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South Africans love wagging a finger - or raising the middle one - to others

It doesn't matter if you're a Karen or a Zulu, a bad driver or a naughty neighbour, few take it politely when a fellow citizen points out they've done wrong

16 May 2021 - 00:02 By ndumiso ngcobo
Image: Aardwolf

On my way to a meeting, I am using GPS to get to my destination. Following the instruction of the Waze lady, I turn into a road and drive up. About 200m in, I am met by an avalanche of vehicles coming at me. The first car is driven by a hulk of a bearded fellow. Confused, I duck into a driveway to let them go by. As it happens, the driveway leads into a complex he wants to go into.

He gets out of his vehicle and spews an angry rant that would have rivalled “that” rant by Game of Throne's Khal Drogo, complete with chest thumping. I calmly point out that I hadn’t noticed the “No entry between 1.30 and 2.30” school sign at the bottom of the street because I was concentrating on the Waze prompts.

Seeing as I can neither go forward nor back, I sit there until he is done. After promising to burn down my entire village and mount all the women there, he gets back into his car and, wonder of wonders, drives comfortably into his complex.

Of course, none of this matters as much as the fact that I made a mistake and broke a rule. But the incident did get me thinking about the average South African’s stock response to being berated by fellow citizens for breaking societal rules.

I wonder if you have seen those YouTube clips from Singapore and Malaysia where ordinary citizens grab litter jettisoned out of car windows and throw it back in.

One of my favourites involves a guy on a Vespa picking up the litter, putting it in a nearby bin and then emptying the entire trash can onto the seats of the offending cabriolet driver. Okay, that’s probably going a tad too far, but I’m for the principle.

But there’s something about South African culture that just does not lend itself too well to pointing out when fellow citizens do wrong. We’re just not wired that well.

Just yesterday, the driver of a Corsa van got distracted and slowly drifted into my lane. I alerted him by using my hooter. After violently jerking back into his lane, he expressed his gratitude by showing me the finger favoured by erstwhile president Zuma to adjust his reading glasses.

My first instinct when someone admonishes me is to go into my emotional Fort Knox and defend myself

Zulu people never threaten you with violence. Their favourite warning shot before they open a can of whupass on you is “khuzeka”. I think it’s a beautiful word. It means, “Please yourself to be berated”. I love it. This nation needs a lot more people to heed the khuzeka call. 

My first instinct when someone admonishes me is to go into my emotional Fort Knox and defend myself.

There’s a complex I lived in, about 20 years ago. While my then-fiancée was away one weekend, I decided to call all my buddies and have a weekend-long party. Neighbours came twice to ask me nicely to tone in down and both times I asked nonsensical questions about whether they possessed decibel counters.

The coup de grace of that weekend of shame came on Sunday afternoon after I had cleaned out the townhouse. Figuring that the love of my life would ask questions if she found 72 empty Amstel cans in the trash, I decided to dump the black bags into one of my neighbours’ bins. As I tiptoed back to my unit, I heard a voice, “Yazi, umdala kanjani for lento oyenzayo?” (Do you realise you’re too old for this nonsense?).

The neighbour’s wife was standing there, shaking her head more in disappointment than anger. But I must give a favourable mention to the middle-aged white women commonly referred to as “Karens” on social media. Sure, they deserve flak for their “Karensesque” behaviour. But their righteous indignation makes them feel entitled to go around fixing whatever they disapprove of.

A few months ago, I stopped at a petrol station. A mother was crossing the road towards the parking lot where the hubby was waiting. She let go of her little four-year-old, who ran across the road and almost got mowed down by a Karen mobile.

Instead of apologising to the Karen, the mother grabbed her son and smacked him on his bottom. Oh boy, did she get an earful! The Karen berated her for punishing the child when it had been her fault. To her credit, the mother took her khuzeka moment gracefully and apologised profusely

. After the harangue was over, the chuckling husband looked at her and says, “Ja nee, skattie, that woman really told you off, jissus!