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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

African Time is a Myth, Pure and Simple

My latest Daily Maverick column:</i.

There is no African Time, in fact. There never was, and there never has been. This is the good news.

No society can hope to be competitive or catch up if it disrespects time. Unfortunately – and this is the bad news – the concept of African Time continues to provide a convenient excuse for the tardiness of those who are lazy or just plain rude. Of course, those who invoke African Time are not stupid, they know that by saying that it is part of African culture to disregard punctuality, very few will have the nerve to challenge them.

Like many things attributed to some ancient, but still prevalent social norm, African Time does not stand up to scrutiny. If you go to even the simplest village you immediately realise just how much the village folk respect time. If there is a gathering, the ordinary folk will all be there on time. What’s more, even the unemployed villager will be up at the crack of dawn to make the most of his day. So African Time is nothing but a myth.

I suspect all of us have known all along that African Time is a very tall tale told by those who want to be late and hide behind some supposedly collective and cultural disregard for time. But too many of us have been too polite to laugh in the face of those who try to peddle this nonsense and to tell them to be on time. Quite why we have been prepared to suffer largely in silence is beyond me, but I do think that in 2010 the time is ripe to say enough is enough.

African Time continues to give Africans a bad name. It lingers around like an awful smell that will just not go away. Everywhere you go you see examples of tardiness that can be linked back to the myth of African Time. I have lost count of the number of otherwise classy events held at swanky venues I have attended that still started an hour late. Nothing is safe from African Time. I have been to weddings that started up to three hours later than the advertised time. And the guests waited and survived on a mixture of small talk and gossip.

There is truly nothing more annoying than to receive an invitation to an up-market event and, when you arrive at the venue, there is hardly anyone there, not even the host. Invariably, if you bother to call them to find out why they are late, they tell you that they are around the corner, or the perennial favourite, they are five minutes away. Of course, that always turns out to be untrue and you end up waiting and wondering why they did not just choose a time they could manage.

What gets to me are the many senior officials in both politics and business that seem to delight in arriving late, as if this confirmed their status. As for the politicians, I have no words to describe their habitual failure to be on time – especially given that so many of them whizz past the traffic at the flick of their blue lights and their loud sirens.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    January 22nd, 2010 @12:13 #

    African time, it sucks hairy hippo nuts, just like Latin American time, and, from my childhood, 'Slamse tyd'. But let me not go on about it too much, as I'm working through a backlog...

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    January 22nd, 2010 @14:35 #

    Grand, Victor, although I read this with a dreadful twinge of guilt. I ring folk to say I'm 5 minutes away far too often. I will try and mend my ways...

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Ingrid Andersen</a>
    Ingrid Andersen
    January 22nd, 2010 @15:07 #

    Thanks, Victor, for standing up and saying it!


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