The new normal in South Africa is worrying. It’s what nightmares and post-apocalypse movies are made of and it has very little to do with Covid-19.

The 2002 Danny Boyle movie 28 days later is a ‘pandemic’ movie that is credited by some with igniting the entertainment industry’s zombie obsession of the past couple of decades and being an interesting political allegory.

I watched it this week even though the post-apocalyptic genre in movies is not a favourite of mine and the arrival of Covid 19 has seen me studiously avoid such films, even I am legend, with its scene-stealing German Shepherd star.

But 28 days later stars Cillian Murphy, famed for high cheekbones and his role in Peaky Blinders, so it had some sex appeal (does that still exist as a concept/) for she/her/me. Having seen and heard plenty of rhetoric and political utterances lately demonstrating that far too many people are afflicted by what someone, somewhere, described as ‘permanent resentment, murderous envy and unfulfillable greed’, I was also intrigued by a plot summary of the origins of the film’s catalyst epidemic. The virus is ‘anger’. It spreads when animal rights activists free lab chimps who’ve been infected by watching endless footage of angry rioters, violent protests, necklacings and clashes. (A very reasonable, realistic premise to my mind.)

In one early scene a small band of survivors must change a tyre on their car in a hurry, in the dark, as the infected advance on them. Later, on the road in search of a haven, they see Manchester in flames before them. When they think they’ve reached a safe haven they discover their guardians have lured them with false promises.

Pardon my conceit, but I cannot help but see the similarities with right here, right now.

We watch in horror

We have our own hordes – the disaffected. We know what it is to be fearful on a highway in the dark, at the mercy of vulture gangs who trap and attack motorists by planting spikes on our highways. Our cities may never be denuded of inhabitants but we have a growing number of abandoned and neglected modern buildings sheltering people who remain faceless. We barricade ourselves in our homes, we must do without water, without electricity. We watch in horror as flames rise from the midst of cities and people reveal their base natures.

All this is happening in what the African National Congress has titled in its own grandiose ‘Newspeak’: The Year of Unity, Renewal and Reconstruction in the Year of Charlotte Maxeke.

While the unity, renewal and reconstruction declaration may cue laughter, Ms Maxeke seems to have been an admirable woman and leader in the mould of many of the old ANC idealists and activists of the past. She was the first South African black woman to graduate, obtaining a BSc from an American university in 1901. She went on to found the Wilberforce Institute in Evaton, she made significant contributions to the founding congress in 1912, she drove the women’s anti-pass movement.

Maxeke died a long time ago, in 1939, but, being a black woman activist and achiever, she is condemned to being continually recalled and used by the ruling party to remind us of its past glory days. Lacking current victories, it spends much of its time finding ways to direct our gaze backwards and away from the present venality.

To mark 150 years since her birth on 7 April, President Cyril Ramaphosa headed for her birthplace in the Eastern Cape and dispatched various cabinet ministers and delegations across the rest of the country to rally the election fodder.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case where the ANC has been involved, there was a bit of embarrassment when Gauteng ANC leaders turned up to honour her at the site of her home in Klipspruit, Soweto.


Like the rest of the township, her former home is rundown and very far from being the tourist-lure museum promised by the authorities back in 2015. That’s probably because the Maxeke family and the township’s residents have been rightly insisting the township gets an upgrade before the house.

So, once again, the ANC had to make more promises: to get the renovation of the house and the township underway for real this time and, because the ANC has a  tendency to get a little carried away with its promises, to rid South Africa in its entirety of abject poverty (although no delivery date was appended to either promise).

Of course, the Kliptown incident was nothing like the embarrassment for Gauteng’s leaders – and the trauma of 700 evacuated patients – which followed nine days later when the former Johannesburg Gen, renamed the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic hospital in an earlier 2008 bout of ‘call back the past’ adulation, caught fire.

The blaze started in a storeroom; stock loss – much of it personal protective equipment – is estimated at around R40 million. No foul play is suspected and no one was injured.

But the hospital is closed (cannot take Covid or any other patients, cannot do vaccinations) and questions must be raised as to why and how the blaze took hold and was so extensive. Just bad luck – or yet another indicator of negligence and bad management which has become the norm?

Only two days prior to the hospital fire, nine people died in a blaze that spread through a settlement in an abandoned city building.

I think dear Charlotte may be looking down in horror at all this and rather hoping her ‘year’ will soon be over. Her mood wouldn’t have been improved much if she caught sight of the ‘burn, baby, burn’ exhortations that popped up on social media while fire fighters fought the flames destroying irreplaceable heritage documents and historic buildings at UCT last weekend.

Lone good-news story

But enough of tales of woe and human stupidity. Let us escape to the frivolity of the Oscar awards to track the fortunes of a documentary movie about a lovable, local octopus (Australian ones reportedly go on the attack and bite, but as everyone knows we’re better than them) who appears to be a great deal more intelligent than many in our political firmament. My Octopus Teacher is strongly tipped to take home an Oscar and thus become the lone good-news story this apocalyptic April as we start on The 28th Year of Our Great Freedom and Democracy.

[Image: JL G from Pixabay]

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