/ 1 April 2008

Sector-sharing power? No — April Fool’s Day!

You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Bleary-eyed readers of the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday April 1 could be forgiven for falling for Eskom’s bold new “sector-sharing plan” to save electricity — this on a day when normal load-shedding started again in earnest.

A number of major cities were to be plunged simultaneously into darkness for six hours at a time to save power, the M&G Online reported. Apparently, a rat plague at Koeberg was to blame.

Beeld reported that evening television soap operas would be cancelled to save power. Soaps such as 7de Laan, Egoli, Binnelanders, Isidingo and Generations would all be broadcast between noon and 2pm. Between 6pm and 9pm there would be educational programmes, and so, the thinking went, less people would watch them, leading to electricity savings.

Zimbabwe’s bumbling President Robert Mugabe was also the butt of a number of jokes.

Mugabe was apparently seen “hanging around” at the official residence of South African President Thabo Mbeki on Monday night, the Times reported.

And did you know that the next Cricket World Cup would take place in Zimbabwe?

Business Day reported in a front-page article that Mugabe had announced the construction of a world-class cricket stadium. This would form the centrepiece of Zimbabwe’s bid to host the tournament in 2015.

One stand was to be named after disgraced former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje, who, according to Mugabe, was a “marvellous captain”.

Times journalist “Tres Chimurenga” (Shona for struggle) reported that he had spotted Mugabe at Mbeki’s residence. Mugabe was apparently seen grubbing around in Mbeki’s fridge. According to a witness: “Mbeki is clearly too embarrassed to entertain Mugabe at meal-time.”

April Fool’s Day around the world

Even Wikipedia got in on the act. The online encyclopedia reported that Mugabe had officially banned April 1.

He was quoted as saying: “This country has had enough of British and American customs, and if this is the last change I am able to make to Zimbabwe’s proud history, I will rest assured that the struggle against British Imperialism is one step nearer to the finish: I will not be Mr Brown’s April Fool!”

The entry was removed after midday, the traditional time to reveal April Fool’s Day jokes in the media.

Australian media indulged in some April Fool’s Day humour too, carrying hoax reports of Sydney residents’ brains shrinking due to mortgage stress and ads for “no chair” airfares.

Sydney radio station 2UE reported that the pope would conduct a special Mass for homosexuals during his visit down under in July and that the Catholic Church may enter a float in next year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said that a new Japanese restaurant was controversially offering a 10-course whale-tasting menu as an April 1 special.

Meanwhile, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website revealed that Sydney residents had smaller brains than their Melbourne counterparts because their grey matter was shrinking due to mortgage stress caused by high house prices.

Internet search firm Google announced a new feature that would allow computers to see into the future and provide headlines on share prices and sports results in advance.

Also, Richard Branson’s budget airline carrier Virgin Blue advertised “no chair fares” in which passengers would pay half the normal ticket price to stand for the duration of a domestic flight. The ads, which were run on the front page of newspapers, added that passengers would be entitled to a free calf massage for flights over two hours.

Poor Sarkozy

British newspapers drew inspiration from French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent trip state visit to London, notably joking about his height among a clutch of April Fool-style stories.

Playing on France’s reputation for sophistication and savoir-faire, the Guardian reported that Prime Minister Gordon Brown had enlisted Sarkozy’s glamorous ex-supermodel wife Carla to teach Britons how to be stylish.

“Continental good taste and sophistication should be a birthright for all, says PM,” headlined the left-leaning daily, getting in a satirical dig also at Brown’s regular promises of ever-greater rights for everyone.

The mass-market Sun daily, meanwhile, played with another aspect much commented-upon during the French first couple’s visit.

“Docs to stretch Sarkozy,” it headlined, reporting that the French president — whose heel lifts were highlighted last month, in contrast to his wife’s flat shoes — “is to have pioneering stretch surgery in a bid to make him taller.”

“The patient is stretched on a traction bed for several hours and calcium supplements are injected in the bone shafts near the joints,” it quoted a French government spokesperson, with the unusual name of Luc Bigger, as saying.

In case the reader hadn’t got the point, the newspaper helpfully provided photos and a “How it works” graphic showing a man on a torture-style bed, which apparently could add 12,5cm to Sarkozy’s height.

The president would undergo the operation at the Poisson d’Avril Medical Centre in Geneva, it said.