Great men are almost always bad men ... There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
- Lord Acton
Acton, a prominent English historian, is also the same Engelsman who penned the famous quote about absolute power corrupting absolutely. He might have added that great men (or women) are almost always grossly overweight, especially in Africa.
I've never really undertood why so many self-serving politicians feel the need to overindulge themselves to the point of disgusting obesity; sadly, remarkably few seem to pay the penalty of heart attacks and bad chloresterol numbers, but maybe they get special dispensation for this. Or they can command the best doctors. Big men apparently need Big Bums.
Last week was a truly remarkable week, for events at completely opposite ends of the African continent. In the south, millions held their breath for the health of a leader who is rightfully the icon of their national freedom. He really was - is - a Good Great Man, much less of a paltry politician than the true Father of a Nation. Your long good health, Madiba!
At the other end of our continent, millions poured out upon the streets demanding the end of just another self-serving, self-appointed, overweight dictator who believes himself sanctified by the name of his office.
We won't go into what was was happening in the huge continent in between, though there were probably a few tense moments in a presidential palace or two.
What's all this got to do with mapmaking? Lots, actually. Maps have traditionally been amongst the most political of documents. European kings, princelings, dukes, earls and other bad great men won or lost kingdoms, principalities and fiefdoms over maps and mapmakers. Modern states overlorded by overweight megalomaniacs deliberately distort maps to secure their kingdoms - you should see the old USSR's road maps.
India, an ostensible democracy, forced Google Earth to fuzz out air photos of "sensitive" military facilities. Why? Not so that "enemy" states couldn't see them - you can be sure that Pakistan doesn't study India via Google Earth! - but no, so that their own citizens couldn't count the missiles. That's called democracy, hay. Great men ... BAD men. Liars, cheats, the whole bladdie lot.
We had to divert from mapping the Swartberg this week to attend to a crisis in the Cederberg, of which much more soon. There are lots more political things to say about the Swartberg, but we'll get to that.
In the meantime, if you think it's not all about geography, consider this. Two cities on almost exactly opposite sides of the planet, one facing a million-man march to displace a tinpot dictator, the other facing cyclone Yasi, said to be worse than Katrina. Can you name the only two cities on earth whose names begin with C A I R ... ?
Funny old world, hay.