Forgive me if you’ve already heard this one. It’s an election variation on an old battle-of-the-sexes joke:
A woman in a hot air balloon realised she was lost. She lowered her altitude and spotted a man below.
“Excuse me,” she called, “can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”
The man consulted his portable GPS. “You’re in a hot air balloon, approximately 10m above a ground elevation of 782m above sea level,” he said. “You are at 31 degrees, 14.97 minutes north latitude and 100 degrees, 49.09 minutes west longitude.”
She rolled her eyes and said: “You must be a DA supporter!”
“I am,” replied the man. “How did you know?”
“Well,” answered the balloonist,” everything you told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to do with your information, and I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help.”
The man smiled and responded: “You must be an ANC government official.”
“I am,” replied the balloonist. “How did you know?”
“Well,” said the man, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going. You’ve risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise that you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. You’re in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but, somehow, now it’s my fault.”
Someone sent me this joke yesterday, just after I’d had my thumb inked, and it perfectly summed up the atmosphere at my voting station. Outside in the chilly sunlight, two tables had been set up: a DA table, and an ANC table. Each had a couple of frozen-looking party people on hard chairs, and both tables were being thoroughly ignored by the voters who were trickling in. Still, they were having a fine time, chatting between the party tables, teasing one another with the stereotypes. It was all, as it should be, friendliness; and inside, things were exactly the same – efficient, friendly, happy.
And that pretty much sums up what makes South Africa – yesterday, today and usually – the special place it is. Yes, we have deep and profound issues of class, race and wealth that are proving knotty to resolve; yes we have many bitter and angry people whose legitimate fears and complaints urgently need to be addressed and resolved. Yes, we have Julius Malema with his outdated and inconsistent political ideas, and we have many others in positions of power who don’t distinguish between power and responsibility; and because of them, we have whole regions suffering from non-delivery.
But mostly we have a nation of peace-loving, hard-working, tolerant, good citizens, who don’t react with animosity to contrary political alignment, and who approach life’s downsides with realism, finding every opportunity to have a laugh. For all the rhetoric in the run-up to the election, and for all that the outcome is going to have profound day-to-day implications for many of us, yesterday was one big celebration of that old statement: there is more that unites us than divides us.