Michael Worsnip

2008-07-30 00:00

I had a strange, (let me say it — frightening) and close to surreal experience last Sunday. And it sure got me thinking. There is this organisation called “Moving On”, you see. And the way it works, rather ingeniously, is to set up a website and send out e-mails advertising various addresses of people who are, for one reason or another, moving on.

The website advertises all the goods which are for sale in these people’s houses (with pictures) and notifies everyone that they will be available at a specific time and date. Some of the prices are ridiculously cheap and so, the whole phenomenon of Moving On is gaining momentum. Through a friend I was alerted to a piece of garden furniture going at a ridiculously low price, so I thought it might be worth the effort to get there early and try my luck.

Of course, being Cape Town, it was pouring with rain. And to my astonishment, a full two hours before the opening of the sale, I spied eight other cars parked aggressively in line, with the occupants marching up and down securing their ownership of that particular space.

But as some of us huddled under umbrellas (well, as two others, a young couple, huddled under my umbrella actually), we got to chat about the whole phenomenon. This huddling pair had been to a few other sales and they told me that someone called “Richard” would arrive an hour before and give out numbers to the first 20 people who would get first rights to entry and then the hordes would be allowed to follow.

Richard did arrive, and did hand out numbered tickets. I was pleased to be number nine, and fairly sure that I would get a good shot at what I wanted. Alas, it was not to be. When the gates opened, there was some token allowance of those who had numbers to enter, but everyone with a number also surrounded themselves with their “family” which meant that there were about 50 people in front of me, where there should have been — by rights — eight.

Within seconds of the gates opening, there was a gallop down to the house, which stood open awaiting the invasion. I spied the garden furniture, but one of the people who had been sharing my umbrella had dashed there ahead of me. He was turning the whole thing over in a manic kind of way, because the ticket which signalled claim to ownership was some-how missing. He had previously explained to me that the numbering system would come into play if there was a dispute about who had rights to a particular piece of furniture. When I pointed this out to him he started cursing and swearing at me like a man possessed.

Richard was hauled over to decide the matter. His solution, which I readily accepted given the circumstances (but which my opponent did not), was to flip a coin. But before he could, disaster struck. Richard revealed that he had in fact moved the ticket to another piece of furniture, some distance away because he had feared the ticket would be washed away in the rain. And so it was that another protagonist — who had arrived even later than my primary opponent — had it in his hands. My primary opponent, however, still felt the need to abuse me, for reasons I found difficult to understand, seeing that we had now both lost claim to the goods.

And I briefly looked around at other squabbles and heated arguments which were taking place. It looked like those movies one sees of Greek families fighting over inheritances at funerals. And it was then that Alfred Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam came to mind. Because it was raw and it was crude and it turned my stomach. And I thought to myself that this was pretty much a cameo of the state of our nation today. This is the state of our politics and this is the state of our being. It is about getting in there and grabbing for oneself, and not caring one iota who one bites, or kicks or wounds.

I can’t blame Richard or his business — which seems to be doing extremely well. I can blame our leaders, both spiritual and political. You will remember how, after 1994, the churches all sighed a great collective sigh of relief and scampered off the streets and back into the sanctuary. This is the result. You will remember how political organisations completely collapsed at the same time, leaving politics to those who were placed in positions of power to run the country. This is the result. We have only ourselves to blame. There is no one else.

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