Koos Kombuis

The Wake-up Call

2013-03-26 08:45
Wake-up calls come in many different shapes and sizes.

Mine was quite literal. The phone next to my hotel bed rung in the middle of the night. When I reached out and picked up the receiver, a voice informed me: "Good morning! This is your 4.30 wake-up call."

"But I didn’t ask for a wake-up call," I said, irritably.

The person on the other side was not deterred. He kept on phoning until five o'clock, by which time the first birds were coughing outside in the first shreds of a dirty city dawn.

I had originally planned to sleep late. After three nights out, I was exhausted. My flight home was only in the afternoon, so there was no rush to get to the airport. But now my routine had been up-ended through the gross incompetence of the hotel reception, who had evidently confused my room number with someone else's.

This happened a few days ago. I am still angry. I am angry because, despite of my written complaint, the hotel has not phoned or emailed me to apologise for their mistake.

The wake-up call that wasn't supposed to be has now become a wake-up call, almost as if this little thing has become, in my mind, the tip of an iceberg: one small example of the huge ineffective bunch of mistakes and bungled opportunities which this country has become.

I encounter this growing impatience everywhere I go. It's not just me. The other day I read somewhere in a column: "We simply can't believe how the slaughtering of our rhinos can be allowed to continue without any effective action."

Why, if everyone knows about a problem, is nothing done about it?

We all know about the billions of rands wasted by municipalities and government agencies. But knowing about it is not enough. In fact, we have known about this problem for years. A lot of hot air and centimetres in newspapers have been wasted on it, with no results whatsoever.

The night before my ill-timed wake-up call, I had been invited to attend the kykNET Fiesta awards ceremony, held at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

It had been an evening filled with paradoxes.

As we were driven from our hotel to the venue in a luxury bus, I watched the dusk streets of the inner city of Pretoria go by.

It was a far cry from the Pretoria I remembered from my youth.

Back then, it was merely a boring place, filled with white men in ugly suits brandishing moustaches. Now, it was filled with down-and-out black people skulking around in corners, huddling around fires. I could not decide which of the two extremes was worse.

We drove past a huge building which I recognised as a building where I used to work for the civil service in my mid-twenties.

Now, it was seemingly abandoned, with no lights on inside, and many of the windows broken. The centre of Pretoria looked more like a part of war-torn Beirut than the modern capital city of supposedly the richest and most developed nation in Africa.

Walking out of the ruins of this inner city into the foyer of the State Theatre was like entering another planet. We were wined and dined and we were treated to a fantastic show. We saw the best of Afrikaans theatre and music. It was a wonderful event, completely multiracial and representative. Watching the show, I was proud to be a South African.

After the show, I strolled out on the top deck with a glass of champagne in my hand and stared out across the broken city all around me.

The hideously failed and cracked Nationalist architecture of what used to be the Strydom Square. The honking mini-buses, the desperate crowds of pedestrians and homeless masses. The semi-derelict buildings across the street. It was like a mixture of the set from Les Miserablés and Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.

I thought of all the writers, musicians, producers and actors who had won awards, of how hard they had worked. I thought of all the people in our country who were trying hard, so very hard, against such incredible odds, to do their best, and to make this country a better place.

And then I thought of the fat cats who were ruining all the efforts of these good people. The thieves in high positions who think only of themselves and for short-term profit. I also thought of the poachers, and the crime syndicates, and the murderers - some of them in police uniforms - who care nothing for raping and destroying our children, our old people, and our families.

The economic ruin of South Africa has never been an unavoidable fact.

We were dealt a very good hand in 1995. But almost all the goodwill, so much of usable infrastructure, not to mention our good standing in the eyes of the world, had been eroded by now.

That night I felt as if I was standing on a little island of light: the State Theatre, once a symbol of Afrikaner arrogance, under its new management now miraculously reborn as a symbol of innovation, creativity and progress in the midst of a massive sea of failure and despair. A sense of things being born.

Yet, at the same time, an overwhelming sense of things falling apart (to quote a famous deceased writer).

How long will we allow the minority of psychopaths in our midst to ruin the efforts of the majority to create a better country for all? How long will this plundering, this incompetence, this lack of accountability, all this shameless corruption be allowed to continue?

I have had my wake-up call. I will no longer stand by idly while bad men steal my country.

As an artist, and as a family man, and as a human being, in short, as an ordinary South African, I will not be silenced, and I will continue speaking out against the all-pervasive incompetence and stupidity that is engulfing our society in these times.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.