Image: Illustration by Nomvelo Shinga

The news that practically the entire Johannesburg Metropolitan Council is now a card-carrying member of the blue-light brigade fills me with such joy.

It’s very important to be able to identify your councillors in public. It’s a crucial element of democracy. Accountability, you know! How are you going to keep these folk under control if you don’t know who the hell they are?

Now that they’ve decided to make themselves known by driving around town in convoys of BMWs they’ve expropriated from the traffic department (or whatever those people are called when they’re not extracting revenue from motorists), we can see them for precisely who they are. I just love democracy in motion.

Most of the top dogs are drawn from tiny parties exercising an outsize influence on our politics. I think the team leader of the Joburg blue lights brigade is from a party called Al Joburg (In My Back Pocket) — no relation, you’ll be pleased to know, to the extremely useful listings publication Joburg In Your Pocket.

The latter actually supplies services — not water or electricity, unfortunately — such as useful information about how to engage in joyful libations that take your mind off the bankruptcy of the city. (I’m not speaking of Jozi’s moral bankruptcy, because obviously there’s nothing to be done about that.)

But what really puts some pep in my step is the justification for all the security. Apparently, it’s because people keep being taken out when a deal goes wrong.

There have been a few “swimming with the fishes” incidents lately, which a party that has 0.002% of the vote understandably has little chance of impeding. So instead they’re taking the high road, which is an enlightened path. You know the way because you follow the blue lights blinking away faintly in the distance.

The thing is, these Joburg okes are also all about reframing things that are really bad in ways that make them sound as if they’re really doing all this for our own good. At first, I believed the suggestion that if you expropriated vehicles from the traffic service you would be freeing up the roads for a lot of entrepreneurial activity with a strong civic bent.

I’m delighted to say the scheme is working. The perennially homeless are still destitute, but at least now they’re acquiring some experience in new skills involving traffic control and regulation — which, to be fair, the traffic department hadn’t previously considered as coming within their purview. It doesn’t come up in their performance review, which is understandably skewed towards revenue generation. 

There’s also been a helpful rise in redistributive activity at now-redundant robots, which is apparently statistically relevant when criminality is measured year on year. Hence the need for so many bodyguards for the multitudes of municipal councillors.

Reframing is a very useful modus operandi. Once you know about it, you see it everywhere.

Reframing is a very useful modus operandi. Once you know about it, you see it everywhere. I was reading about how Tanzania has become a conservation oasis. In a world where environmental destruction is the norm, it’s great they have created huge conservancies to save the planet.

Many of these privately leased national parks were set up at the behest of the Saudi and Dubai royal families for the enjoyment of various royal hunting pursuits, but they’re conservancies all the same. When the royals aren’t shooting at the dumb beasts, high-end dollar-safari tourists can realise their African dreams. Most crucially, those dreams are to be unsullied by any trace of humanity.

So the Tanzanian government is taking proactive steps to remove the Masai from the Mara. It’s a small price to pay — losing the land you’ve lived on for 400 years to save the planet. The Masai should speak to the bushmen of Botswana and form a dispossessed tribes of Africa Telegram group. 

The conservation “reframing” case study should be part of the new municipal councillor curriculum. It’s a brilliant use of smoke and mirrors where everyone feels good, except for the poor patsies paying the price. The Saudis, who’re primarily in the oil business, are now also in the eco-credit business.

Polluting countries can buy credits from the Saudis who have set up these conservancies to offset the pollution they themselves are generating. It’s the circular economy in action. Similarly, our very own councillors are simply responding to the inherent dangers of being a councillor in Joburg’s dystopian reality. It’s the reframe in all its glory. 

This column was originally published in the Sunday Times Lifestyle. 

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