Nation of curtain twitchers

Yeast shortages. Toilet-paper hoarding. Mixed mask messaging. Daily workouts. Bread-baking. There’s no shortage of annoyances to get us through the lockdown until the proposed end date of April 16.

Now that we are in the second week of lockdown, South Africans seem to be taking their unwritten civic duty of snitching very seriously. The emergency protocol has brought out some of the best and worst in our society and one thing is for certain — we are a nation of curtain-twitching snitches, the watchmen of the apocalypse, lurking behind our drapes, studying the road for people.

Journalist Nickolaus Bauer received praise and scorn online for posting a video of a man jogging down a street in Sandton. One Twitter user commented, “Nick missed out on being a prefect at school and it shows.”

“Bly innie vokken huis” has become a common refrain among South Africans. Another video implores a man running to heed what “Oom Cyril” said. 

A newly married couple put paid to the phrase ball-and-chain recently when, soon after their nuptials, they were whisked away to spend their wedding night in the company of the South African Police Service.

We aren’t an anomaly, mind you. Those grasses on that little island monarchy appear to be rising to their murine potential. Since lockdown measures went into effect in the United Kingdom on March 23, police stations have been inundated with calls from curtain twitchers denouncing fellow citizens for the offence of excessive public outings.

One man had to be told to stop calling the police because his wife was being annoying and quizzing the local constabulary on when she could return to work. A deluge of complaints that include reporting people for twice-a-day jogs or frequent and unnecessary trips to the shops has been such that one police commissioner felt obliged to go on the BBC and urge citizens to stop ratting each other out.

 Other ‘spies’ have reported stockpiling. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Britons were initially encouraged to tattle on neighbours suspected of breaching the  lockdown rules. In response to the surge in calls to the non-emergency 101 number since Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the lockdown a number of police stations created hotlines and online portals where concerned citizens could submit tip-offs, The Telegraph reported.

In Yeoville, Johannesburg, the community policing forum has taken it upon itself to lay down the emergency regulations and protect residents. Forum chairperson Joseph Dube and a team of 20 are bridging the gap between the cops and citizens to ensure “we don’t have police coming in with their rubber bullets, shooting”.

Unlike lockdowns in other countries, which appear less stringent in comparison, ours has seen numerous “quarantine shaming” videos and posts on social media.

Having successfully managed to sink into relative obscurity after another assault charge, former deputy minister of higher education and training Mduduzi Manana, with assistance from Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, snitched on themselves. A picture posted to Instagram, which appears to have since been deleted, Manana and his family sit down for a meal with the minister. Ndabeni-Abrahams has since apologised and has been put on special leave.

New Zealand’s health minister, David Clark, was demoted by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after he broke lockdown rules when he went for a mountain bike ride 2km from his home and then drove his family to a beach 20km away. He offered his resignation and apologised, saying it showed poor judgment. Ardern said that under normal circumstances he would be fired. 

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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