South Africans laugh in the face of political turmoil

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By Howard Feldman

While the rest of the world is struggling to cope with the heat, the energy crises and political turmoil, South African are pretty much unphased. This might be because the African National Congress have been preparing us for this for years. If news headlines are to be believed, the rest of the world is getting weaker. Either that or South Africans are getting tougher.

Consider that according to the Reuters news agency, forty “cooling stations” have been opened across Los Angeles to assist people who are “heat wave sensitive”. It’s true: Californians unable to handle the heat, are given forty options to get them out of the kitchen. The publication quoted Amaya, a retiree, saying that she only had a fan at home. No air-conditioning at all.

They also have placed the state on loadshedding alert, called by another name. The operator of California’s creaking electricity grid on Friday called a third consecutive “flex alert”, asking households to conserve power and turn up their thermostats to help reduce power demand.

The hardship is difficult for South Africans to imagine, considering we have been “flexing” our grid for years.

It’s not just the Americans who are stressed. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the supply of gas for heating homes being a concern, Europe is in a full-blown state of anxiety, which is not unreasonable since winter is coming. Shops have started to sell out of electric blanket and electrical heaters, which will likely result in a strain on their power grid.

It doesn’t end there. According to Bloomberg, declining water levels on the Rhine River due to a drought in Europe, have left German power producers warning of lower output amid coal supply snags.

Shallower water along the cannels means it’s harder for barges to make as many coal shipments as possible, which threatens the ability of power plants to build up stockpiles ahead of winter.  It is Europe’s equivalent to Eskom’s “wet coal” scenario.

German utility companies EnBW AG and Trianel GmbH each reported supply issues, with the former warning of a cut in power generation, according to Bloomberg. 

The anxiety is reflected in the fact that European coal futures for 2023 climbed 2,2% Friday to US$320 a ton — more than triple what it was in January. 

Across the Channel, Daily Mail is reporting that Britain’s oldest pub, established in 793AD, is at risk of closing. The pub has survived seven recessions, two world wars and five pandemics (so far) but is in danger of closing it’s very old doors because of the energy cost. It’s simply not able to handle it. And if anything will strike at the heart of the British, it is the closure of a watering hole.

It’s not only energy supply that is making the world nervous.  A new poll of 1 500 American citizens found that 43% of them think it’s likely a civil war will break out over the next decade, an indicator of the growing concern about America’s political divide.

The poll conducted by the Economist and UK-headquartered analytics firm YouGov, furthermore found that 55% of self-identified “strong” Republicans believe civil war is at least somewhat likely, while 40% of self-identified “strong” Democrats felt the same. It is worth repeating. 43% of Americans surveyed seriously think that there will likely be a civil war in the next 10 years. It might be a small survey, but if this is an accurate reflection of the American mindset, then there is a real concern. Not that it will happen, but rather because they have no idea what an unstable political environment really is.

They need to get out more. And they need to see what is going on in the rest of the world. Spend a week in South Africa’s parliament and they will head back so quickly to lead appreciation seminars for what they actually have.

Whilst the rest of the world reaches for the Xanor, South Africans are getting ready for summer. The country has been training for this global crises for years and if anything might be overprepared. Loadshedding or “flex alerts” are as common as wet coal and no tavern is closing down because of the cost of electricity.

We laugh in the face of political turmoil and we are accustomed to sleeping with one eye open. South Africans have been in crisis bootcamp since Zuma danced onto our stage and we have not taken a number seriously since.

South Africans have been taught to inhale uncertainly and exhale resilience. And whereas that is nothing to be proud of in terms of governance, the result is that we have an inherent understanding of when to be anxious and when to panic. The one thing that we have learned for certain, is that at no time at all, no matter the circumstances, is there a need to close a pub that is older than the ANC Youth League.