NEWS & ANALYSIS

Darwin Awards: SA’s chance for national glory

William Saunderson-Meyer on one area where members of our criminal class are excelling internationally

JAUNDICED EYE

As the creators of the spoof Darwin Awards point out, humankind is actually a steadily devolving species, nowhere near as bright as it thinks it is.

That’s pretty incontrovertible. I mean, have you watched the Parliamentary television channel lately? 

Fortunately, Nature has it’s own way, ultimately, of putting us in our place. Since the intelligence of the species is mostly AWOL, we can at least be happily assured of the impending extinction of the human race. 

The Darwin Awards honour those — all real people — who have made the greatest possible contribution to the human gene pool, by removing themselves from it. At last, an arena where South Africans can shine.

We might not do brilliantly at the Olympics. We don’t win the Maths Olympiads or the World Chess Championships. We are the bottom of every international school performance ranking. But at being terminally dumb… 

One of last year’s Darwin Award winners was made on a technicality — he didn’t actually kill himself but he did remove himself from the gene pool.

This Argentinian security guard faced years in prison because of being in illegal possession of a 45-calibre pistol. The mitigating aspect — the judge called it “divine punishment” in setting him free — was that while the gun was tucked into his waistband, it went off, obliterating his testicles and any prospect of procreation. 

Can you see how easy this is going to be for SA? Ours is a country unrivalled, except possibly by the United States, at stupid acts of self-annihilation using firearms. 

But it’s when it comes to criminality that we are really going to shine. Many of the acts that win Darwin Awards are of a criminal nature.

There are discernible national trends. In the United Kingdom, these deaths rarely involve mishaps with firearms or explosives. 

Mostly UK crime-related deaths are quaintly retro. Surprisingly often they involve a burglar who sneaks into premises , perhaps through a chimney or by lifting roof tiles, then gets stuck and dies of suffocation or starvation.

It’s rarely explained why no one responds to the desperate cries or notices the frenzied thumping of boots in the roof cavity. But then again, to determinedly mind one’s own business it is a defining British trait. 

The number of criminals achieving Darwin Awards is not surprising. Almost by definition, this is a situation where stupid and/or desperate people, who think they are clever, do something innately dangerous, often after consuming lots of alcohol. 

The Awards regularly feature some bloke — overwhelmingly, the Awards go to blokes, signalling another interesting evolutionary phenomenon — who kills himself trying to blow up a cash dispenser.

Recently, pathetically, a young German man died trying to rob a railway station ticket dispenser by pumping aerosol gas into the slot and then lighting it. Instead of cash, he got a one-way ticket to Eternity.

This, then, is another potentially successful Darwin specialisation for SA. 

ATM robbing is a big thing here, one of our fastest growing categories of crime. Despite our ATM robbers being professionals, rather than amateurs,like the German trying to flush out small change, they, too, regularly blow themselves up.

Even more of them get themselves killed by the police. Eight robbers were shot dead by the cops in an ATM robbery in Howick in 2016. Last year, nine were shot dead in a Durban incident. And in March, another was shot dead in Madadeni, in rural KwaZulu-Natal. 

On these statistics, one should perhaps think of KZN as being SA’s Olympian-level training camp for Darwin. This is death-by-stupidity in staggering numbers. It's evolutionary self-destruction on a lemming like scale. 

So, too, our very dof drug mules, who keep getting sentenced to death in foreign countries, but who gamely persist in trying.

The Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, this week expressed concern about the number of South Africans, more than 800, detained abroad on drug-related charges. It follows the Vietnamese sentencing to death of Tyrone Lee Coetzee for drug trafficking.

With wonderful understatement, Sisulu advises Saffers travelling abroad to “familiarise themselves with the legal and cultural practices” of the countries they are visiting. She says her department will continue to monitor Coetzee's case and will “take its lead from the concerned citizen” regarding a possible appeal.

Coetzee has reason, belatedly, to be a “concerned citizen”. In Vietnam, the death penalty is mandatory for possession of more than 100g of drugs. 

Coetzee admits to carrying 1.5kg of cocaine for a cash payment of R50,000. He says he had no idea this was illegal.

A worthy contender, indeed, for a Darwin. Present him with his SA national colours, quick. After all, he won’t have much time to bask in the honour.