Warning! This is the property of the South African government and has been classified Top Secret. If you do not have the requisite security clearance in accordance with the State Security Act (1978), Section 4, Subsection B, Paragraph 7, Article 13, Line 2, possession of this document is a criminal offense and you will be prosecuted. Unless you have family, friends, or passing acquaintances in the government, of course. Or unless you know who to bribe, blackmail, manipulate… In fact, don’t worry about it. You’re fine. Read on.
At the very bottom of the fabled dark continent, there lies a unique little country of singular natural beauty. Lying as it does at the southern-most reaches of Africa, the nation’s name perhaps suggests a lack of creative thinking, but South Africa, home to 60 million souls, has nevertheless repeatedly punched well above its weight on the world stage.
The Rainbow Nation, much like the rest of the continent, tends to get things a little later than the developed world. Democracy, for example, only arrived at the back end of the last century, and electricity… well, they’re still working on that. It’s not surprising, therefore, that when the novel Coronavirus pandemic swept the globe at the start of 2020, it took its time making its way to African shores. When it finally announced itself, though, it did so with a force that more than made up for its tardiness.
Realizing the looming health crisis represented the greatest threat the Republic had ever seen, the country’s leadership tried an innovative new idea in the face of the burgeoning catastrophe – being proactive. This caused much confusion at first and had many scrambling for their dictionaries to look up the meaning of the word. Thereafter, more head-scratching followed as they tried to figure out how exactly one went about being proactive.
The president, who’d been rather scarce in his tenure to date, boldly addressed his people. His regular speeches made for gripping television viewing – far more dramatic than any soap opera on air – and his preferred salutation, ‘My fellow South Africans,’ would come to occasion an involuntary sphincter tightening among the general public. On hearing these words, the average citizen would mutter to themselves, “Oh fok, hier kom nou groot kak,” which loosely and politely translates as, “Good golly, here comes big trouble.”
Behind the scenes of the circus that is the national government, it was decided, in typical bureaucratic tradition, that being proactive should involve the senseless formation of various committees. Thus, three new top-secret governing bodies were hastily formed – the Department of Enforcement and Action Facilitation, the Directorate of the Unilateral Mandate on Banning, and the Bipartisan Logistics and Implementation Navigation Division. And so it came to pass that, unbeknownst to the average Joe on the street, South Africa was being governed by the DEAF, the DUMB, and the BLIND in its hour of greatest need.
Our tale concerns the second, and most important, of these secret governing bodies.
The first sitting of the assembly of the DUMB committee was a tense affair. The country’s top medical and scientific experts were invited to the meeting and then locked outside lest anything so troublesome as logical reasoning intrude on the serious matter to be discussed: the matter of what was to be banned.
The head of the committee was a formidable woman well-known in South African political circles for her ruthless approach. So well-known, in fact, that even in a classified document as this, it is perhaps safer to refer to her only by her nickname - DZ, as her friends call her. Or would, if she had any.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” DZ called the meeting to order, “we have been called on to act swiftly to save our great nation. As the Directorate of the Unilateral Mandate on Banning, we must not hesitate – “
“Um, sorry ma'am, but what, exactly, is our purpose?” A brave woman at the back of the room asked.
“Why, it’s banning things, of course. I’d’ve thought that obvious, given our name – “
“Yes, but what are we hoping to achieve here?” The hapless individual had erred not just in interrupting the committee’s fearless leader a second time but, worse still, in voicing a question that sounded suspiciously logical. She was hastily removed.
DZ continued, “Now, we have one job and one job only – deciding what is to be banned. I’ve already made a start.” She looked at her list. “Let’s see… I’ve got public gatherings, family visits, alcohol, obviously, and…” she trailed off as she scribbled down ‘tobacco products,’ grinning deviously as she did. “But we need more, people. We shall be judged on the effectiveness of our response solely by the number of things we ban. The more, the better. So, ideas, please.”
None were forthcoming.
“C’mon, work with me here,” DZ implored her colleagues. “Yes, you there, with your hand raised.”
“I don’t have a suggestion exactly. More of a question. How do we decide what to ban?”
“Ah, yes, excellent question. I’ll make it easy – anything fun, interesting, or in any way enjoyable, is to be outlawed. Okay? So, just think of all the things you like doing.”
The ideas began to flow.
“You enjoy funerals then, do you?” DZ asked menacingly of the individual who’d ventured that suggestion.
“N-no, ma'am. I j-just… wakes are f-fun sometimes, y-you know?”
“Good point. Thank you,” DZ said, adding funerals, weddings, baptisms and bar mitzvahs to the list. “We’re making progress here, but I need more.”
“Hot food? My god, that’s brilliant!” DZ exclaimed in delight. “Evil, but undeniably brilliant.” She cackled like a demented witch. “Now we’re cooking with gas, people. More!” She pointed to a man watering the pot plant in the far corner of the room. “What about you? You haven’t said anything yet. Any ideas?”
“Who, me? I’m just the cleaner, ma'am. I’m not qualified – “
“As if any of us are,” DZ laughed. “Don’t be daft, man. Your country needs you. What do you like doing in your spare time?”
“Well, I like walking my dog.”
“Perfect!” DZ could picture the press release already – There will be no dogs that will be walked. Only politicians could so butcher the English language and hope to get away with it. “What else?”
“I like spending time with my family, of course. But I like having the house to myself when they’re away even more.”
“You, sir, are brilliant!” DZ wrote everyone to work from home, schools to be banned on her list. “Pull up a chair.”
Inspired, the others began throwing out more ideas.
“Gyms! No, no, wait – all exercise!”
DZ took wrote them all down, urging her happy band of banners to continue.
“Excuse me, ma'am,” the newly emboldened cleaner asked. “Wouldn’t it just be easier if we banned everything?”
Stunned silence filled the room.
“Ban everything?” DZ furrowed her brow. What a bold idea. It would make their job much easier and greatly inconvenience the public at the same time. Killing two stones with one bird like that was the essence of unsuccessful governing. “Genius!” she exclaimed. “Quick, someone give this man a promotion.”
“Um… there aren’t any vacancies in cabinet,” DZ’s assistant assisted.
“Well, just make up a new position then! Do I have to do everything myself?” She then scrawled everything atop the list and moved to conclude the meeting. “So, in summary, I hereby declare everything officially banned.”
The collective assembly murmured its consent.
“Wait,” the cleaner spoke up again. “In banning everything, haven’t we banned banning things? That would invalidate our ban, wouldn’t it?”
“Ah, I see what you mean. Okay, we’ll ban everything except for the ban on banning things,” DZ amended. “I think we’re finished – “
“Hang on.” The cleaner was grinning broadly. “Banning things is fun, isn’t it?” Everyone nodded in enthusiastic agreement. “So, if we’re banning fun activities, banning should be banned then, not so?”
“My god, you’re right,” DZ conceded. She couldn’t fault such convoluted thinking. “Okay, so we’ll ban everything, except for the ban on the ban that bans banning things. Follow?”
No one did, but they held their silence as one.
“We’re done here then. Thank you all for your time and – “
“Hold up.” Mr. Cleaner was having a fine old time by now. “Haven’t we just banned banning things, thereby invalidating our banning of things, again?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” DZ sighed. “We’ll have to ban everything, except for the ban that bans the ban on the ban banning the ban…”
And on it went.
Three days later…
An exhausted, rather haggard-looking DZ looked down at her notes, cleared her throat, and attempted, yet again, to conclude the interminable meeting. “Now, to summarize, we’ve officially banned everything, except for the ban on the ban that bans the ban… (this continued for 37 minutes)… of the ban on the ban relating to the ban that bans the ban on banning things.” She slumped back in her seat. “I think we’re done – “
Grinning wickedly, the cleaner just couldn’t help himself. “But, ma'am, haven’t we then just effectively banned…”
During the course of the draconian lockdown, the South African government would be repeatedly asked to provide the scientific basis for the reasoning behind their banning of, well, pretty much everything. Their response was always the same: “That’s classified.” This translates loosely and politely as, If we don’t even know what we’re doing, how can we be expected to explain it to you? No one quite knew what was discussed in the fabled government policy deliberations, but given how lengthy they were, and how often they contradicted themselves, it was assumed to be sufficiently serious.
All good things must come to an end, however, and, happily, on August 18th, 2020 – five grueling months after the formation of the secret DUMB committee - the last of the illogical bans were finally lifted to the delight of the general public. Perhaps DZ had an attack of sound reasoning. More likely a certain ex-cleaner just got bored of his endless game of round and round the mulberry bush. Given his vital contribution in muddying the waters in so unprecedented a way, even for a politician, the man would surely have been knighted for his efforts had South Africa still been a colony. Instead, he was awarded the highest honor in the land: a government PPE tender contract. His wife was employed in the prestigious role of Minister in The Presidency. They lived happily ever after.
While the Rainbow Nation returns to some semblance of normalcy and people get back to the enjoyable activities they once took for granted before they were suddenly and inexplicably removed, the painful memory of this fiasco will, hopefully, begin to fade. Time heals everything, after all, even an economy left in ruins. Who knows what the future holds? But, come what may, the average South African can rest easy in the knowledge that DZ and her DUMB cronies are waiting in the wings, ready to step in and 'save' the day once more if required.