David Moseley

In Africa, we do what we like

2012-06-26 10:34

David Moseley

My Aussie mate (just the one, I couldn’t handle more than one of those accents in my life), a roofer, tells me that for him South Africa is the land of milk and honey. Back home the rules and regulations in his trade would have sunk his entrepreneurial ship before it even set sail. But over here, he could hire staff and get onto jobs minus all the red administrative tape that Australian officials apparently love so much to keep everyone as tall as the shortest poppy.

That's the positive side of the freewheeling do-as-we-please attitude that seems to be prevailing in South Africa at the moment. Start something. Fill in the forms later. Success.

But what about the flip side, where the little regulations and rules are constantly ignored by everyone, and the justification is "well, he's doing it, so why can't I".

Last week I turned off the N1 just outside Cape Town. Later, to get back on, there was a detour due to road works. Do you think motorists were taking the detour? Of course not. Why take a five-minute detour (five minutes! My God!) when you can simply drive over a grass traffic island and pop right back onto the N1.

I sat in the queue watching as, at first, the usual suspects started island hopping: taxis, battered bakkies, trucks and then eventually, suburban moms with that defiant "well if the taxis are doing it, so am I" glint in their eyes.

'Little' lawlessness

It was a telling moment because it summed up exactly how people go about their business in this lovely "lawless" land of ours. We basically just do whatever suits us. No worries. But if you can't follow the rules out of inconvenience, then how can you be expected to follow the rules at all? A short drive on any of the major highways will highlight our laissez faire approach to basic rules.

That's why it fills me with joy when I hear that police officers may be able confiscate mobile phones if they spot motorists driving and talking. Police, allow me to give you this tip off; park your cars outside any of the suburban Cape Town schools and you’ll make enough in fines and bonuses to take you all to Disneyworld for your Christmas holidays.

It's the little things, and it seems silly to have a vendetta against them, but in my mind, if you can't follow those simple (potentially life-saving) regulations, then you don't have a say when you're sitting around your table of cheese and wine moaning about the state of crime in the country.

If you take your car over an island instead of taking the detour, you can't whinge about the way the country is going downhill while sipping your aggressively expensive shopping mall coffee.

If you sprint down the street to avoid a parking marshal when you've been in a metered bay all day, or argue with a traffic officer because he wants to fine you for parking in a loading zone, forcing a truck to park in the road, forcing a bus to stop in the oncoming traffic, you're as much as part of the problem as the chap behind you mugging the pedestrian. You may not tut-tut about government inefficiency at your high-tea and scone party.

This is Africa, and we do what we like. But maybe it's time we all started doing what's right. Who knows? Maybe some bad attitudes will change.

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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