The last day of 2009 is here and many people are heaving a sigh of relief that the year is almost over. From a global perspective, it certainly seems as if this year threw everything bad at humanity. The Global Financial Crisis saw many people lose their livelihoods, jobs and security. The impacts of Global Climate Change were clearly illustrated during several occurrences of extreme and un-seasonal weather-events worldwide which caused loss of life and severe damage to infrastructure and property. The farcical events at Copenhagen underlined the lack of substantive leadership and humanity’s refusal to accept responsibility for and work towards adapting to this phenomenon. It was a sad day when we started quantifying natural resources to the extent where businesses and countries can “trade” their carbon emissions to mollify their conscience that what they are doing is not so bad. The hard-ass approach of developed countries thinking that you can approach this challenge on business principles to win the war by a degree Celsius or two is just as ludicrous as that of developing countries’ government delegates that saw this event as an opportunity to haul out the begging bowl, rather than to face the real challenge to the environment and humanity as we know it.
Society seems to continue on an ever-declining spiral of electing and supporting weak individuals as their leaders and provide media coverage to the lives of people famous for nothing but being famous. We seem to have become fascinated by the mundane and the outrageously boring and to be besotted by appearance rather than the substance and being of the people we are dealing with.
In South Africa, things weren’t any different and South Africans were entertained by the saga in the run-up to, and the events following the general elections in April. We certainly have elected the government that we deserve and the village idiots from both the left and the right’s ranting and raving have become part of the standard mainstream political fare that was South Africa in 2009. The only challenge is to separate the idiots in charge from the idiots in opposition as they all seem to be preaching from the same podiums and have the same focus, their own self-interest and careers rather than the needs of the electorate. The year also clearly illustrated that loyalty to an individual above all costs can pay handsome dividends with certain questionable individuals having been appointed to key positions in government and the private sector. Our legal system seems to be at a cross-road with questionable decisions on a number of cases characterizing the apparent regression of the independent judiciary to the point of judges prosecuting and contradicting each other in public.
Public services such as healthcare, safety and security, maintenance of infrastructure such as roads, water supply and electricity seem to have reached the point of breakdown in a number of areas. It was quite ironic to see people take to the streets in areas such as Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State to protest against the performance of the same politicians they voted into power only weeks or months before. The apparent aggression and hooliganism that accompanied protests and strikes in many cases have become the norm and, in some cases, brought back vivid images of the riots of the 1980’s. It was indeed a sad day to see the country’s Defence Force soldiers storm the main seat of political power, the Union Buildings in Pretoria (or Tshwane, depending on your angle of political correctness) in their demands for higher wages. It was the only bit of action that most of these soldiers had seen in many years. However, their mutinous actions paid off handsomely when they were awarded substantial pay increases in December!
The Eskom-saga also shows that the South African tax-payer will keep on carrying the brunt of the costs to fulfill the needs of the country whether these needs are realistic and sustainable or not. The lip-service that is currently being paid to finding more sustainable sources of energy while carbon-based energy sources continue to be exploited and expanded upon, is simply untenable and we are already starting to pay the price for this through the environmental impacts that are becoming more and more evident, but that are seemingly being ignored to curry political favour. We would rather prefer to address the crises as they happen than try and prevent them from happening in the first place.
In the field of conservation, South Africa continues to face an increasing threat of poaching of rhino and other wildlife that is characterized by a more sophisticated approach by the perpetrators that requires an adjustment in our approach to effectively curb it. Although the threat to rhino is the most obvious, issues such as large scale meat-poaching in certain areas and the illegal harvest of vultures, certain plants and other wildlife for the muthi trade is certainly cause for concern. Although we have excellent legislation in place, we need to start enforcing it effectively to ensure the continued existence of our natural heritage. I am however proud to report that rangers and other conservationists have already started making good progress in addressing some of these threats, but a wider approach is needed with better support from the judiciary and other law enforcement agencies.
Several protected areas are also under threat from human activities such as mining and agriculture and areas such as Mapungubwe face losing their character and value as natural and cultural heritage areas due to these. The challenge of conserving our natural heritage in South Africa from the above and other threats is increasingly resting on the shoulders of the NGO-sector. This is a massive challenge considering that most of these organisations depend on donor funding to do the work they are engaged in and that there in most cases are very limited resources to do what’s necessary. There are however still many hard-working and dedicated people in government conservation structures and I believe that greater cooperation between all sectors is the key to achieving success in future. This however needs to extend beyond making encouraging sounds in board rooms and at conferences and meetings and to start implementing effective action to address the various challenges facing conservation in South Africa today. Considering the vested interests and internal politics prevalent in this sector, this is a huge challenge in itself.
As true South Africans, we often try to find solace in sport and our achievements in this arena over the past year have been mixed to say the least. The Boks did us proud and I have to grudgingly admit that the Bulls also performed well and deserved to make a clean sweep of the competitions that they were involved in. We started the year as the number 1 in Test Cricket and ODI’s, but this has sadly changed during the year to the level where our last test was an embarrassment to say the least. Of course, being humiliated by the Poms on home soil is never an easy pill to swallow, but seemingly capitulating in the face of rather ordinary bowling is something completely unacceptable! Then there was the farcical Caster Semenya-saga – need I say more?
Of course, the 2010 World Cup is considered to be the saviour of us all and is the once-in-a-lifetime event that most Safricans think will solve all our problems and put us back in the global picture from a sporting perspective. Ignoring for a moment the less than encouraging performances of our pride and joy, Bafana-Bafana (why we keep on referring to them as boys when they are expected to play against the real men of world football is beyond me), in the international arena, I do think that this event will indeed be an opportunity for us to showcase South Africa to as large an audience as we had when we made the miraculous transition to democracy in 1994. I trust that the opportunists that have on a number of occasions tried to use the pressing deadlines associated with the event as blackmail to push their case for better wages and other reasons, will not negatively impact on the event in any way and that it will go smoothly.
Question is, what about South Africa after the event when the world’s attention will inevitably drift away from us again? Many people seem to only look at June/July 2010 and have not planned beyond that. What will happen to the many folk who have found employment in various sectors associated with the event, but that will lose their jobs once it has run its course? Will there be outlets where these individuals can apply their acquired skills beyond the World Cup? Will these be sustainable? Unlike a 90-minute football match, or a 6-week event that has a finite life, most of us will have to carry on with our lives afterward and continue to make ends meet. One can only trust that provision has been made for alternatives for these thousands of people.
Now, more than ever, is the time for humanity to look at itself in the mirror and accept responsibility for where we are, warts and all. Time is running out for all of us if we do not face the facts and start acting to address the global and local challenges in the coming months of what will be 2010 and beyond. Humans are wonderfully resilient creatures and I trust that we will start realizing and admitting our mistakes to act timeously to achieve a workable solution to the challenges that we face today. It is never too late…