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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/26/21

Evelyn Waugh's Hippo, Die Antwoord's Lion and White Malice Disguised As Charity

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Windhoek, Namibia 2021
Windhoek, Namibia 2021
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When I told a friend in Lebanon I was headed to South Africa, she said, "Say hi to the lions, monkeys, elephants and giraffes from me when you hit the safari beat. Of course you're gonna go on a safari!"

In Cape Town, the only fauna I saw was of hipsters, fat cats, foodies, hustlers, trash pickers, smartly uniformed schoolchildre n and one opportunistic pimp. On the edge of Grand Parade, its main square, I almost got mugged by three youths. Though it was wild enough, my friend wanted real beasts, "Enjoy your local travels and just do be careful what kind of 'friends' you make out there in empty bars. Oh and also, I still wanna see a South African 'safari' article from you (if possible)wanna see you compare elephants and giraffes to humans heh!"

Nearly five months later, I haven't seen any African wildlife besides a handful of parakeets and two or three lizards, with one boasting a long, spiky orange tail and an orange head on a slim black body. During a ten-hour trip from the South African/Namibian border to Windhoek, I spotted no animals but domesticated horses, donkeys and goats.

Driven through Wyoming in 1976, I marveled at hundreds of pronghorns. Riding the Greyhound through the same state in 2013, I encountered none. There are still plenty left, I know, but their population has declined, as human infrastructure encroached. Taking buses and vans all over Laos, I didn't see one elephant, in the Land of a Million Elephants. In Vietnam, tigers were so feared, people called them misters and worshipped them, in shrines and temples. They're nearly all gone. All species have been threatened but us, until now.

For a neat parable of animal die-off, here's a passage from Evelyn Waugh's Remote People of 1934:
At Jinja [in Uganda] there is both hotel and golf links. The latter is, I believe, the only course in the world which posts a special rule that the player may remove his ball by hand from hippopotamus footprints. For there is a very old hippopotamus who inhabits this corner of the lake. Long before the dedication of the Ripon Falls it was his practice to take an evening stroll over that part of the bank which now constitutes the town of Jinja. He has remained set in his habit, despite railway lines and bungalows. At first, attempts were made to shoot him, but lately he has come to be regarded as a local mascot, and people returning late from bridge parties not infrequently see him lurching home down the main street. Now and then he varies his walk by a detour across the golf links and it is then that the local rule is brought into force.
As railway lines, bungalows, roads, shops and golf links sprung up all around him, the big fellow simply maintained his routines while enduring his many new neighbors. While clearly obnoxious, they did express goodwill, or humanity, if you will, by not puncturing his huge target of a head with plenty of lead.

Abundant wildlife is the persistent stereotype of Africa, even if most Africans themselves have no experience of it. Windhoek has 350,000 people, Cape Town half a million. It's safe to say most of their inhabitants have never seen a lion, monkey, elephant or giraffe, for there's not even a zoo in either city. The Groote Schuur Zoo, built in 1897 by Cecil Rhodes as a private menagerie, was shut down by the state in the late 1970's. A Londoner, then, is much more likely than an African to see an African elephant, rhino or hippo, etc.

If a Londoner comes to Africa, he will also jumps the queue to experience African wildlife, for safaris are expensive. In Namibia, a seven-day one will set you back $1,600, with a 3-dayer costing $580. After a long, costly flight here from the US or Europe, most whites will splurge on a 12-day safari at $3,120.

There's a South African fried chicken chain called Hungry Lion. I tried it in Rehoboth, Namibia. Cheaper than KFC, it's not as tasty. Its logo is a smiling lion wearing a crown.

At Wernhil Park, Windhoek's downtown shopping mall, there's a sort of hopscotch court over an illustrated shape of Africa. See, there, two lions, an elephant, tribal masks, traditional pottery and cave painting figures, all that have disappeared from most people's life here. "Jump Through Africa From Namibia to Egypt."

Next to Nelson Mandela, Ninja and Yolandi of Die Antwoord have become the most famous South Africans. Few remember Bishop Tutu, and even fewer, F. W. de Klerk. In a post-literate world that's getting dumber by the second, Coetzee, Gordimer and Breytenbach, etc., hardly exist.

Die Antwoord made its name through a video attack on Lady Gaga, "Fatty Boom Boom," which is merely a South African endearment for a chubby baby, by the way. The video begins with a hazy, vaguely apocalyptic shot of the Johannesburg skyline. Everything is brown and gray, with a barren field and a forlorn, if not abandoned, building in the foreground. South Africa as a failing state is suggested.

Many more stereotypes follow. Played by a female impersonator, Lady Gaga is sitting in a beat-up tour van with two gangster types behind her. All the seats have leopard print covers. A toy lion dangles from the rearview mirror. On the outside are decals of the head of a rhino, elephant, lion and water buffalo.

As narrated by a cheerful driver, third-world street scenes roll by. Peddlers sell on sidewalks. All pedestrians are men, interestingly, so no women and children. Slowed down, their gaits and gazes towards the van somewhat alarm. Normally, pedestrians don't even notice passing vehicles.

To not disappoint, wildlife promptly appears, "Over there, we have some naughty hyenas eating rubbish. These hyenas, they make such a big mess! Over there is a shop owner, chilling with his black panther. Nobody is going to steal nothing when he's chilling with that black beauty. Nobody! Ah, ah, ah, let me tell you, it's your lucky day! Over there is the king of the concrete jungle, the lion king!"

Masterfully edited and with a striking visual style, "Fatty Boom Boom" is also a hearty joke on African stereotypes. Notice, for example, how the lion is crowned as "king of the concrete jungle," though it's precisely concrete that has pushed him to the edge of extinction.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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