Maybe being half a world away made the headline all the more unbelievable. "PM pulls waitress' hair". I took my phone into the kitchen of my aunt's Cape Town apartment and read the article to my cousin. He burst out laughing.

You have to understand why Daniel laughed so hard. It's not that the story's funny, it's just that he's more accustomed to the biggest news of the day featuring someone - or many people - dying or resigning in corruption scandals.

The day I read out the headline was also the day the dead person in the news was Daniel's mate's dad.

We saw Jonty only last weekend. He brought his girlfriend to the beach and they spent about an hour slouched under the shade of my aunt's umbrella chatting to Daniel. Jonty seemed like he was coping okay, even though his mum died of cancer only five months ago. In shorts and a T-shirt he was a pretty average Cape Town 20-something. That was Saturday.


By 1am Monday he was an orphan.

The police found Jonty's dad's body, badly beaten and naked, lying in bushes by the side of a gravel road. Some news reports suggested the murderers cut out his tongue. Others say they had forced him to withdraw cash from at least one ATM before killing him.

The three guys made the mistake of cruising around in Jonty's dad's ute. It was the blood splatters in the backseat that caught a gas station security guard's eye and gave them away.

My cousin Daniel grew a bit miserable after hearing the news of his mate's dad. He spent a lot of time playing Grand Theft Auto on his computer. He yelled "This country is ruined," a few times, although instead of ruined he used a word that rhymes with trucked.

Daniel lives in a country where the authorities have been cutting power to entire suburbs at dinnertime, night after night for the past six months, just to keep the power on during working hours.

He lives in a country where students are tearing down historic statues, and young black men are killing other young black men simply because they were born on the other side - the wrong side - of the border.

That was why Daniel laughed. In his country, an allegation of hair-pulling wouldn't make the national news at all. Let alone for days.

It would be easy to compare headlines between here and there then write off ponytail-gate as a non-story.


It would be easy to say we're dwelling on the trivial, or blowing way out of proportion what was just a bit of a crap prank, or that we could be talking about something more worthwhile. Something like inflation.

But I reckon we're lucky we can talk about ponytail-gate at all. We have the news space to do it. We have the luxury of column inches left vacant because we don't have xenophobic riots.

We have minutes and minutes spare in our news bulletins every night because 140-odd farmers weren't murdered last year.

I'll admit, it's a little embarrassing that Daniel and his mates now think New Zealand is being run by a guy who may get his kicks out of tugging bunches of hair but, on the upside, by the time we're done talking about ponytail-gate we'll probably understand the difference between a really lame joke and harassment.

In the meantime, I'm relaxed if Daniel has a laugh at our expense. I almost hope that he tells Jonty about it.