© Wolf Avni APRIL 15, 2005


“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” #1

Who was it who said that fishing is  a process by  which a line is connected between  a brainless fish at one end and a mindless  fool at the other? It may well have been my grandfather, I cannot rightly remember. What I do recall is that the old man  was never at a loss for an insight. Way back in the days of Verwoerd and of Vorster,  he foretold how white vileness, ignorance and political malfeasance would in time  be replaced in our gracious land, full measure, by its  black counterpoint. His acuity was remarkable.  And though he abhorred generalisations, his opinion of fishermen, and of politicians and their futile social engineering,  was equally and especially dismissive - long before the dawning of the age of Liberation politics.

 He told me once that the definition of a fisherman (or was that a politician?)  was someone who came home after dark, driving a fancy car paid for by someone else’s productivity,  smelling of strong drink and with the truth not in them. Of course, irrespective of whether the  discussion revolved around capitalism or socialism, or their relative relationships to corrupt  governance,  or angling, it made no difference. What he was really telling me about was the venality  of the bonded, the fettered human spirit, though I think it was fishing we were discussing at the time. It might just as easily have  been any one of a thousand curiosities that occupied his mind; astronomy, anthropology,  archeology,  or perhaps Africa’s vanishing wilderness, or even  popular  politics and the follies of flock-following. It MUST have been fishing. Were it not, its relevance in this column would be scant indeed, so listen up.

  He was a simple man, a naturalist and a  humanist, singular, independent, incorruptible and as wise  as anyone I have ever met. He lived to be a hundred and right to the end  was intellectually vital and curious about almost everything.  Of course, back in those bad old days of Apartheid  and  Baaskap, all of the scum-suckers, the parochially-indulged, the racists, the  self-serving supremacists, they were all  part of an entrenched  white Afrikaner-Tribalist  establishment.  My, how things have changed! It took our liberation and democratisation for us to discover  that neither Afrikanerism,  nor indeed a  white skin   ever held any exclusive patents over these traits, that corruptibility and banality transcend any artificial racial  stereotyping.    

Understandably, stuck out here in the mountains with nothing but those hardy  creatures that find sustenance  among thin soils, rocky slopes and  austere cliffs, we don’t come too much into contact with main-stream social issues and so we find that our grasp of the immutable truths contained within the currency of correct political-think and political speak is as tenuous now as it was back in the bad old days.  Growing up,  we were taught that the indomitability of the human spirit is the greatest  power a mortal human can know. We were taught to believe that the individual’s  ability to conceptualise freely outside of boxes is the ultimate expression of that power, and we were led  to understand that,  only in a true democracy would  daring-to-give-rein to expression of the fruits of free-thinking  not inevitably consign one to the target-end of the socio-political shooting range. So be it!

 Are we less disillusioned because of it  than might otherwise be the case?  Who could say, but along with liberationists,  we once dreamed of a new, enlightened social  age where individual merit and individual capacity would by default  become the ultimate measure of a person’s professional and social value.  With publication of the ground-breaking new South African Constitution, and later, with publication of the equally innovative National Environmental Management Act, we thought we were bearing witness at the birth of this brave new age. After all, where once we were at the mercy of the worst excesses of Afrikaner national socialism, where no amount of fancy philosophising or euphemistic labelling  could obscure the fact of its naked  racism,, its  moral bankruptcy, we  had been liberated and now were armed with the finest, ground-breaking  constitutional rights which any citizenry had ever had. Environmentalists and ecologists (among which I have always had the conceit to count myself) had even greater reason to rejoice.  Finally we had a legal framework which might guide sane and sustainable use of our precious ,though rapidly deteriorating natural environment, an act of parliament that  embodied the best, the  most insightful,  the most fundamental, the soundest of  principles.  Viva,  our brave new democracy!  

The thing is though, our new Utopia comes clothed like a tart in tatters.  It seems that all the high ideals are to be prostituted to short-term political expediency, and the individual is to be as expandable now as ever he or she was.  It seems that the trout is to be demonised.  It has become the chosen emblem for   all the injustices and abuse which short-sightedness and  carpet-bagger colonialism left in its wake. For some reason, the poor trout-fish is now taken to be the symbol for a political clique,  of  all the types of greed which bugger our precious environment. We are prepared to tolerate vast swathes of virgin grassland and fragile catchment  sacrificed to exotic plantations of pines; pines which are  pulped and exported to countries, who, recognising the ecological damage they did in their own territories, merely export the environmental damage to a country such as our own.  We permit the use of any number of harmful pesticides and organo-phosphate compounds which poison the soil, the air and the water. We permit the use of  growth hormones and antibiotics in our agro-industrial  food chains.  We allow land-rape and chemical contamination at every turn. All this is to be regarded as acceptable in the name of development.  But if we can just eradicate the trout, all of the bad things  will go away and we will magically restore the environment to what it was 100 years ago.  What is this alchemy that can turn a trout into a red herring?

That’s not the half of it.  Affirmative action,  accompanied by her slutty  hand-maidens;  the cultures  of Entitlement and petty Political Appeasement,  could, in the right hands  make a whore out of anything.

 In the name of transformation, we have seen  social structures steadily and  willfully shedding left, right and centre; intellectual capacity, the ethos of professionalism, experience, expertise  and management competence.  Normally, had it been content to restrain its experimentation to  insignificant fields like law enforcement, education, public health, national defence and home affairs,  I might barely  have noticed. But now the line has been crossed and a once-proud provincial conservation authority has been appointed as the key player in the implementation of our new conservation strategies.  Sadly, in keeping pace with the required political transformations, it has reduced itself to not even a shadow of the organisation that, by its qualities,  was once  regarded as a world leader in global conservation circles. But that was   back in the bad old days of Baaskap and  I  was never an apologist for the old establishment. Nor do I mean to become one now.  Still, being nothing but a simple, uneducated hillbilly, this Affirmative action thing continues to confuse the hell out of me. With Apartheid it was easy;  called by that name, or Separate Development, Pluralism,  or Tricamerality, or  any of the other euphemisms which it evolved in an attempt to camouflage itself, it remained naked racism. What I don’t get,  is how the noble ideal incarnate in Affirmative Action, in its practical application, is any less euphemistic.  Just like Apartheid; if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and runs around with a bunch of little ducks in tow, chances are...it’s a duck.  

  The time has come to timidly  point out that the capacity for responsible  custodianship by  KZN Conservation Services of all the natural resources of our magnificent province, including two world heritage sites, is rapidly deteriorating  past the point of being a poor joke.

I could not bear being misunderstood and so let me make this  quite clear. I am an absolute advocate  of transformation and of all the high ideals  of social justice.  Perhaps though, the time has long passed when the definition of  word transformation  is  itself in dire need of some serious spanner-work.

 In the meantime, we, the old white baboons  who must become socially irrelevant by virtue of skin colour,  and who must be branded as racist  by virtue of the fact that we dare to be intellectually  critical, we  can only go fishing, taking refuge in the inspiration of our national anthem.  NKOSI SIKELELE  AFRIKA.  


#1, Dr. Hunter S.Thompson