A flailing Rand. Severe drought. Zuma. Was this the summer of our discontent? Cat Pritchard wonders if you can’t stand the heat, maybe you can wait for the South Easter.
It was the summer of our discontent. Or maybe just more content. The students were revolting (which confirmed what most adults believed anyway), the rains lacking, the Rand flailing, Rates increasing and Zuma laughing. The heat was on but no one could afford air conditioning in the current economic climate, which is why most of us spent our time window shopping in temperate zones like the VA Waterfront. Perhaps it was the heat, or maybe the thought of a world devoid of David Bowie’s colour and Alan Rickman’s voice, but it seemed that we were all in a deep funk, and not the groovy 70’s kind.
The lines between good news and bad had become so blurred that some started questioning whether the cloud’s silver lining was in fact made of mercury, created to poison our hopes and dreams. And yet there was something deeply comical in these tragic times we were living, liking and sharing on Facebook. We were all in it together. Until a mass social media death or racial commentary did us part. Which happened the next day, when the Penny Sparrow debacle took flight and Gareth decided to finally jump off his manmade cliff.
Who had replaced our rose tinted glasses with these myopic bifocals, the people wondered? Daily conversations were not immune either. Those who had once hailed the great Uber as the greatest drinking companion since government ministers were now lambasting it for killing the local taxi industry and creating indentured labour of the unemployed and vulnerable. The same fate was to befall Airbnb (inflating the rental market!), Nespresso (the designer pods are just creating more landfills!), bumper tourism (have you been up Kloof bottleneck lately?). It felt like you were enjoying a particularly spectacular sunset only to have someone tell you it was all thanks to pollution.
And then something happened. After SONA and between the mudslinging debates that got us all twitching with hashtags. We looked to the West for answers and found just as many problems – the Donald, terrorism, Zika. We looked East and found just as little growth. Even our BRIC friends seemed diseased and uneased by the status quo. Could it be that we were not so unique in our afflictions? Not so alone in our misery?
It’s odd. When I started to put this idea to myself and others, I started to hear different stories crop up, like small offshoots in a late harvest. Many personal anecdotes of South Africans doing what they do best – using their skills and mostly limited resources to have some small impact in this crazy world. The good people of the South were still cycling, running and swimming for local charities. Our research teams were still being awarded top international prizes for fighting crippling diseases like Malaria. When I visited family in the KZN Midlands, I learned how locals were already donating and delivering grass cuttings to their drought stressed neighbours to feed their livestock. This, on top of stories of the volunteers from Operation Hydrate delivering thousands of litres of water to the drought afflicted. Even Allan Gray and family were keeping calm and carrying on pledging their fortune to charity. It was like tapping into a secret underground water source. Maybe not a deep well of optimism but at least a trickle of enthusiasm that was still nurturing and feeding where social media was hell bent on leeching and bleeding our land dry.
It gave me pause. Made me think. Perhaps it was time to remove all the glasses and prisms we see through and just be blinded by the glare of our own reality, bright or cancerous as it may be, from different angles and at different times. No illusions or delusions.
I know it will take time but, like load-shedding, maybe we will start to see the impending darkness for the romantic candlelight dinners it offers us. We are not sissies. We are pragmatic dreamers who dive into ice cold waters and withstand gale force conditions every day. We are wild warriors who battle raging fires and gentle souls who protect the delicate fynbos. We are firmly rooted in these soils, dry and cracked as they may be right now. We got this.