Alive status negative, goof-off status positive

2009-03-21 00:00

There is wacky wonderful and wacky worrying. The former is Lewis Carroll, the latter is Salvador Dali or George Orwell. The former is the essentially harmless absurdities of Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The latter is an unsettling and sinister landscape of melting clock faces, reality experienced through a prism, and mind-shaping new speak.

Having continental-sized egos, we South Africans have found that we can encompass the entire gamut.

On the wacky wonderful side we have a Home Affairs Department that has set up a special call centre which you can phone to find out whether you are alive. On the wacky worrying side it was revealed this week that some members of South African Police Service are probably more dangerous than the criminals they are supposed to be protecting us from. Hell, in many cases they are the criminals. Local government minister Richard Baloyi said: “We really call on citizens to confirm your alive status.” It is Home Affairs’ last roll of the dice in its attempts to do away with “fraudulent deaths” — corrupt officials declaring a person dead so that criminals can benefit from life policies issued under false identity documents.

So not only can the surprised citizen find that he or she is officially dead, but that his or her supposed passing to a higher plane has been marked by a massive insurance payout and much jollification. Oh, and while you are on the line, check your marital status, too.

Baloyi warns that you may find that you are married more than once, as identity-theft criminals arrange fake marriages for migrants who are seeking citizenship.

“Illegally dead citizens who are illegally married more than once, especially to illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe, will face the full wrath of the law. Only Jacob Zuma is allowed to rise from the dead and have several spouses,” Baloyi said. No, I fabricate, although it is becoming more challenging to do so.

Then there is the South African Police Service, or the Saps, as they are fondly known. In reply to a Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary question, the Saps sheepishly admitted that they had “lost, had stolen or otherwise misplaced” 8 286 firearms — including pistols, shotguns, rifles and revolvers — over the past three years.

Things get worse. The municipal police country wide cannot account for one in 12 of the firearms that they are supposed to control. Now one must have some sympathy with these airhead coppers. I once “misplaced” a small pistol for months, only to discover that I had cannily hidden it behind a childhood relic, my teddy bear, and forgotten about it. But had it been truly lost, the repercussions could have been dire: hefty fines, loss of one’s licence in perpetuity and even possible jail time.

As far as one can determine, no cop has been fired, so to speak, for losing his gun. That is not the Saps culture, where certified proof of incompetence, illiteracy and dishonesty are written into the entrance exam.

In reply to another DA question, it transpires that 668 police investigation dockets “disappeared” over the past year, a feat of magicking worthy of David Copperfield. This is a 56% increase on the previous year. In only 41 cases did these missing dockets — presumably destroyed or stolen at the behest of the accused, in exchange for payment — result in disciplinary action against the police officer responsible. Each was slapped really hard on the wrist.

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