On April 1st, the Western Cape government squeezed out this bone-dry little bonbon on its website:
Media statement: WC Cabinet to use remote controls for traffic lights
Premier Helen Zille announced today that as an alternative to using blue lights, members of the Western Cape Cabinet will each receive a remote-control device to change the traffic light (or robots) from red to green as they approach.
Premier Zille’s directive comes after several cabinet ministers complained that because they are not permitted to use blue lights in the province, they were late for most of their meetings.
After consulting various IT professionals and Minister of Transport and Public Works Donald Grant, who has signed off on the project, Premier Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remote control.
The remotes will be issued by next week Monday.
Members of the public are urged to approach every traffic light with caution as they may change at any stage if a Minister is approaching.
“It basically works like your TV remote control. As you approach the traffic light, you can just change it from red to green, all at the click of a button,” said Premier Zille. “None of our Cabinet Ministers will ever be late. It’s part of our good governance strategy,” Premier Zille added.
Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde added that the remote controls were “part of our commitment to be an innovative government”.
“When we visit Gauteng and those other provinces, blue light convoys are a bit much. They are loud and disruptive. But in the Western Cape, we’ll be quiet about it. Just a click of a button and we can go through to our meetings with no delay,” said Minister Winde.
“We would like to thank the Premier for this great idea,” he added.
Spokesperson for Premier Helen Zille
Cell: 071 564 5427
Tel: 021 483 4584
It was a brave attempt at comedy from Helen Zille’s Department of Drollery, but it went largely unnoticed, mainly because April Fools jokes are by definition, horrible: the last refuge of people holding onto a childlike infatuation with contrived, low-stakes trickery.
Of course, a lot of people thought it was real, partly because most people are illiterate, but mainly because the content was plausible (remote-controlled traffic lights are no more outlandish than remote-controlled presidents, a cool new toy designed by the Brothers Guptas) and the format looked ultra-legit.
Having written a lot of fake news, I know how eager people are to fling themselves off the Cliffs of Credulity. I’ve also learned that unless you want your inbox swamped by the garrulously gullible blaming you for their inability to read, you need to throw your reader a small bone. Just a hint that all is not as it seems. Perhaps some quotes attributed to a spokesperson with a BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS NAME, say, Plenty O’Quotes or Nom de Plume or Chatty McTalkyson. Not Helen Zille or Alan Winde, both of whom are, I gather, real people.
This didn’t help either…
Was this post brought you by Spindoctor Mpofu, Remote-Clicker for Premier Robotrunner Zille? Is he reachable on 082-APRIL-FOOL, or at April@fools.gov.za?
No. For Media Enquiries, please contact Michael Mpofu, Spokesperson for the Premier. Plus the flag. Plus the Chicken Of State (or whatever our national crest signifies). Plus, it’s an initiative of the Western Cape Government.
It’s possible that there has been a more earnest, legitimate-looking sign-off to a joke, perhaps to a state-sanctioned 1923 German jape about a slight delay to the start of the asparagus-planting season. But I suspect that that little block above might be the greatest comedy-killer in human history.
Which is why I don’t blame anyone who thought this story was real. But I wasn’t ready for what happened next. (Yes, I know. That’s pure clickbait. But I’m about to talk about crap journalism, so I think it’s appropriate.
On April 4, this appeared on page 3 of The New Age.
The news report, written by a certain Vincent Cruywagen, reads as follows:
As an alternative to using blue lights, members of the Western Cape cabinet can at the click of a button on a remote-control device, change the traffic light (or robots) from red to green as they approach the signal.
The measure announced by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille on Friday comes after several cabinet ministers complained that because they were not permitted to use blue lights in the province, they were late for most of their meetings.
“Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remove control after consultations with various IT professionals and the MEC for transport and public works,” Donald Grant, who has signed off the project, said.
Members of the public are urged to approach every traffic light with caution as they may change at any stage if a cabinet minister is approaching.
“It basically works like your TV remote control. As you approach the traffic light, you can just change it from red to green, at the click of a button. None of our cabinet ministers will ever be late for appointments again. It is part of our good governance strategy,” Zille said.
Western Cape MEC for economic opportunities, Alan Winde, said the remote controls were part of their commitment to an innovative government.
Winde said whenever he visited other provinces especially Gauteng blue light convoys were “a bit too many”.
“They are loud and disruptive but in the Western Cape, we will be quiet about it.
“Just a click of a button and we can go through to our meeting with no delay. We also want to thank the premier for this great idea,” Winde said.
So that just happened.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “My god! Didn’t an editor see this and think it looked fishy and check the source?” You’re thinking that because you think The New Age is a newspaper. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are at least 19 other South Africans who believe that The New Age is staffed with journalists who do things like fact-checking and so on.
So no, I’m not amazed or outraged that a non-newspaper printed a fabricated story as news, especially one that would paint the official opposition in a bad light.
I’m also not surprised that a “newspaper” published this “story” three full days after it had first appeared.
But I am very, very amused by how it ran said story.
For starters, there’s the glorious, charge-the-cannons chutzpah of Vincent Cruywagen putting his byline on a story he cut and paste off a website.
Actually no, that’s unfair. He didn’t just cut and paste it. He cut it, then butchered it, then stitched the bleeding bits back together. And sometimes he added entirely new bits. Like when he read not-Alan not-Winde not saying that blue light convoys were “a bit much” and decided that “a bit much” should become “a bit too many”, a completely new phrase in the English language.
Then there’s the Python-esque moment where Vinnie C takes an invented reported statement and re-invents and invented quote.
The original: After consulting various IT professionals and Minister of Transport and Public Works Donald Grant, who has signed off on the project, Premier Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remote control.
Vinnie’s Version: “Zille obtained permission to issue the traffic light remove control after consultations with various IT professionals and the MEC for transport and public works,” Donald Grant, who has signed off the project, said.