Defend Truth


The Other News Round-Up: The Good, The Bad, and the Balancing Act

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Each week, Daily Maverick brings you some of the lesser-reported happenings from South Africa and further afield. This week: there’s small-town discipline of neo-Nazis, cannibalism and dog beer, and we will remember normal life. Won’t we?

The original rationale behind this column was simple. At the end of 2016, we were so bloody miserable and gatvol after that cracker of a year that we felt it couldn’t hurt to stir some lightness into the mix.

Maybe we were tempting fate, because 2017 showed us pretty quickly who 2016’s daddy was. Donald Trump’s presidency officially started with a bang on 20 January, and every time we thought it couldn’t get any more absurd, it did. Closer to home, the farce reached epic proportions, so much so that it’s not uncommon to hear people saying they simply don’t read the news any more; they’ve tuned out. Political disaster was accompanied by a cluster of deaths that could rival 2016’s hit list: Roger Moore, Al Jarreau, Chris Cornell, Chuck Berry, George Romero, Paddington Bear’s creator Michael Bond, Joni Sledge, Cuba Gooding Sr, Chester Bennington, Martin Landau, Sam Shepard, and most recently, Dick Gregory, Glen Campbell and Jerry Lewis. And, on the non-celebrity side, Emma Morano, who at 117 years old, was the last known surviving person to have been born in the 1800s.

Unabashed, 2017 kept going and took no prisoners, with its uncanny mix of horror and surrealism. It’s always a bad sign when a) you don’t always know the difference between real and fake news and b) the older reporters in the newsroom refer back to their survival plans for the 1980s.

Fast forward to August. I don’t know about you, but personally I’ve had a pretty bleak week, and reading the news hasn’t helped. Beyond even the prominent, headline-grabbing stuff. Heck, a teenager was arrested in Saudi Arabia recently, just for doing the Macarena. Hundreds of people have been eating human flesh in pursuit of wealth and success (proudly South African story); OJ Simpson has been cashing in on trial merchandise (classy chap); there are adverts offering cash for actors of colour to appear at Trump rallies; and then there’s the everyday, slow death by boredom: people seem to start hating their jobs at age 35. Just 20 years before their retirement. No big deal.

But for every completely bonkers tale of a bear committing a burglary or convicted murderers making money off their crimes, there’s Bonnie Tyler livening up the solar eclipse or, my personal favourite, an entire town clubbing together to give neo-Nazis their comeuppance by making a donation to liberal groups for every right-wing march. (“Thank you for marching for human rights!” they tell the right-wingers. Works every time.) There’s a blues singer with an unusual hobby: befriending KKK members, one by one, to combat ignorance with friendship. He’s convinced countless white supremacists to leave the group, and his story is told in a new Netflix documentary.

Meanwhile a war veteran has been selling his medals to raise money for a small child’s cancer treatment. Heck, while we’re celebrating small victories, apparently a cure for peanut allergies is in the pipeline. Rejoice, people. Peanut buttery goodness will soon be yours.

And the piece de resistance: the launch of BBC Pidgin, the ground-breaking decision to present news in one of the most widely spoken and quickly evolving languages in Central Africa, even though it is not officially recognised.

Looking at some of humanity’s quirkier preoccupations gives one a dose of perspective. Paradoxically, the world’s oddities make life seem more normal. When it seems the weight of corrupt leadership, violence and all-round insanity is crushing and relentless, it can be a relief to remember that for most people, life marches on, with its worries, small joys, strange quirks, and everyday preoccupations. People open bars where their pooches can enjoy specially brewed dog beer. Couples get married and pledge, as part of their wedding vows, to plant over a thousand trees. People dive into swimming pools to save toddlers, and succeed. A particular shade of purple is named after Prince, just because.

Some people find this depressing. I find it oddly cheering. I always loved that passage in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting where Karel scathingly describes Mama’s pettiness. Mama is annoyed at the neighbour for forgetting an appointment to come and pick pears off her tree when the war broke out.

“But are tanks really more important than pears? As time went by, (Karel) realised that the answer to this question was not so obvious as he had always thought, and he began to feel a secret sympathy for Mama’s perspective, which had a big pear tree in the foreground, and somewhere in the distance, a tank no bigger than a ladybug, ready at any moment to fly away out of sight. Ah yes! In reality it is Mama who is right: tanks are perishable, pears are eternal.”

Jon Stewart famously reminded us: “The reason I don’t worry about society is, 19 people knocked down two buildings and killed thousands. Hundreds of people ran into those buildings to save them. I’ll take those odds every fucking day.” I won’t go that far. I’m very worried. But I keep one eye on musical cockatiels and small boys sending rocket designs to Nasa anyway. Because Mama is right: tanks are perishable; pears are eternal. DM


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