/ 15 February 2019

A ruskansie by any other name

A state-sanctioned nap can happen at any time
A state-sanctioned nap can happen at any time, not just siesta time. (David Gray/Reuters)


Countries that hug the Mediterranean, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, or those in Latin America like Brazil or Colombia, are well-known for their post-lunch kips. In Spanish-influenced countries, they’re called siestas. In Italy, locals call it riposo. On the other side of the world, in China, workers cradle their heads in their arms and sleep at their desks.

But here in South Africa, we have a different term for an often involuntary nap: it’s called load-shedding. Eskom is doing its bit to get South Africa sleeping again.

Working remotely from home in Cape Town this week, a city already known for its almost horizontal laid-back attitude, I fell victim to government-issued narcolepsy.

Just as I was readying myself to tuck into delivering hard-hitting journalism, the sandman known as Eskom visited my neighbourhood.

Being the proud procrastinator-in-chief I am, I was not prepared. I had no power banks or charged laptops. I couldn’t watch television and with the washing machine and other appliances temporarily out of commission, I had sufficient excuse to tell my wife I couldn’t do household chores.

“I can use the time to catch up on some reading,” I thought to myself. But then a yawn, and then another, and then a big yaaaaawn overpowered me. The spirit of Brian “Morpheus” Molefe had come to take me.

And what a lekker tiep it was. A revolutionary rapid eye movement. This young lion snored. Drool dripped down slowly like bad neoliberal, free-market trickle-down economics. My diaphragm pushed my belly up and down as if it was the volatile rand. Afterwards, I stretched like a South African consumer trying to make his or her salary last all the way to month-end.

The health benefits of an afternoon lala are well documented. Researchers say even a 15-minute snooze can increase cognitive performance and is better than an afternoon caffeine fix to get you through the mid-afternoon slump.

But although this is good news for mental rejuvenation, a 2015 United States National Institutes for Health research paper indicates it may not be good for your heart, because data has shown links between long afternoon naps and cardiovascular disease.

And so, like many things, the government giveth and it taketh away. Bad news for sleeping beauties like me — and the Rip van Winkles sitting in the National Assembly chamber for the State of the Nation address debate this week. Casting an eye from the media gallery over the House, several MPs were seen catching flies. Some were blatant. Head dropped back, mouth slightly agape. I could almost hear the guttural throat noises of a stifled snore.

Others were tactical. Elbow on folded knee with thumb and forefinger squeezing their glabella. That’s the piece of skin between your eyebrows. A moment of silent prayer or meditation is what we cat-nappers call it.

I don’t blame them. The debates ran on for hours and because members’ desks are made to be as comfortable as possible for hard-working legislators, a few moments to rest one’s eyes is understandable. Only to be stirred from their slumber by cries of “Order!” and applause from mostly opposition benches when one of their own finished their speech.

And whereas the bruising nine years of the Jacob Zuma presidency brought a liveliness to the national theatre of parliamentary politics, the docile days of Cyril Ramaphosa ushered in some much-needed “boring” but respectable politics. Some rest and respite from midday Cabinet reshuffles, and late-night press releases.

In Croatia’s Dalmatia region, they have a term for a midday doss. They call it fjaka. I propose South Africa expropriates the term without compensation and call it a fjakansie, a sleep holiday.