When the red mist descends, how about we just chill out?

Business

When the red mist descends, how about we just chill out?

We’ll only solve our challenges as partners. If we fight now, there’ll be nothing left to fight for once we’re done

Mark Barnes


I was dawdling through the Joburg traffic towards the Glenhove Road on-ramp to the M1 – a weekday torture I endure to get to my office in Pretoria. Throw in a couple of dead traffic lights on the way to the highway and you’ll get the mood we were all in.
The next minute this guy, my age (old, and suffering, as I do, from early-onset grumpiness), comes up really close behind me and hoots!
I went to a government school and we used to start fights for lesser reasons than being hooted at in traffic. Sometimes we started a fight just because we (both sides) needed to have one. A boy can only go for so long without a bit of fisticuffs.
Some of my better friendships had their genesis in a bit of playground bad behaviour. A bloody nose here, a swollen lip there – there’s no better foundation for a solid friendship. Our schoolboy fights never lasted long enough for anyone to get really hurt before one of the teachers arrived to spoil the fun.
Back to Glenhove Road. It’s almost compulsory to raise the proverbial finger at anyone who has the temerity to hoot at you in the traffic, and to get one raised back at you – it’s just proper road rage etiquette. Usually, that’s where the interchange ends, and we all get on with our lives.
That is, of course, if the one working robot in the entire precinct doesn’t stop both of you, next to each other. Hoot back at him, I thought to myself, so I did – not just a polite response, a proper, three-second hoot.
Having got his attention, we both rolled down our adjoining windows, and the following eloquent discourse ensued (expletives removed to protect the many children who read this publication).
Me: “Why do you have to be so aggressive, boet, it’s Friday already, take it easy!”
Him: “Are you on holiday, or just stupid?!”
I couldn’t see the connection between being on holiday or not and my IQ, but I thought it warranted a response anyway.
Me: “I’m not on holiday, but I’ve got enough time to make something of this if that’s what you want.”
Him: “So do I!”
As we reached for our door handles, to get out and start a fight, the robot changed to green, and we had to go (half of Joburg was dammed up behind us).
Thank goodness for that. He was about my age and looked like a perfectly respectable man, driving a Toyota-something sedan. Beyond that, and both being clearly A-type personalities, we also had in common that we were both too old to fight seriously.
Besides the public spectacle it was sure to be, the real challenge for me was the arthritis in my fingers. The harder the punch (if I’d indeed landed one), the more pain I would have inflicted on myself. He may well have had similar stuff, but either way, we were both too old for such silly stuff.
Once into the full swing of the four lanes of gridlock approaching the Sandton turnoff, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. It was a good result. The fact of the matter though, is that all of us are in a higher state of angst than usual, bordering on red alert status, Defcon 1. We’re all angry and disappointed. We don’t know who’s going to fix it, and who’s in the way and how long we’re going to stay in this world of court cases and commissions of inquiry and blame politics. These everyday challenges of just getting on with it risk blurring the clarity of which strategy, led by who, will rescue us.
The last thing we can afford right now is to start fights with each other. If we can’t find sufficient common cause, then at least let’s set upon our common enemies.
We’re in this mix, this wonderful mix that is SA, together. There are plenty of potholes in the road ahead, but we can fix them – it’s part of the resilience that has got us this far in the first place.
Let’s face it, we’re fighters. Instead of the pain we inflict on each other, let’s keep fighting the common enemies of poverty, unemployment and inequality which plague our social and economic prospects.
We’ll only solve our challenges as partners. If we fight each other now, there’ll be nothing left to fight for once we’re done.
• Mark Barnes is CEO of the Post Office.

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