In recent weeks, I’ve spent an awful amount of time keeping government and its guns and death-prisons at bay. What with getting a new licence disc for my car, stressing about the national tax-extortion deadline, replacing my driver’s licence, keeping within speed limits, and replacing my broken front number plate, I’ve found keeping “the man” happy is demanding work.
I was convinced I’d covered everything, but then a series of SMSs demanding I pay my TV licence got through to my phone. I presumed it was some sort of hoax and promptly sought a way to block the annoying messages, but to no avail. What concerned me, however, was that there seemed to be some legitimacy to the messages. They referred to me as “Mr Ray”, which is what people call my father, and they began to include a warning that they would refer my non-payment to lawyers.
Puzzled as to why I should be getting such messages, I googled “TV licence” fully expecting some hoax-buster website to pop up. Instead, to my astonishment, I found that TV licences in fact are a real concept, quite common in the world. How it works is that the government writes on a piece of paper that if you buy a TV, you have to pay it a fee of R250 - every year. If you don’t pay the government this money, they send large men with guns to your house, who force you into a van and take you to prison where you will be raped for six months and probably contract HIV/Aids. If you own a TV, you are subject to and do not have any option of not entering into this government-imposed contract.
Again, using the services of Google, I discovered that the purpose of the money is to fund the “SABC”. I’d never heard of this organisation before. With more research I found that it, apparently, is the “national broadcaster” of South Africa. Not knowing what a national broadcaster is, I continued reading. As far as I can piece together, the SABC is a government-owned company that’s required to run at a loss. It tries to serve markets that, if it had to run at a profit, it would avoid. Evil-capitalist private broadcasting companies try to serve only the profitable markets. What does this mean for us? Well, say, twelve people want to watch a show about the glorious lifestyle of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s revolutionary pet Chihuahua; then, according to government thinking, this market must be served even if it has to be done using tax-extorted money. What is deemed a legitimate “unserved” market is at the discretion of the government-appointed Czars in charge of programme and content development.
I decided to seek out some authority figure. Since I have a fair amount of knowledge on the history of third parties who force people to hand over their money under duress, in particular, the fascinating history of Mafia Italy, I presumed there would be a Godfather figure to whom I could explain my situation. Firstly, I’m completely broke because I party too much and have to keep up with my friends who have real jobs. Secondly, I never bought the TV to actually watch TV- I just like to link it up to my laptop and watch TV series that I download illegally off the internet. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I watched TV. Thirdly, I recall, as a child, having seen an atrocious ANC-propaganda TV network which would cause my family to quickly flick to another channel. I presume this was something aired by the SABC. I certainly have not utilised its services for at least a decade, and have no intention of ever doing so, ever. Under these circumstances, surely I can be exempted from paying my “TV licence”?
But no such authority figure exists. This bothers me in the same way as I have a problem with how the Mafia has evolved over the last century. There was a time when you knew who was extorting you by name. They would threaten you personally, and they were certainly far more reasonable than the stringent “by-the-book” extortionists of today. This really is a sad development.
So, which course of action would be the least painful?. The intense suffering involved in the never ending admin required to keep government from threatening me, or just giving up and letting the government send me to prison. I really hate admin and use up tremendous amounts of energy to avoid it, so, to some extent, being locked in a cell seemed a more attractive option.
In the end, the ingenious policy of making South African prisons such unimaginably hellish, worse than death places led me to decide to do more admin for the government. I look forward to the next surprising extortion it has in store for me.