious process of nanny-knows-best can undermine the ability of individuals and institutions to think for themselves on even mundane matters.

This week, the government agency Public Health England hogged the British headlines with an ‘urgent warning’ for people to stay indoors because of an imminent crisis affecting ‘much of the country’. Hospitals and care facilities were put on alert for an increase in admissions, and social services were put on standby to contact the ill and vulnerable.

No, not the threat of nuclear holocaust. This ‘level two’ alert was triggered by the possibility of a two-day heatwave, during which temperatures were predicted to reach between 28C-32C, dropping to 15C at night. This, warned The Telegraph, would be ‘hotter than Barbados’.

Britons were told to turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment ‘to avoid generating excess heat’ and ‘to wear a hat or light scarf if venturing outdoors’. They should ‘keep curtains closed, move to a cooler room to sleep, and should eat salad, drink plenty of water and avoid extreme physical exertion’. Schools were told ‘to monitor overweight children’.

Public Health England said it was ‘particularly concerned’ about Muslims fasting for Ramadan. It forgets that for centuries Muslims have coped with weather a tad more challenging than a 28C ‘heatwave’.

So what was the reaction from the doughty nation that once stood braced behind Winston Churchill’s defiance of ‘blood, sweat and tears’, ‘to fight on the beaches, in the fields and on the streets … never to surrender’.

Well, apparently the Met Office got a lot of stick from confused citizens because of giving in some areas both heatwave AND downpour warnings. Forecasters had to explain that the two weather events were ‘not mutually exclusive’.

What? It’s possible for a really hot day to be followed by a thunderstorm? That’s just not fair. The government should pass a law.

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