Out with the tick-boxers, in with the anarchists – be like Chairman Atchar and break the rules

Out with the tick-boxers, in with the anarchists – be like Chairman Atchar and break the rules
Irvin Mashele, or Chairman Atchar, does his thing on the streets of Soshanguve in Pretoria. (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake)

As water gushes wastefully out of a leaking pipe and rule-bound municipal employees just look on without intervening, their inhuman unhelpfulness is enough to turn anyone into an anarchist.

Yes, we are well aware that the lovely Adele bagged the title Rolling in the Deep for a song back in 2011. But in selecting it for this weekly mental shedding of a load on to you, dear reader, it seemed appropriate.

For here we might venture from how to cope with faeces on our beaches to why we should still fear Nazis, to more pleasant ruminations. It will all be the luck of the weekly draw.

Not all rules are good rules

Some of us, later in life, have come to park our political sympathies within the ambit of the late Professor David Graeber, an anthropologist, anarchist and activist.

Graeber, who died suddenly in 2020, reawakened the core principles of anarchism, as Noam Chomsky did before him.

Graeber was the author of several works including Bullshit Jobs, Debt: The first 5,000 Years and more recently The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, co-authored with archaeologist David Wengrow.

He also coined the slogan “we are the 99%” during the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011.

We let the prof speak for himself:

“Many people seem to think that anarchists are proponents of violence, chaos, and destruction, that they are against all forms of order and organisation, or that they are crazed nihilists who just want to blow everything up.”

In reality, he says, “anarchists are simply people who believe human beings are capable of behaving in a reasonable fashion without having to be forced to. It is really a very simple notion.”

Anarchist beliefs turn on two “elementary assumptions” – that human beings are, under ordinary circumstances, about as reasonable and decent as they are allowed to be, and can organise themselves and their communities without needing to be told how.

The second is that power corrupts and that “anarchism is just a matter of having the courage to take the simple principles of common decency that we all live by, and to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Odd though this may seem, in most important ways you are probably already an anarchist – you just don’t realise it.”

The stopcock and the tick box

Example one: a municipality moves an old but functioning water meter from inside a property to outside for ease of monthly reading. Fair enough.

Soon after the installation, it springs a leak and water begins to pool around the new connection inside the property.

For the most effective communication, this municipality recommends filling in an AI form on its website to generate a complaint.

It is returned most speedily to the resident, marked “resolved”. Outside in the yard the pool of water now serves as a mushy drinking hole for birds and nocturnal creatures.

When the automated municipal führer is finally circumvented via Twitter, a real human employed by the council arrives. Captures the leak with his iPad and stands by watching the water bubble away, in a drought-sensitive region.

“It’s inside your yard, your problem.”

Perhaps we can agree that if the problem is the resident’s, he or she will pay, but if it occurred during the moving of the water meter then it would be for the municipality’s account.

But logic would dictate that we first act to stem the water flow and determine the root of the leak and who is culpable, so to speak.

No can do. The computer says no. The robot in the garden says no.

A second complaint results in a second municipal official arriving, a young man, jaunty and polite at least.

“I am a trained plumber and I can spare you a R1,000 callout fee. You only need to tighten that nut under the tap handle, it has come loose.”

No, he cannot turn the nut with a spanner supplied by the resident. Not allowed, sorry. Firing squad at dawn. So he watches while the resident sorts out the leak.

That, dear reader, is the closest that loyal employee was prepared to venture beyond the rules, the tick box in his mind.

People, sometimes you have to break the rules – it is an act of humanity in this transactional age.

Chairman Atchar leads the way

If ever there was a capitalist who understands how to appeal to the higher and better human nature that Graeber and other anarchists believe exists, it is Irvin Mashele, known otherwise as Chairman Atchar.

The Chairman plies his trade on the corner of Molefe Makinta and Mabotse streets in Soshanguve, Pretoria. As City Press noted in December 2022, the business is thriving. Its philosophy is simple – the Chairman’s atchar has no price.

Chairman Atchar says his smart style of dressing is why his business is flourishing. (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake)

Dressed in his trademark suits, Mashele allows motorists to determine how much they are prepared to pay for his culinary offering. He sells out every day.

Chairman Atchar refuses to name his price, ever, and has been selling the product for a living since 2016, this after spending seven years in the slammer for “gang activities”.

It was there that he perfected his recipe and he began selling his atchar in North West on his release. His business, he says, took off when he began selling door to door, using a whistle to alert customers.

Chairman Atchar at work in Soshanguve, Pretoria. (Photo: Elizabeth Sejake)

The Chairman plans to sell his atchar “for a long time” and has plans to expand his business.

Now you won’t be finding him in shops with too many rules, bullshit jobs and computers that say no. No price? Say what?

Be more Chairman Atchar than a box-ticker – a whole new world might swim into view. DM168

Marianne Thamm is the assistant editor of Daily Maverick.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


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