THE GRASSHOPPER SYNDROME
The following is a piece by Don Clarke, written for The Drakonteur.
This particular grasshopper is an African grasshopper. Every continent has its own grasshoppers
When I was a very young lad, my mother, who came from a privileged background, had all the flamboyance and fortitude of a lady of that era. She was a fierce conservationist, animal-welfare advocate, and a member of the Black Sash to boot. She taught us to love animals at all cost, especially dogs. She was also a strict believer in the use of the Queen’s English, and the accent that went with it.
Anyway, one day, with us kids in the backseat of her car, she swung into a petrol station to fill her tank. While the “fill-it-up-please-m’boy” was busy with the task, she suddenly spied a grasshopper trapped behind the glass of the petrol pump.
“Oh the poor thing she cried”, leaping from her car.
She loomed over the “fill-it-up-m’boy” and instructed him in no-nonsense colonial terms that the pump must be opened and the poor insect liberated immediately. His eyes grew large and he stammered in broken English that he had no idea how to open the pump. Of course, if he wasn’t already convinced that the white imperialists weren’t a little crazy, this surely did it. I mean, what value does a single grasshopper have in Africa?
But my mother was a tenacious woman, and so instructed the “fill-it-up-m’boy“, whose day had taken a decided turn for the worse, to “fetch the manager, please!”
In due course, the manager arrived, and after a touch of coercion via a short lesson that was more passion than entomology, he was made to understand that “the poor insect needed to be set free.”
And so it was that a key was found, the pump was opened and a small grasshopper, none the wiser to the foibles of the Human Nature, was allowed to jump from its glass prison to the ground below.
But here’s where the tale takes a sad twist.
My mother was no doubt flushed with the success of saving one more life in the harsh continent of Africa, but as we left the garage I happen to look out of the back window just in time to see her car run the grasshopper over.
I was too young to grasp such irony, but somewhere in my undeveloped mind, I must have realised that I had in my hands the power to see that a good story was not ruined, so I said not a word.
Fifty odd years later I’m still in South Africa, where millions of disenfranchised and marginalised “grasshoppers” have been liberated by the mighty ANC who now have the country firmly in their grasp. And I can’t help wondering if there are not some parallels between my grasshopper story and current politics.
You see, my mum, although unquestionably satisfied in her mind that she was doing the right thing, was working on an instinctive principle by which one can be rewarded more for the sentiment behind liberation than in the liberation itself.
I presume the assumption was that the grasshopper, once freed, would return to a glorious life in the green grass? But instead, it fell on stony ground and was crushed by its liberator.
Ultimately, my mother shouldn’t have just set the grasshopper free. She should have ensured that its liberation was meaningful by checking to see that it had prospects of a normal grasshopper life beyond its glass prison. But she didn’t. She had no idea where it had gone or where it was going, and didn’t even realised that she had destroyed it.
There may be a lesson for our government here because I can’t help wondering if the ANC haven’t done the same thing.
In conclusion, my advice is this. If you think you may be a grasshopper liberated by the current government, make sure you are as liberated as you think you are.
Before you get run over.
Don Clarke – The Drakonteur is a newspaper distributed in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands
Don Clarke’s website is http://www.donclarke.co.za/
Please visit the above sites for more from this talented author & songwriter. Copyright remains with Don, & is shared here with his kind consent.