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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Go flog yourself, Jeremy Clarkson

from I Luv SA (Source: Cape Argus)

Linda Pereira and Jeremy Clarkson can go and flog themselves.

Or if that’s not logistically possible, Linda can go and choke on a plate of sardines and Jerry can knock himself out at the wheel of a Lamborghini.

In recent weeks, both have written about the myth of crime in South Africa; that we citizens are probably just a tad paranoid. And we’re giving our nation a bad name.

From where I sit – behind our Maxidor, our grid of burglar bars, in the winking light of the house alarm pad – I don’t feel paranoid.

And the only people giving our nation a bad name are the bloody-toothed marauders who steal into our yards at all hours, procuring whatever takes their fancy – including our heartbeats.

Pereira is a “tourism expert” from Portugal. She says if we don’t stop exaggerating our crime levels we are going to scare people away from the 2010 World Cup.

An online travel advisory states that crime levels in Portugal are low, but you might get pickpocketed or mugged.

Portugal’s homicide rate? 1.79 per 100 000.
Jerry, as we all know, is from England. Well, not really… he lives in the Cotswolds.

The only things that attack people there are buttercups and kebab sticks. In a recent column, he described Johannesburg as a pleasant locale filled with nurseries and koi shops.

He said the city is tranquil – “Milton Keynes with thunderstorms” – and is baffled as to why we appear to relish marketing the city as one of the most violent places in the world, particularly when we are expecting 40 000 ball-crazy tourists to flock to our shores.

He brags about how he went to Soweto and swung his camera around his head, to no ill effect. How lovely for him. He also mentions how good the wine is, how good the exchange rate is, how good the weather is. He is a tourist motoring his way through the certainty of hotel bedding, a breakfast buffet and a steak that be perfectly cooked to perfection at that Sandton bistro.

England’s murder rate? 1.37 per 100 000.
I love this country. I don’t want to live anywhere else. I’ve even been trying to test whether we are indeed paranoid. When I told friends I was going to start catching the train to work, they became concerned.

“Isn’t it dangerous?” one asked. “Don’t people stab you with bicycle spokes?” asked another. “How will you walk to the station in high heels?” another mused. But then, she is a little stupid.

Turns out the trains are safe, and the only things I have had taken from me are my sense of trepidation and a 50c piece that rolled under the seat. So far, so good. When I moved to Cape Town, people warned me not to go down to the woods today. Alone. So, of course, I did.

And I haven’t been in for a big surprise. The only thing that has assaulted me is a large mound of yellow dog poo. So far, so good. But that’s the problem – we know things are so far from good that it’s just a matter of time before something happens. And it probably won’t involve being strangled by a field of particularly yellow buttercups.

A few days ago, a neighbour was robbed. A few weeks ago, another neighbour was cleaned out – twice. Last month, a teenage girl was stabbed 48 times, her naked body left in a field. Last year, a friend was shot and killed in front of her two young daughters. And that’s just me.

All across the country, innocent people are being burnt in baths, hacked to pieces, shoved into storm drains, left for dead.

Our murder rate? 38.6 per 100 000.
Right now, it feels as though we are a troubled family being asked to put on a show for the guests.
You know the scenario: the dad’s an abusive, out-of-work alcoholic, the mum’s got a black eye and the kids haven’t eaten a square meal in weeks. But, hark! The fancy guests are arriving. So they scurry around the house, cleaning up the broken bottles, applying makeup to wounds, washing their faces and putting on clean clothes, and then assemble in the front yard with smiles on their faces to shake the hands of the important people.

Yes, we want to feel proud.  Yes, we want visitors to have a good time.

But the reality is that when you’re Jacob Zuma, with his R1 million bodyguards, or Mr Clarkson and Ms Pereira – or, for that matter, Mr and Mrs “Score-A-Goal-For-England” Hickenbottom – your experience in this country is not everyday.

Because every day here is a double-edged Okapi knife, and the only people concerned about our “paranoia” are Mr Blatter and burglar guard companies.

In the meantime, while the likes of Jerry test-drive our nation’s psyche, we have to trudge back inside to confront the sick and the blood and the broken windows.