It lies quietly in wait for its prey, possessing the patience of a puff adder, the sinister calm of a crocodile and the have-I-got-a-surprise-for-you innocence of a hippo. Stealthy, uncompromising, unforgiving: there are many ways to describe this beast that traps the unsuspecting.
It’s become almost as commonplace as a rat or a pigeon and its spawned many a meme and a joke because if there’s one thing South Africans know how to do it’s to make light of a problem.
And right now, leading the charge is comedian Themba Robin, whose turned the not-so-humble pothole into a skit so screamingly funny its making waves around the world.
The 32-year-old Joburg funnyman recently posted a video on social media of himself doing a pitch-perfect David Attenborough impersonation, inspecting the potholes of his neighborhood in Kya Sands, Joburg.
The opening shot is of a Volkswagen Polo driving through a muddy pothole at top speed.
Then Themba appears, clad in khaki and sturdy hiking boots, welcoming the viewer to the urban safari. Slowly he walks, in true Attenborough style.
He speaks clearly, his British accent clipped, his tone measured as befits a BBC nature documentary.
Patiently he explains, giving us the scientific name of this all-too-prevalent predator: Replacis mytyresis every f*****g weekis.
Extinct in the Western Cape, the South African pothole is far superior to other species found elsewhere in the world, he says. It has two secret weapons.
It has learned to take advantage of a crumbling infrastructure and lazy repair work. This, coupled with the fact that its asexual, means a single pothole can reproduce faster than two horny rabbits in a field full of horny rabbits.
With no natural predators, a strong, independent pothole like this is free to prey on small to medium-sized vehicles such as the i20, Fiestas and Polos with their springs cut.
Themba’s video has been watched more than a million times and widely shared on social media, but it’s done more than give people a good laugh.
By the third day after it went live on his social media, all the potholes near his house had been filled in. I dont know if someone from the city council saw my video or if it was just a coincidence, although I can’t imagine how they’d know exactly where the potholes are.
But there are so many seasonal potholes that they’ll all be back soon. He’s still marveling at the reaction his video has received.
“People from all over have contacted me, from England to Australia,” Themba says. “Someone from Australia told me I should come and see the potholes in Brisbane. Apparently, ours are nothing compared to theirs. It just goes to show every country has its problems, not just ours.”
Thema is out on the hunt for more potholes when we catch up with him this time in the Joburg suburb of Linden.
He’s back in his David Attenborough outfit and people stop to say hello, shake his hand and warn him to watch out for the potholes.
Themba, who is originally from Gqeberha, has been a comedian for the past two years, but earns his bread and butter as a voice artist and emcee.
He’s also appeared in several commercials, including Takealot, Aromat and Telkom. He’s been toying with the idea of making a video about potholes for a while.
“I think its quite an art and a challenge to assign human or animal features to inanimate objects,” he says. “But it was a no-brainer when it came to potholes. Just like the wildebeest on the plains of the Serengeti, there’s migration involved. You can fill in a set of potholes, but by the time the next rainy season comes along, the entire herd is back again. Shooting a wildlife documentary comes with many challenges, and it was no different to this Attenborough of the Highveld. I usually shoot everything with my own tripod, but I made the mistake of shooting on a Friday afternoon when traffic is heavy. I had to keep stopping and checking for cars. But the show had to go on and get up on the internet.”
And like Attenborough, Themba is already thinking of his next project.
“I think it will be about robots,” he says. Something in the line of, they’re like lazy employees they only sometimes work or half the time.
Then, as if on cue, load shedding kicks in as were having a break from pothole hunting in a neighborhood coffee shop. Themba shakes his head wryly.
“I think South Africans are all in a dark place literally and figuratively. We have many problems, and it feels like we just can’t catch a break. But with my videos I want to bring a little light and humor to the table. It’s important to him to look at South Africa and its challenges from a different perspective,” he said. “We need to cultivate a positive mindset. We must say to ourselves, ‘Sure, it’s a mess, but let’s laugh about it.’”
He started making videos on TikTok during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“I made a series called Lockdown Is Lekker, in which I basically just shared my own experience of lockdown in a funny way.”
Then there’s the one he made where he punts SkolieOlie, a type of cooking oil you can pour in front of your door to deter skol lies, or burglars.
He got the idea after watching security guards pouring cooking oil on the floor of a shopping center to stop looters in their tracks during the 2021 riots in KwaZulu-Natal.
Again, it was a case of making light of a bad situation, he says. Next up is a collaboration with actor and singer Bouwer Bosch.
He plays Jan in the video, Themba says.
He’s a regular Afrikaans guy who gets a surprise visit from the new electricity minister. He describes himself as just a guy who wants to make the world smile a little more through these increasingly crazy times.
Supporting him at home are his wife, Skye, who works in logistics, and their kids, Ben (2) and Moxie-Rae (four months).
“We all just want the best possible life for ourselves and our loved ones,” Themba says. “Sometimes under the circumstances were living in, it’s not so easy. Not all of us have the money and the opportunities to leave the country and start a new life elsewhere. We need to accept that were in this together, and we must unite. We must help and support each other and, most importantly, we must laugh together every now and again.We must help each other and laugh every now and then.”
Produced in association with Magazine Features ZA