© Wolf Avni MAY 9, 2004
THE ALIENS HAVE LANDED
THE NEW XENOPHOBIA
The weight of public opinion is a powerful entity and taking the contrary or unpopular view of any prevailing mythology will buy a ticket to a bumpy ride. Those who live a quixotic life in misspent tilting at windmills, know what it is to find oneself out on the fringes, separate from the mainstream. It is said to be a bleak place.
Back in the conscripted ranks of the good old South African Defence Force of 1968, where my very accent was regarded as suspiciously unpatriotic, I was called many things. I was known as “Kafferboetie”, or”Jood-Kommunis” ! “Akker-piel” and “Sout-piel” were other great favourites among all ranks. These affectionate appellations often found themselves as subject or object within sentences dedicating to a divine and most immediate retribution, as in; “Kom hierso Kafferboetie Jood, ons gaan jou nou moer. Dis die Here se wil!”
Strangely, the instruments franchised to administer all this chastisement-from-above, were ordinarily human, at least superficially so and in my dwindling memory, almost always the Almighty admonished in a rough-brayed Afrikaans - at that time the unchallenged moeder-taal (mother-tongue) of God’s Elected. Those were heady days, when the Great Crocodile (#1) was still Minister of Defence and his strutting and finger-wagging set a general tone. In my insignificant part in The Struggle, events followed each other in entire predictability. How much of it may have been as a consequence of real, intended provocation on my part and how much was merely a result of an identity out-of-synch with the straight-jacket constraints of the political currency of that social environment, who could say? It is simply what happens when you plonk a vervloekste jood (#2) with a loose tongue in the midst of any gathering of brethren sharing a perception of themselves as God’s Chosen. Still, as I was neither the first nor the last to fall foul of the military mind-set which underpinned the national-socialism of that time, I guess I have much to be thankful for. I survived, if not entirely unscathed, then almost so, and at least with a fine hone to an already-then well-developed ability to recognise the signs of imminency which generally precede rapidly swinging boots and/or fists and the gnashing of patriotic, Calvinistic teeth. Remarkably, despite an interminable time-drag, my conscripted due was eventually served and with it, my glorious military career over for all time, I was spewed back into civilian life with the exalted rank of Koporaal Kafferboetie. Funny thing that, thought I learned to jump out of rapidly moving trucks, tanks and aeroplanes, to dodge, to duck and to nimbly sway out of the reach of ham-sized fists, to this day I have never really learnt enough to keep my goddam mouth shut, not even within a matrix of unbridled and uninhibited hostility.
The lights dim and the curtain comes down, reopening in the Cape on one of my introductory forays onto an environmental battlefield. The clock is set back to the early seventies and I have just read Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring. For the best part of ten years - bereft of any real comprehension of the forces at work - I had watched the steady deterioration of an unbelievably abundant False Bay Fishery. While the reefs within the bay were being steadily denuded of their endemic, resident fish populations; the galjoen, red-steenbras, red-roman, mussel-cracker and milk fish, simultaneously, indiscriminate trek-netting along all the beaches between Simonstown and Gordon’s Bay, was stripping False Bay of the shoals of bait fish - the mullet, pilchards, maasbanker and mackerel - and the game fish which they drew deep into the bay ; tuna, yellowtail- albacore, bonito and geelbek (#3). Once again, unintended, I found myself exposed as a target. For daring to mention out loud what everybody knew, that corruption and venal patronage were behind this stripping of the coast, I became the recipient of an anonymous fan mail well spiced with dire warnings and threats. One friendly dude went as far as suggesting that I might end up in the bottom of a bucket of shark-chum. I should have been scared but for the fact that I was too young and too stupid. Also, I had a fair suspicion as to the identity of the author, and knew with certainty that he couldn’t catch a shark if his life depended on it, no matter how much chum he might throw overboard. While privately receiving all manner of nasty threats, publicly I was labelled as anti-progress, as a commercial saboteur, a dope-crazed revolutionary. Hell, all I was after was a piece of half-decent fishing!
And then there was the seal-clubbing. Back then, the mere concept of a fragile ecology was so far beyond the bounds of social tolerance, that anyone who had the temerity to draw any attention at all to any environmental issue, was derided as a bunny-hugger, an anti-social beatnik, a sociopathic flag bearer for tribalism and primitivism. Back then, environmental issues were very much the preserve of what was perceived as an undisputed lunatic fringe. I fitted right in. Who would have thought it figures?
So, armed only with a glib tongue and waving a flag of simple truth, one day I waltzed into one of the most disgusting edifices ever built of corrupt political patronage; the Department of Sea Fisheries on the foreshore. I said that I was researching an article on the utilisation of marine resources and asked for a permit to accompany the contract clubbers out to Seal Island. They had never seen such transparency and so did not recognise it for what it was. Not only did I leave with my permit, but also with a letter addressed to the captain of the trawler, Malgas II, giving me permission to ride with the clubbers from their mooring in Kalk-bay harbour out to the island. The skipper was a canny, old Malay sea dog. He and his crew - as cutthroat a bunch of pirates as ever one will see - knew in a second that I would be nothing but trouble, yet, bearing a letter carrying the seal of their masters, I was reluctantly allowed aboard, albeit all the while, something in their eyes suggested to me that I should never turn my back for too long. On three or four expeditions I accompanied the clubbing team about their grisly business, gathering indisputable evidence of a barbaric, wasteful, unscientific and indiscriminate slaughter. It was par-excellence the model for crude exploitation based on the principle of strip-mining, undertaken with no environmental consideration whatsoever. Well, the pictures went around the world, playing their part in changing the way that fur seal resources are utilised, and my reputation as a bunny-hugging reactionary who talks to plants, was cemented. Voila! I was labelled a rabid green long before there was even a movement to associate with...
Again the curtain drops, this time rising on a pastoral mountain setting up in the Drakensberg in a new South Africa, post 1994 - among a free and liberated populace. There I was, as usual minding my own business, taking the odd bit of pleasure out in God’s own country, perhaps flicking a fly into a river, or occasionally fishing into the dusk on some tranquil dam, doing what mild-mannered people around here have been doing for more than one hundred years; trout fishing. Whispered at first, but then with increasing confidence and stridency, I began to hear suggestions that the trout were to become an emblem of colonialism and repression. They were now to be known as wicked, alien invaders, chain-saws with fins, more destructive of the very soul of Africa than Jan-bloody-van- Riebeek himself. What? Perhaps I had become distracted, lulled into complacency by the certificate issued to us by the provincial conservation authority as recently as 1992, a certificate we display prominently, proudly, for all to see. It is a commendation acknowledging the significance of our farm in the protection and preservation of South Africa’s natural diversity. We are in fact registered by the S.A. Natural heritage Programme as “A Site of Conservation Significance” ( no49). Now, suddenly, in the minting of this new political correct-speak, the mere fact of fishing for trout is enough to brand one as an “eco-terrorist” and the trout are raised as the insignia of all that is most damaging to the natural world around us! The murmurs, mumbling and general noise are advancing in a distinctly military pincer. One the one hand, there is a fair cacophony from some among the ranks of organisations that once were filled with world authorities in their fields, top-draw professional conservationists working in organisations which set global benchmarks for best practice. Alas, some say that much of that intellectual capital has been culled and the ranks are now filled with under qualified wanna-be’s, half-graduated punks, many barely capable of an independent or original thought between them. They are goaded on in their vendetta against trout by a merry band of academics who seem desperate to demonstrate to their new political masters just how disassociated they are from anything that might have gone on before, back in the bad old days. What a load of crap! They chose the trout believing it to be an easy target, a scapegoat, a lobby less powerful, less organised than timber, mono-cultural agriculture or industry.
So there you have it! The trout transforms into a red herring and in the space a just la few decades I have gone from being a kaffer-brother-jewboy to being an entrenched neo-colonial abuser, from being a radical environmentalist to an eco-terrorist of the first water. We who share this subversive proclivity for trout-fishing, are now to be the tool with which a couple of recidivist biologists - who seem to think that the Cambrian (or is that Cambrayan?) represents the full flowering of the evolutionary process - attempt to dig a safe haven for themselves in the landscape of brave social experiment which is our new nation. Hell, all I ever hoped for was a piece of half-decent fishing. “Nkosi Sikelele Africa!”
#1. (P.W. Botha)
#2. Curse’d jew
#3. Cape salmon