In praise of the Zulu security guard

2012-08-11 07:02

Is there any creature more utterly annoying and yet completely loveable than umantshingilane? You know what I’m talking about – the thoroughly surly and ruthlessly efficient security guard.

Armed with nothing more than quick wits, an overblown sense of authority and a massive baton, they rule over their little squares of turf like Marcus Aurelius over the Roman Empire.

Look, it’s not every security guard that actually qualifies to be umantshingilane.

The person has to be a Zulu man, preferably rural of extraction and crude of formal education.

It is only these men who have perfected the art of what I call the Mantshingilane Syndrome: the bizarre cocktail of zealotry in their jobs and calculated obduracy.

Think of their zealousness in this way – have you ever been inside a liquor store and not been given the once-over by umantshingilane, eyebrow cocked and lips pursed?

He wants you to know that you are buying your favourite brandy at his pleasure. He could kick you out any moment he wants.

The second quality is best illustrated by this story: a boss once hired an old Zulu man to guard his workshop.

He gave the man strict instructions – no one was to enter the premises after dark.

A few weeks later, the boss turned back on the way home after he forgot his keys in the office.

At the gate, he was greeted by the grim guard, who refused to allow him in. ‘You told me that nobody is allowed in after dark,’ he growled threateningly at his own boss.

It is this last quality that makes every mantshingilane in the country so useful.

They absolutely refuse to follow anyone’s logic except their own, even if yours is demonstrably superior.

I once walked into a small shop carrying a six-pack of water and the receipt to prove I’d bought it next door.

The guard absolutely refused to let me into the shop with the water, even though I could prove I’d bought it elsewhere.

And do you remember the security guard who assaulted the black man who defaced The Spear of the Nation in the Goodman Gallery?

Beware the wounded pride of umantshingilane.

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