There was a tiger roaming around the south of Joburg this week. It would be tempting to utter, as veteran news hound Ray Joseph was wont to, ‘you can’t make this shit up’. But unfortunately, you can. Sheba wasn’t the first cat that went walk about. There was Panjo in 2010, who jumped off a bakkie between Bronkhorstspruit and Groblersdal on the way to the vet in Limpopo.
His disappearance prompted a two-day search that involved everyone from professional trackers to psychics. Eventually Panjo was found. Two years later, his owner threw him a R10 000 birthday party. By 2017 his owner’s widow and his son were broke. living with him in penury on a smallholding in Krugersdorp – and an animal whisperer declared Panjo was depressed.
You can’t make it up.
It’s a real bugger too when it comes to explaining to foreigners, especially Americans, that there aren’t tigers roaming the streets in Africa.
But, just as in 2010, there are plenty of other things that you can’t make up. Like warning people not to approach a tiger walking in the veld. Then again, after decades of Life Orientation teaching kids how best to put a condom on a banana, we haven’t turned the corner on teenage pregnancies – or put too much of a dent in the transmission of STDs, including HIV. Our education system is now at a level where the instruction manual for cars now warns drivers against drinking the battery acid, when it comes to telling them how to change the battery.
Even though Sheba was tame according to her owner Rassie Erasmus, no not that Rassie, she still managed to kill and eat two dogs and a pig, during her brief walkabout. She also mauled 39-year-old William Mokoena. In fairness, it is what you would expect from an exotic predator on the loose – particularly one that isn’t even found in Africa. In fact, you might be surprised that the carnage was so slight, given that pit bulls are racking up human fatalities across the country almost every month.
The owner left food for Sheba to entice her home. She ate the food and left – in itself a typical South African story. Early on Wednesday morning though, Sheba was found and shot dead. There was a desperate inevitability to it all, a tragic ending to a tragic story; the animal should never have been kept in captivity, even less hand-reared. It was an accident waiting to happen, all the sadder since it is always the animal that gets punished, never the owner – whether of a full-grown tiger or pit bull.
You can’t make this shit up.
Just like you can’t make up the fact – if you are a sentient South African – that on Wednesday the ANC called for a national shutdown of the country to force an end to the load shedding incurred by a government parastatal woefully mismanaged by incompetent cadres deployed by a government run by the ANC.
Maybe it’s easier after all to explain tigers roaming the streets of Johannesburg to Americans.
Originally published in the Saturday Star on 21 January 2023.