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Abased by the Alice-bandit


It’s never easy to take criticism; believe me I know this all too well. I don’t take reproval well. And yes, the irony is not lost on me that I make a point of criticising others in my columns.

Image: mediamonk/Pixabay

“YOUR room is a mess! Why is it so untidy?”

My five-year-old former niece – I disowned her after this exchange – was never one for beating about the bush. She calls it as she sees it.

It’s never easy to take criticism; believe me I know this all too well. I don’t take reproval well. And yes, the irony is not lost on me that I make a point of criticising others in my columns.

“Ag man, the water has been off all weekend,” I tried to explain to the judgy fault-finder wearing the unicorn Alice-band. I wanted her to realise that, as an adult, I had a lot on my plate – a full-time job, family commitments and various chores around the home most days.

The five-year-old just brushed off my weak protests.

“Why don’t you get a few baskets,” she asked, eyes darting around my cluttered room. “Then you put all your books in one basket, and you can put your medicines in another basket and your body sprays and creams in another one!”

The urge to slap the unicorn Alice-band off this Alice-bandit’s head was strong, but a quote by Ralph Waldo Emmerson helped me restrain my violent instincts. Emmerson wrote, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted”.

That Sunday night, a tormented soul stood alone in his room looking around at the mess wondering how he could have allowed it to get into such a state. I had been so busy, so preoccupied with what I considered ‘urgent’ that I had not taken time to get important, the fundamental, things done.

The Alice-bandit’s critique came to mind last week when a long-time friend was in the city. I learned of her visit when I received a text message on Saturday evening: “What happened to Kimberley?”

I tried to fill her in on what Kimberlites have been struggling against as best I could. Her response? “It’s terrible … Is this what transformation looks like?”

But then, refreshingly, like the Alice-bandit suggested I get my crap into baskets, my old school pal also offered her two cents worth. “Something huge needs to happen,” she texted. “People will never stop this behaviour (letting a city go to ruin) as long as they can get away with it,” she added. “Could enough people vote for the other guy that actually delivers,” she asked.

One has to understand, my friend had grown up in a different Kimberley, a beautiful city and she was shocked at how it had collapsed. She was throwing out possible solutions because, like an uncle who allowed his room to get into a mess because he was preoccupied with ‘other things’, maybe she felt that the people able to DO something in this city had drifted off somehow.

And do our leaders ever have a tendency to drift off?

For example, recently there was a lot of heat over the fact that in the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture’s (DSAC) annual performance plan, they suggested erecting a ‘national monumental flag’ with a flagpole that will be more than 100m high.

In a statement, the department motivated why this was a good plan: “The flag is the symbol of nationhood and common identity of the people in a particular country. The flag, as the brand image of the country, needs to be highly recognised by the citizens. Rendering a national flag as a monument of democracy goes a long way in making it highly recognised by the citizens.” Adding, “This has a potential to unite people as it becomes a symbol of unity and common identity. The project is envisaged to contribute towards nation-building and social cohesion.”

DSAC Minister Nathi Mthethwa tried to show how beneficial the flag monument would be, explaining that the construction of the flag would help the steel industry because of the length of the pole.

Meanwhile, in the DSAC performance plan the department announced its intention to speed up “the transformation of the naming landscape in the country”.

Obviously someone seems to believe that renaming a donkey can change it into a Ducati.

The DSAC statement reads, “The pace with which the transformation of the naming landscape is progressing is very slow given the number of names of towns and cities that still reflect South Africa’s colonial and apartheid heritage. The increase in awareness campaigns will assist South Africans and encourage local communities to be actively involved in the process of transforming our naming landscape.”

Could I make an Alice-bandit suggestion, knowing full well that I may be out of my depth?

Why do people with authority and clout see the need to rename a country that is crumbling? Why build a flag to proudly wave over struggling artists? Would it not be better to put things in order before we spend ludicrous amounts of cash on frivolous flights of fancy?

In my mind’s eye, I picture the Alice-bandit – a tenth of my age – making suggestions to me … someone with education, experience and connections. And I realise that she – despite having half a Grade R education, just over 1,825 days’ of life experience and practically no powerful allies – was right.

So, to the folk that I regularly lambaste in my humble, simply written weekly columns, a quote from wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill, who wrote: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.”

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