Georgina Guedes

Don’t rain on our panic parade!

2012-01-12 10:00

Georgina Guedes

Panicking is the third South African national pastime after watching sport and boozing. We relish the opportunity for a good old hand-wringing, cold-sweating, phone-all-your friends cadenza and embrace every chance we get like a bunch of determinedly vocal chickens clucking up a cacophony of terror.

Perhaps it’s our frontier mentality. Perhaps it’s that we live perpetually on a political and crime-fearing knife’s edge, where our worst fears seem inches away, but never quite manifest. Perhaps it’s that we’re bored by living in a country with no real threat of earthquakes and tsunamis or weather with a murderous bent, and where our only real food or fuel shortages are caused by fears of food or fuel shortages.

Whatever the case may be, present South Africans with an opportunity to whip themselves up into a froth, and we do, pretty reliably. The fact that the last time we all abandoned our workstations, drove home early, stocked up on baked beans and forwarded e-mails of farewell to the family cleaning up after a quake in New Zealand amounted to nothing doesn’t leave us feeling silly.

Instead, the national attitude seems to be one of “better luck next time”.

So, it was with no small measure of amusement that I read about the proposed amendments to the South African Weather Service Act, which would make it illegal for South Africans to circulate a severe weather or pollution warning without permission from the South African Weather Service.

Now, I can see where these lawmakers are coming from. They look at the chaos wrought on the roads by the ebullient panic-mongering of Johannesburg’s citizens, followed by … gasp! … a thunderstorm with hail, and think “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” I know I do. And then, because they’re in government, they try to do something about it.

It’s actually kind of sweet, if a bit naïve. I haven’t read the Bill, but I wonder if there’s anything in there on swarms of insects or fuel shortages or a Julius Malema march. South Africans will panic because they love a bit of snot and trane, not because they genuinely fear for their lives. In fact, I suspect that most of the drama is born from a desire to go home early, rather than having to wait half an hour for the rain to clear.

Be that as it may, there’s also something quite sinister in this attempt by the ANC government, yet again, to curtail its citizens’ liberties. Sure, we don’t need to forward weather warnings with gay abandon and sure, most warnings sent on email by concerned citizens are a load of tosh - but we should have the right to send them, silly as we may be.

While I think that the government spends a little too much time focusing on trying to get its citizens to behave themselves on a small scale rather than addressing the important issues like education or the fact that people get trampled to death seeking such a privilege for their children, they have to accept that from time to time, we are going to blow things out of proportion and act like idiots.

The erosion of civil liberties in response is immature at best and tending towards fascism at worst. There’s something to wring your hands about. Forward this column to seventeen of your closest friends and leave work by 3:30 at the latest – there are African Killer Bees on the horizon.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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