When we were small and complained to my mother about how bad things were, she always reminded us that no matter how bad our situation might seem, there is also someone else somewhere else whose situation is probably worse. My mother was not an educated woman, in the formal sense of the word, but she was one of the wisest people I was fortunate to know and I learnt a lot of lessons from her, which would benefit me greatly later in life.
This week was one of those weeks when, faced with load shedding after load shedding after load shedding – no, scrap that, we were faced with rolling blackouts – as South Africans we could still look elsewhere and think about how lucky we are. I am not saying we are not in trouble. The rolling blackouts have played havoc with most people’s lives, no matter where you find yourself. You can be rich or poor, black or white, but the blackouts would have affected you. Eskom, it seems, is an equal opportunity offender.
While I am offended as everyone else by what has happened to our nation’s power supply – and one can easily blame corruption if the revelations at the Zondo Commission into state capture can be believed – I am not prepared to take joint responsibility, as we were encouraged by the President this week. Those who should take responsibility are the thousands who work at Eskom and the small group who looted this state-owned entity at the behest of an even smaller group who belonged to, it seems, mainly two families and their extended base of hangers-on. The responsibility should also rest with those people who turned a blind eye even when they knew that wrong-doing was going on.
But while Eskom was playing havoc with production and people’s schedules generally, elsewhere in the world there were worse things going on, which could have made some of us say: I’m glad to be in South Africa. There have been gross displays of violent intolerance, the worst being in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a right-wing terrorist gunned down innocent worshippers in two mosques during the holy Jummah prayers last Friday – while livestreaming his actions.
But the worst tragedy happened not far from us, across our borders, literally. Cyclone Idai, one of the biggest cyclones in recent history, hit parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing and injuring thousands and displacing millions. More than 90 percent of Mozambique’s fourth largest city, Beira, has been destroyed. According to reports, Beira has been reduced to a small island. One report said this is possibly the worst disaster to ever strike the southern hemisphere.
Our thoughts and sympathies should have been with the people of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi immediately and we should have been finding ways in which we could help. But South Africans don’t naturally jump to the assistance of people in neighbouring countries, unless we are directly affected. In this case, we are, because a large part of South Africa’s electricity supply comes from Mozambique and the cyclone destroyed many pylons in its path, effectively cutting off the power supply to South Africa.
Several South African-based civil society organisations, such as Gift of the Givers and Doctors Without Borders, have been working in all three affected countries and President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent troops to help with rescuing people and restoring some semblance of normality – even though this will probably take years.
As South Africans commemorated Human Rights Day this week, we should have been thinking not only about how to secure our own human rights, but also how we can play a role in making the world a better and a safer place. Ignoring intolerance anywhere in the world can impact on our human rights, as can ignoring climate change which can result in more tragedies such as that brought on by Cyclone Idai.
Ryland Fisher is CEO of Ikusasa Lethu Media, which tells the story of marginalised communities. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher.