In denial of reality, we stuff our eye sockets and ears with toilet paper


Stuck in evening traffic in Buffalo Street, King William’s Town, I saw a car exceeding the speed limit in the opposite lane, obviously trying to dash through the red robots. I heard the double crash as the lawbreaker slammed into one legally turning vehicle and caromed into another. This obstructed the traffic behind me and thus freed space to pass the imbeciles who park in the middle of the road to chat with their pre-teen girlfriends.

But it got me thinking. Especially as the radio was covering the latest train collision and how we shouldn’t worry about the failure of our rail transport system, because nobody was fatally injured.

I was returning from four hours in a queue at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) for the sake of a three-minute consultation, which proved that nobody owed anybody anything, a consultation I have every year.

Sars is full of marshals who chivvy people about, creating the illusion that someone at Sars knows what they are doing. Meanwhile, even the faked figures at the South African Reserve Bank and Statistics South Africa no longer hide the economic depression into which Cyril Ramaphosa, Pravin Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene sank us many years ago, and all that the radio could say was that this depression would be resolved by these wise men.

The morning radio was all over the spate of pregnant teenage school pupils; that afternoon it was all over the fact that nearly four-fifths of these pupils can’t read. A specialist assured us that what we need is “quality early education”. Perhaps that specialist can tie her own shoelaces without assistance but I doubt it. A caller said that what we need is to teach everyone in African languages, so it’s clear that not only the specialists are morons on this issue.

Indeed, insofar as anybody was discussing the economic depression, the consensus from the “economists” was that this was caused by the ANC’s plans to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. Since these plans had been drawn up well after the beginning of the period when the depression overwhelmed all efforts to hide it, this was obviously false. But the “economists” and the politicians paid by the same corporate oligarchs who pay the “economists” weren’t going to allow the facts to stop them from repeating disinformation.

These are, like the education specialist, people who went to good schools and can read without much difficulty but have deliberately destroyed their intelligence and suppressed their knowledge of the real world to serve their corrupt patrons. Lots of callers agreed; everybody believes a lie if it is repeated often.

I don’t find it surprising that years of incompetent government in the service of irresponsible oligarchs has left the country in ruins. But it is disturbing that there is no attempt to comprehend what has happened, or develop any response to the crisis. It is nice to enrich Chinese billionaires by getting them to bring in hard-working Chinese labourers to build mines and factories — I’m all in favour of empowering China — but that does no good for us. The destruction of our social, political and economic institutions is mirrored in the destruction of our comprehension.

Last night I dreamed of my 20-years-dead father, sitting passively in my family house’s lounge and staring at the blank TV. He explained dully that he had plugged it in, and I realised that he was too apathetic to have it mended. Should I find a carer to look after him? 

I woke up, reached out for a comforting cat, and went back to sleep ­— only to find myself back in the same room, with a carer standing slack-faced near my father as he poked around in his empty eye-sockets with the hilt of a pool cue, but I now realise was one of those blackboard pointers my teachers used back when schooling meant attending to educators rather than staring at moving images on a tiny screen. The floor was littered with toilet paper with which he had stuffed his ears and eye-sockets.

My Freudian analyst would have made hay with that but I suspect that my father in the dream symbolised South Africa. We have allowed ourselves to be cut off from the real world, and now we have colluded in losing the capacity to make any use of any knowledge about it. We are blind and deaf and brain-dead because we want to be. Can we do anything about this? Do we want to?

Mathew Blatchford teaches at the University of Fort Hare

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Mathew Blatchford
Mathew Blatchford

Mathew Blatchford teaches at the University of Fort Hare

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