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When the vultures start to circle

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OPINION: Kimberlites joke about potholes, leaks and water shut-downs. But is that actually funny, asks Lance Fredericks.

Vultures on a tree. Picture: Free-Photos/Pixabay

THE KING’S herald bumbled into the throne room. His hair was tousled and his cheeks were pinker than usual. He knew that the monarch was not fond of receiving bad news.

“Your majesty,” he started with a trembling voice. “Sire, I fear that the famine in the land is getting worse.”

The king shifted on the throne and his ears reddened. The herald knew that he had to quench the flame of annoyance before it turned into a raging temper inferno.

“However, sire,” the herald said in a cheerful voice, “the good news is that food fights are way, way down!”

Like that poor herald, I have a huge problem with receiving and delivering bad news. Take death, for example. How do you inform a person that someone they knew – and often cared about – is no more?

Growing up, I knew a few people who simply loved being first telling others that someone had died. We called these people “angels of death”. I don’t know if they got a morbid kick out of shocking people or if it was just a desire to be number one with bad news, but you could count on them to be first and brutal, often accompanying the bad news with cringeworthy details – “he hanged himself”, “she was electrocuted in the bathtub”, “he was thrown from the car and . . .” – you probably get the point.

You could even picture in your mind’s eye how the vultures were circling around them as they moved in to shock someone.

I honestly wish there was a better way to deliver bad news.

Comedian and author Spike Milligan had what I believe is the ultimate last word to disarm the sting of death when he had a sentence chiselled into his tombstone. The epitaph reads: “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite” . . . that’s Irish for “I told you I was ill”.

I also heard of a convict about to be executed in the electric chair who, when the warden asked him if he had a last request, the convict replied: “Yes I do . . . please hold my hand.”

Dark humour is, I believe, one survival mechanism to help us wade through all the bad, painful negative things happening all around us these days. South Africans are already making jokes about fuel prices, Eskom’s load-shedding lashing and the price of oil – cooking and crude!

Kimberlites joke about potholes, pipe leaks and water shut-downs. But is that actually funny? Perhaps dark humour is best suited to attempt to lighten our moods about things that cannot be avoided. Things like death, disaster and tragedy.

Here’s why I say that. I remember palpable joy all around on the day that Nelson Mandela walked free. What a day of jubilation that was! I was teaching in Pescodia at the time, and the young people cascaded out of the school, clambered aboard flatbed trucks and bakkies as celebrating conveys moved through the streets.

I also remember – though I was relieved that at long last apartheid, something I had known all my life, was crumbling – feeling a barely noticeable but nagging concern . . . “What if we get this wrong? What if we get so caught up in the euphoria that we lose sight of what the struggle was for?”

Today I look back and remember that the celebrations were happening on solid, smooth, well-maintained roads. There were no leaking pipes. There was no raw sewage bubbling from manholes on almost every street corner. And this was Roodepan!

Now, just over 30 years later there is not much to celebrate – and not only in Pescodia; the city of Kimberley itself has disintegrated into a horrifying shadow of its former glory.

If nothing changes, and I mean soon, then the vultures will be circling and someone is going to inform someone else that Kimberley has died . . . and give the gory details of how it happened.

Unless something is done . . . but what?

Gospel singer Matthew West, in his song “Do Something” suggests a novel idea. West sings: “I woke up this morning, saw a world full of trouble now, thought, How’d we ever get so far down, and how’s it ever gonna turn around? So I turned my eyes to Heaven, I thought, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’ ”

He has a point, don’t you think? But then as the song develops, he “hears” the answer that God gives – and you don’t have to be a Christian nor religious to catch it.

In the song God answers and says, “I did, yeah . . . I created you!”

This leads the singer to ask himself and his audience: “If not us, then who?” followed by another question: “If not now, then when?”

Look, by all appearances, 32 years of evidence suggests that those attempting to run, maintain and even beautify the city have been doing a pretty poor job. There has, it seems, been a train of bumblers being paid for jobs which they have not been doing very well at all.

It would be easy (and dangerous) to whip up another batch of protests, shutdowns and civil unrest – but that has been done, and I strongly disagree with civil unrest and mass protests simply because these types of actions affect, inconvenience and harm the innocent more than the incompetent.

Elections? Nah . . . bumblers know how to fool enough people with empty promises to vote them back into their cushy jobs where they can bumble along.

So perhaps it’s time for residents – who are paying far too much for rates, water and electricity to have our city crumbling around us – to personally and constantly demand, insist and nag that bumblers do better. This applies to the bumbler in the air-conditioned office and the one dozing in a wheelbarrow for large chunks of their workday.

Someone has to call these bumblers to account and . . . if not us, then who?

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