Jeremy Gordin asks why anyone would want to depart Joburg's fair shores
I was standing on the stairs of the Great Hall at Wits University - where I am employed, though "employed" is too serious a word for all the fun I have - trying to interview a group of 142 students holding a small protest about a proposed hike in their tuition fees.
It was quite difficult because the SAPS were firing (if that's the correct verb) a water cannon from the left and the people to whom I was trying to talk were, on my right, screaming, shouting and jumping about, especially the fat ones with large mammalian protuberances - no sex tests required there, thank heavens.
But, still, they were clearly thoughtful young people (or is that an oxymoron?) - they were the vanguard of the youth at a leading institution of higher learning - and I am certain they were all savvy technologically (all people under 25 seem to be).
"What the hell is wrong with this university?" screamed one of the students into my right ear (rhetorically, I believe).
"Don't they know that tertiary education is a right not a privilege? It was made a right for us by the leaders of our national revolution - OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Tito Mboweni and Ronald Suresh Roberts.
"I wish Blade Nzimande, the minister of higher education, would come here in his big, revolutionary beemer and sort out these f***ing capitalists on behalf of the maaaases," he added.
I was of course very interested in what the young man was saying. But I had other fish to fry.
If they, the students, won a green card entitling them to live in the US, would they take it, I wanted to know.
"Nah, I hear it's crap there in the US, and you can't get a visa anyway," answered one of the students, "but I have been trying, ever since I finished school, to get to London."
Of the remaining 141 students, 90 percent said they wanted to take a gap year in London and 93 percent said they had friends who had done so. But they were not interested in emigration.
One explained it thus: "I read somewhere that Julius Malema has never been overseas and that he certainly would not consider living there. So why should I? You know, don't you, that we have the best constitution in the world and that the capital of the world is Polokwane not New York, London or Paris?"
I think the last question was also rhetorical.
I was trying to do these interviews at a difficult time in our history: yesterday.
Yesterday (and during the preceding days) was a time when, according to our sports minister, Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile (no relation to the oke who occasionally commentates on rugby with Naas Botha), a third world war was imminent; leading thinker and commentator, Denis Beckett, was agitating to throw open Parkview (the suburb where I also live) to people of other colours [thought we'd done that already? didn't I see Justice Malala skulking around Zoo Lake the other late afternoon? - ed.]; and the aforementioned Malema had apparently applied for the job of vice-chancellor of Wits.
Much more seriously, it transpired that 142 of our leading talking heads had sent this classic arse-creeper of a letter to the charge d'affaires of Canada in South Africa, the unfortunately-named Mr White. I don't mean they were attempting to creep up the rectum of Mr Whitey - perish the thought - but up the two-cheeked single-arse of the ANC and the government.
The 142 signatories included Melissa Steyn, Intercultural and Diversity Studies, University of Cape Town; Max Price, Vice-Chancellor, UCT; Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor, University of the Free State; Thandi Sidzumo-Mazibuko, Acting Vice Principal, UNISA; Crain Soudien, Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UCT; Adam Habib, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Johannesburg; and, Arnold van Zyl, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Stellenbosch.
One signatory was called Ashly Dorkin - of, of course, Diversity Studies, at the University of Cape Town.
As far as I can tell, they're all a bunch of dorkins.
Anyway, these dorkins wrote to complain that ol' what's-his name - oh yeah, Brandon Huntley - had gotten asylum in Canada. This group of PCs (political correcties - all, to a person, squeaky-clean) just couldn't deal with the concept that someone might not want to live here. It's a direct kick in the (metaphorical) balls of everything they believe in, or think they believe in, or keep telling themselves they believe in. Traitor! Blasphemer! Reprobate!
But they couldn't say that. Instead, they protested that "it is simply untrue that white people are being targeted disproportionately. Black South Africans are much more likely to be victims of crime, largely because they are less able to afford the protections and security measures which most white South Africans, as still privileged citizens, are able to acquire."
That this bunch - including, as I have said, the likes of Jonathan Jansen and assorted other goody-goodies - did some arse-creeping was not at all surprising.
But - what ho! - it looks as though our intemellectuals might have got their facts wrong. Even worse: looks like they might not have checked any facts.
Let the learned editor of Politicsweb, James Myburgh, tell the story in his own words: "Thus all these [‘victims of crime'] surveys show that, over the past decade, white (and latterly Indian) South Africans have been ‘much more likely to be victims of crime' than black South Africans. It is possible that there are other surveys out there which contradict the findings above. Politicsweb did contact four of the signatories asking for the sources for their claims on crime. At the time of publication this had not been supplied.
"The results of the surveys above do however accord with other survey results which have found an extremely high fear of crime among these particular racial minorities. If one follows the logic of the signatories of the open letter - that whites and Indians should be less vulnerable because of the ‘protections and security measures' they are able to afford - what does it say if they are, in reality, more likely to fall victim to crime?
"Another question is why [more than] a hundred of our top academics appended their signature to a document without (apparently) interrogating its factual accuracy?"
Eish, don't mess with our man, James Myburgh. He's one of those old-fashioned journalists who actually checks the data.
So, as I was saying, very tough days at the moment. But, notwithstanding these tough times, journalists, or even pale ex-journalists, have to be brave.
This is no time for members of the fourth estate to be shrinking violets. We need to sally forth and do the important interviews. And if we don't carry notebooks or recorders at the time, who cares? We can always put the stuff together afterwards.
So I cycled home to Parkview from Wits, which is what I do these days because the traffic, especially in that part of the world, is absolutely unplayable.
Still, physically, Johannesburg remains glorious: the deep channel dug in the middle of whatever that main road is called, the dust, the carbon monoxide fumes, the sweating, homicidal drivers, the beating sunshine, the mountains, and the sea.
As I reached Loch road on my bicycle, I flushed out not an eland but a brigand, who had been hiding in the bushes near the home of a certain Nobel laureate. As I drew my police-issue R5-rifle (some cop gave it to me the other day at Wits in exchange for a cold drink), he stared terrified at me - but then ran.
And I thought too of Moeletsi Mbeki's comment that "at the rate at which confrontation is growing, Jesus may find SA a burnt-out shell when he returns". This was - according to the learned Bullard, D (aka the Bullfinch) - a reference by Mbeki to Jacob Zuma's prediction that the ANC will remain in power until the second coming of Jesus Christ.
What, I wondered, could have possessed Mbeki to say such a mean thing?
And then, as I cycled down Wicklow Avenue, I thought about David "carte blanche" Carte's comment that: "Most previously Christian countries are now conscientiously anti-God. Their schools, universities and media propagate the idea that everything came from nothing and forbid the opposing view of intelligent design. The atheist consensus implies no objective measure of good or evil. We are agglomerations of atoms without value, meaning or direction."
And I thought, as my grandfather of blessed memory used to say of me when I was a toddler, "Oy, a filosof gevoren" ["Oy, a philosopher he wants to be"].
But then I thought about Malema and Stofile and Leonard Chuene of ASA and various ministers and 142 academics and all those atoms without value, meaning or direction, and I thought, "Well, maybe Carte, notwithstanding being a blanche, has got a point, hey."