A dispatch from The Republic South of Africa

Dearest one,

The confusion this misnomer is causing has compelled me to write to you to bring your attention to one small but important detail. The “of” in the name of the country of my birth may be silent and invisible, but it certainly is there and should not be ignored when you think of us. South of Africa. The Republic South of Africa, if you want to get technical. And if you understand the mechanics of language, you’ll realise that the of does not denote belonging. In the case of my country, of is an indicator of geographic position, nothing more. Wedged between the Atlantic and Indian oceans is the continent of Africa. Immediately south of that there is us, all 51 million of us, including a few million permanent foreign guests, many of whom we’d rather not have here. They are from Africa, that war-torn, disease-ravaged, fly-infested, famine-struck, leadership-bankrupt continent north of us. They’ve come to steal our jobs, our girlfriends, our houses, our social benefits. We’d feel more aggrieved than we already do about this had we not stumbled across a way to extract our fair compensation for this from the continent of indistinguishable failed states.

My dearest, the nice thing about having nothing, as Africa does, is that it means there are vast amounts of something out there for you to have, potentially. The really nice thing for us, though, is that there is a sweet penny to be made from being the ones to provide that something, however unnecessary the something may be. For to be fine and sophisticated and unsavagelike and developed is to have fine things and more things and many more fine things, and having nothing means that everything potentially could be yours, for a fee, of course. Did I mention that there is a share of this fee to be had from supplying those who have virtually nothing with something? Every sober-minded business in the Republic now has an Africa strategy.

I confess rather sheepishly that we were the last to realise this and missed out on the opportunity to use our geographic position and superiority over Africa to give ourselves a greater share of the fee. We, of course, understand how the world works, which in our defence is precisely what created this blind spot. The first law of market dynamics is that people who have nothing typically have nothing to offer in tender of payment and are thus valueless, so we did not bother with Africa. Instead we focused our attention and crafted our aspirations on the civilised nations with the wherewithal to compensate us in a direct exchange, until, that is, they said, “We have plenty, thank you very much. We have too much, in fact. We’re drowning in all this stuff.”

By the time a truly excellent journal of global economics alerted us to this, the fact that Africa did have something to barter after all and had been quietly using that to amass enough to fund a voracious appetite for stuff, others had beat us to the queue for a share of the fee. We’re now playing catch up, with moderate success, I might add. But it is not enough.

Fortunately for us, one doesn’t just go to Africa. It is wild there. You need a safe, fortified camp nearby and a facilitator. We are that camp. We are the facilitators. There’s a share of the fee to be had from that, too. We’ve worked hard to position ourselves as the gateway into Africa, the conduit through which one must pass to avoid the risks and dangers of dealing directly with deepest, darkest, farthest, superlativest Africa.

Dearest, I hope from this you understand that the nature of this arrangement should in no way be understood to imply that we, the Republic South of Africa, are a part of Africa. We have a proud saying here on the nature of the arrangement: the Republic is as much a part of Africa as a game ranger is one of the animals.

There is another way to describe the nature of the relationship we desire with Africa. You must forgive me for this is cruder than you may be accustomed to from me. Gate in the most cherished language of the Republic, Afrikaans, is gat, a hole, in other words—a sphincter puckered like lips expectant of a kiss. We, the Republic, want nothing more than to maintain our position as the eager butthole through which phallocentric global capitalist forces rapine Africa, again. We are the post-colonial leaders building pristine rail and road networks that run from mines and logging camps past ramshackle tenements to the sea. We are the kings leading raids into neighbouring villages to find big, strong African bodies to march to the waiting ships at the western coast of the continent.

Please, do not pity or look unkindly upon us, dear one. A butthole gets wiped afterwards, after all. There is a fee to be had from this and we will use it for more fine stuff to enhance our levels of sophistication. Do not forget that we, too, are also in line to have our way with Africa.

Do not pity Africa, either, my dearest. From this arrangement the hopelessness of before will be replaced by stuff, lots and lots of stuff. That, I assure you, is far preferable to flies and misery.

Sincerest blessings to you and yours,

A concerned, tax-paying, god-fearing citizen of the Republic South of Africa

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