South Africans must keep fighting to overcome second-rate service

The Great Fall Over, the Basic Services Collapse, Perfect Storm or Zombie Apocalypse is in full swing in South Africa, according to Paddi Clay. She notes our pride in boasting of our well-developed coping skills and resilience in the face of power collapse, water scarcity, sewage spills, drought, lootings, poverty, logistics and transport force majeures, and the criminal disregard for human lives and wellbeing that extends right into government. But Clay argues that the trick is not to accept the way we do business but to  direct our anger at the ballot box. This country can still become a fully operational modern society, with all the essential services to all its citizens that implies, but it will be a long, arduous process only achievable if the people we appoint to administer the country are right for the job. This article first appeared on the Daily Friend – Sandra Laurence.

Power’s on and the living is easy

By Paddi Clay

This day I sit down to write is different to all other days of the preceding weeks. It is the first day in a very long stretch that we do not have any planned Eskom load shedding for anyone.

So far it appears there’s also been no outage as a result of nefarious activity or basic infrastructure decrepitude in my neck of the woods. I type this with crossed fingers and toes, a lucky shamrock, a rabbit’s foot and a libation to the gods to ward off the evil eye. 

It seems André de Ruyter of Eskom has managed to shoo a bunch of treasonists and saboteurs off the premises, stuck some Pratley’s over the cracks in transformers or furnaces, and  found some decent lumps of coals on a port quay. We have been told we will have no Eskom power cuts for the day. 

No doubt government will claim the credit for this respite for its newly appointed board. Let them spin any narrative they wish around this happy, rare occurrence.

But what to do with all this expensive electricity coursing through the house? Should I rush ululating into the streets to celebrate our liberation, however brief it may be? 

Should I put the washing machine on, bake up a storm, churn out ready meals for the future dark dinnertimes, vacuum the house, open and close the fridge door with childish glee for the sheer hell of it? 

I realise the options of running the washing machine or a hot bath may not be available to those living in some high lying areas and other accursed spots if water does not return to their taps soon. I am truly sympathetic but I cannot curb my ridiculous joy at my own reprieve.

The really real housewives of South Africa and the rest of this troubled land’s citizens have been having a rough time of late. Faced with this promise of all day power it is understandable if we are a little giddy. We are well aware we will soon be back on the hamster wheel of our loadshed rota and common or garden outages may lie in wait around the corner. 

My usual routine on waking has been to extricate my cellphone from the pile of bedside paraphernalia – glasses, sleeping tablets essential for combatting a hyper-alert sleep state I ascribe to 80s acquired PTSD, a rechargeable lamp, a power bank, a portable panic alarm, a kindle with backlighting so you can read in the dark (if you’ve conscientiously charged it). 

Now is not the time to detoxify from the  digital world, especially if you still have some life in your battery. My cellphone is my key to survival in these dreary days of what is nothing less than a Great Reset rehearsal and our glimpse of a third world life. It contains my EskomSePush app.

I will be forever grateful to Cape Town’s Dan Wells and Herman Maritz who launched this app eight years ago in the hope of making the most of a limited opportunity. They are reported to have recently reached a milestone 5 million downloads of this sanity and lifesaving service. I wish them all the best in making money from it.  I also propose nominating them for the Order of the Burnt Baobab or whatever award is left  after the Great Fall Over. 

I am relatively well off with a generator in the yard, a USP in the house and a borehole in the garden. The solar panels will no doubt come. 

But after experiencing 14 hours without power as I did the previous week, it is the Great Fall Over that menaces my dreams.  

It lurks menacingly in the shadows, preparing to devastate a land already made parched and poor by the ravages of a local species. In this Hieronymus Bosch landscape of my subconscious this species appears strangely similar to the Klingons of Star Trek.   They are fighting to restore their dominance and regain the keys to the sacred coffers. Rats and mice scurry at the Klingons’ feet feeding on scraps, swarms of supplicants wait in lines for bread, the ground shifts and cracks appear beneath people toiling in a field which is littered with weapons. A mob swells in the distance. 

The Great Fall Over, the Basic Services Collapse, Perfect Storm or what some call the BFP (Dear Editor: Is it DF style to say Big Fucking Problem? Or do I stick to something more euphemistic like ‘big trouble ahead’?) and is referred to in our family as the Zombie Apocalypse. 

This is not so much because we fear attacks by any ‘undead’ but because it is the opinion of this house that it can all quite clearly be blamed on the brain dead voters who repeatedly raised the incompetent to power, on the  childish “I hate politics and politicians”,  the ‘There’s no party that exactly matches my beliefs,’ or  the ‘Nothing will change” non-voters and, lest we forget, the well-meaning  ‘cheer leaders’. They all helped bring us to this sorry pass. 

The current newly installed ANC mayor of Johannesburg Dada Modero says blithely that there is ‘No need for alarm’  and promises a JoJo tank in every home. 

City circulars and messages exhort residents to use water sparingly when watering their gardens. How do you do this, the waterless ratepayers cry, the taps are dry?

Move along. Nothing to see here. Don’t make a fuss. Not exactly what we need to hear when facing a BFP.

We dredge up morsels of national pride by boasting to one another of our well -developed coping skills and resilience in the face of power collapse (how apposite that much of our Heritage Day celebration is devoted to fire making), water scarcity, sewage spills, drought, lootings, poverty, logistics and transport force majeures, and a criminal disregard for human lives and wellbeing that extends right into government.

We point smugly to our sanguine attitude in the midst of mayhem and crisis compared to the hysterical meltdowns of most Europeans, Brits and Americans when they encounter snags or simply contemplate a change in climate.

Our visitors will no doubt express their  admiration for our energy and carry on regardless spirit in the face of hardship if they make it back alive from our tourist sights.   

They say you can get used to anything. They, in this case, being a mixed bag of famous people such as Golda Meir, Albert Camus, Yann Martel and Nicholas Sparks. And probably even your great- aunt, recounting the blitz or days in exile, would say the same. 

But we shouldn’t. 

Raging against the literal dying of the lights and all that accompanies it is right and proper because this is a very big national issue. It is not something to be pinned on one or two people and worked round because we cannot find a quick fix. 

Renewables are not superheroes or our saviours, neither is a new set of government appointed board members. 

But we the wise and wised up voters are.

The trick is not to grow accustomed to the way we live now or to accept the way we do business; the lack of services; the status quo of decades out of fear of the huge changes, compromises, upheavals, we’d have to endure before we achieve any long term, effective solution. We should  harbour our anger for the ballot box and we must resist the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’.  It is bigotry of the worst kind. 

This country can still become a fully operational modern society, with all the essential services to all its citizens that implies. But it will be a long haul and an arduous process. We need to make sure of the people we appoint to take it on.

In the meantime, in this power full lull before the next outage and in preparation for the turbulence and tough times ahead, I shall make another cup of tea simply because I can.

If you need water urgently you should pop round while we still have power to pump it from our borehole.  

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