Denis Beckett writes a bi-weekly column for The Star called Stoep Talk.
Mike van Graan’s new revue, State Fracture has its actor/presenter Daniel Mpilo Richards riding that well-known metaphor, the rollercoaster of South African life.

It’s a wonderful ride, gymnastically. Your eyeball sees Daniel conquering gravity. Your soul swings into the peaks and troughs of Seffricanism.

Which was right for me after a day of solid trough. I’d been with farm-attack people. Not people who do it; people who cope with it. A deep grim tunnel for the spirit.

For the terms “city slicker” and “country bumpkin”, Afrikaans has a nice egalitarianism - “stadsjapie” and "plaasjapie”. We stadsjapies are apt to experience a bit of misery-fatigue at the plaasjapies going on about farm attacks. We tend to think, I daresay, that (a) that’s somewhere distant, and (b) farmers complain, that’s their thing.

Actual exposure - mercifully second-hand - changes that picture. It’s not only that the rising statistics become tangible. It’s not only that the extreme horrors are the ones that get the airtime. (On this trip it struck me that it’s possible to not-look at the gruesome pictures you are offered. But you can’t not-hear the gruesome details assailing your ear. Those pollute your hard-drive.)

The most depressing bit is the air of inevitability. It’s taken as obvious that things get worse, decline is ordained. More collapse means less wealth, therefore more desperation, therefore more horror and more hate, on and on in an endless downward cycle.

The way of thinking is of an almighty trap, deep by circumstance and deepened by human frailty and low sights.

For instance, your first line of defence is a loyal staff, but the focal ways of ensuring their loyalty are mechanical -digital fingerprinting, psychological profiling, multi-angle photographing, comprehensive details of home and family Giving them grounds to be loyal in heart and mind is in the dim background.

Anyway, even the mechanical fix doesn’t happen, our informants tell us. Reality is that farmers, also desperate, go like flies at honey for illegal Malawians. They brag that the Malawians work more, for less pay, until suddenly a fortune’s worth of portable gear has vanished and so have the illegals. Now the farmer is screaming at everybody from the rotten illegals who never even gave him their papers to the rotten government who should have never allowed them in.

Then there’s equipment. The “imperatives” for protection include alarm beams, camera monitoring, dogs, burglar bars, internal alarms and safe-rooms. I want to do some screaming at my own. I picture idyllic rural holidays as times you forget to lock your door, you leave your car key in the ignition. I want those times back. I want those times in the cities too. The notion of farms as fortresses is anathema.

We get more anathema - your informant network is imperative too. You must pay, and pay well, remembering that everyone in the “intel game” will do you down when it suits them. Plus you must organise your community, and stick to it, not like most, which are terrifically organised for six weeks after the last attack and then crumble until the next one.

All this is a pretty sharp kick in the learning curve, saying loudly that we as a nation are sleepwalking. We need restart, not bandage.

By nightfall I’m home and soon afterward at Theatre on the Square with State Fracture, and the world has changed. The rollercoaster is skyhigh. A society that can look into its mirror and produce this much thought, hilarity, all-round irreverence, theatrical excellence and sombre severe clarity, is a society to be proud of. A society to have hope for. A society to work for.

* Beckett is a writer and journalist. His Stoep Talk column appears in The Star on Mondays and Fridays.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Star

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter