Be a doll and carry the right passport

“Every time somebody gets a brick through the window our sales go up,” said the pleasant fellow who runs the gun shop. “Last week we got so many enquiries I could hardly handle them all.”

People phoned to find out how much it would cost to buy handguns, which account for 80 percent of the shop’s sales. Biggest sellers are 9 mm parabellums and 38 special snubbies. Shotguns are making a showing in the remaining 20 percent. But not to worry, said the guy. “A lot of people bought guns in ’76 that are still in the original grease.”

Maybe the man’s business showed an increase last week because a lot of people discovered all at once that a gun is a handy tool for shooting holes in paper targets. Or maybe not. Whatever, people appear to be gazing towards far horizons again, for the first time since 1976.

People who have been saying how tough it is overseas are talking now about half a rand being better than none. “Going to the border is bad enough,” says a young man who did his military service when that meant only a year out of his life. “But nobody’s prepared to go into the townships. Nobody.” And a young woman looks round at an office full of colleagues disappearing overseas and says she’s feeling left out because she’s got nowhere to go.

“In ten years,” she says wistfully,” I hope I won’t be the only one left, visiting you with a packet of biltong.” The people who are going are not particularly committed to change, or perhaps are more committed to the physical and moral survival of their children than to the future of the country. There’s a lot to be said for people like that.

Every country, even every neighbourhood needs the undifferentiated mass, people with such sensible values as a love for their children, a desire for three meals a day, a repugnance for the concept of war. After 1976, it was every man for himself.

Now there’s a more subtle element, with peopIe whispering ” women and children first “. They’ re leaving quietly — but they’re leaving. They are leaving us with the sort of guys who phone gun, shops to check out the price of weapons when somebody gels a brick through his window — or perhaps when the SABC gives us a Government-sanctioned report on how the ANC might no longer distinguish between hard and soft targets.

But if the rand’s sorry showing Internationally won’t keep them home, nothing will, not even the lack of a suitable designation. For those who have nowhere to go, a recent ad in the New York Times carries a touch of poignancy. It was placed by a New York importer promoting his newest line: “rice paddy babies”, a version of last year’s cabbage patch dolls.

The cabbage patch creatures, you may remember, were squashed-looking baby dolls, even uglier than the ones you usually buy for infants who know no better. Each doll came complete with adoption certificate. The rice paddy dolls carry Hong Kong British passports. “We want to emigrate,” reads a balloon (in English and Chinese) attributed to one of the dolls in the ad.

“Sponsors are needed to help these babies emigrate to the US,” reads the accompanying text. “The handmade, dimpled, moon-faced babies are soft and cuddly, each bearing unique characteristics. … Sponsor (buyer) receives a foIIow-up thank you letter posted from Hong Kong.” It seems so unfair.

Maybe you’re not dimpled, moon-raced, soft or cuddly, but presumably you’ve got unique characteristics and, as a well-brought-up South African, can absolutely guarantee a thank-you letter written by hand on expensive stationery.

Clearly the guy is missing a terrific bet. Why import dolls, who probably don’t even write their own letters, when he could be importing people instead? Is it your fault you’re a person? Surely your needs are more pressing than those of knee-high dolls made in Hong Kong. After all, they’ve got another 14 years before they’ve got to handle change.

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