WULF UTIAN’S LETTER FROM KNYSNA , APRIL 2019
SOUTHERN AFRICA IN CRISIS
March has not been a good month for Southern Africa. To the north of South Africa climate change resulted in the worst natural disaster ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. A cyclone hit Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. One town alone in Mozambique, Beira, with a population of nearly a million, was virtually totally destroyed. You have seen the news, and as we were nowhere near, I will say no more about this human and environmental tragedy, other than it was a brutal act of nature.
In South Africa we have witnessed multiple problems that are regrettably man-made. Foremost has been the energy crisis. Escom, South Africa’s national power provider, was once one of the biggest and best electricity producers in the world. After the ANC government came into power in 1994 one of their first actions was to fire experienced leadership, mostly white, and replace them with so-called ‘cadres’ who were essentially political friends, but without the know-how to manage a giant electrical grid. For over 20 years, money allocated for maintenance or improvement has been looted by corruption, and the national grid, now over 30 years old, is deteriorating rapidly. Two new power stations have been under construction for nearly a decade, and anything that can go wrong has gone wrong. An identical facility was built in India in one tenth of the time at one tenth of the cost, and is functioning perfectly. Enough said. But now the people of South Africa are paying the price. In Rands, Escom is in a hole in the billions, and government is forced to bail them out at taxpayer expense. In suffering and inconvenience there are daily ‘load shedding’s,’ a euphemism for inadequate supplies to feed the grid, and homes and businesses can be without electricity for 4-8 hours every day, although this varies. Imagine trying to run a business, say a restaurant, when the power goes off from 6-8am, 12-2.30pm, and 6-8.30pm. The negative economic impact does not only affect the restauranteur, but the staff who depend on tips, the suppliers who get reduced orders, farmers, transport providers, and the negative chain effect goes on and on. Speak about Darkest Africa…
South Africa is also in national election season taking place May 8, and if anything it may even be uglier than what happens back in the States. Multiple communities across the country believe the only way they can get attention to the corruption and lack of provision of services like housing, water, electricity, healthcare, and education, that so negatively affect their lives, is to protest. Most of these protests become violent, with burning of schools, government facilities, trains, anything they can vent their anger on. One cute trick is to burn tires on the national freeways and disrupt traffic. We saw this in Cape Town last week when the main road through Hout Bay was obstructed. Just the other day my hiking group had to cancel our hike because the national road between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna was closed. Politicians and government officials who have tried to speak up against or expose corruption have been intimidated, and dozens have been murdered over the past 12 months. There is a case running here in the Knysna courts where an ANC official is being charged with the murder of another ANC politician who exposed corruption.
The South African Constitution, hailed by many as one of the most comprehensive and democratic in the world, has a major flaw. Parties draw up lists of delegates, and depending on the proportion of votes the party gets in the election, so a proportional number of the delegates on the list will be seated in parliament. Citizens do not have national government representation in parliament for their local area, and those appointed to government therefore owe allegiance to party leadership and not the voters. The result is infighting, corruption and power plays at the highest levels. The ANC list is remarkable for how many of the names have been exposed or are in pending or active litigation for corruption. Zapiro’s cartoon below says it all. Alan Paton is turning in his grave as he repeats, ‘cry the beloved country.”
With all this, life does go on. We enjoyed a wonderful week mid-month in Cape Town spending quality time with our grandsons over the school holidays. Because Lara lives in Hout Bay we decided to stay close, and lucked out with an amazing find, and one we truly recommend. An historic hotel, the Hout Bay Manor, had gone to ruin when it was rediscovered by a South African woman married to a wealthy German philanthropist. The hotel was completely redone, decorated with an eclectic African theme, active spa, the rooms luxurious with 4-poster beds, and a good restaurant, EAT, with both a western and an Asian menu. Hout Bay is a major fishing village, so fresh fish is really fresh fish. Being distant from central Cape Town, the rates are extremely low.
Staying in Hout Bay also gave us the opportunity to explore parts of Cape Town we had not visited in years. The crown jewel is the Chapmans Peak Drive that leads out of the far end of Hout Bay. It is one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world on the south-western tip of Africa overlooking the Atlantic Ocean below, and equally breathtaking both ways. We visited Noordhoek with its vast white sandy beach and the, once quaint but now rather tacky, coastal town of Kommetjie. The boys enjoyed a place called Imhoff Farm because of the snake park, the petting zoo, and of course, a place to eat.
We returned to Cape Town a couple of weeks later to celebrate Moira’s brother’s 75th birthday. This included spending Shabbat services at the Gardens Synagogue in the center of town, the oldest Jewish community in South Africa, situated next door to the South African Parliament buildings. Known as “The Mother Synagogue of South Africa,” the original 1849 building no longer exists, but there are two historic structures on the campus, the 1863 synagogue which houses an excellent Jewish Museum and the 1905 synagogue. There is a sense of vibrancy in the shul which is now Chabad. The architecture harkens back to Europe, and the 1905 synagogue, although larger and in wonderful condition, resembles the Choral Synagogue in Vilna, Lithuania. This is not surprising given that the majority of South African Jews are Litvaks. There is also a Holocaust Museum, and the entire complex is on the must-see list of numerous international tourists. One could spend a whole day in the area because it abuts onto the historic Company Gardens established by Jan Van Riebeek in 1652, the South African Museum, and the South African National Art Gallery.
We also were delighted to have the opportunity to hear the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in their recently renovated concert hall in the Cape Town City Hall. The only downer, after a glorious program of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms with the orchestra under the baton of Principal Guest Conductor Bernhard Gueller, Music Director Laureate of Symphony Novia Scotia in Canada, and Brazilian pianist Alvaro Siviero, was to be hustled by the desparately poor people in the parking lot after the concert. Speak about the chasm between the haves and have nots!
The days are shortening in South Africa and the weather cooling. We have barely a month left in this beautiful but troubled part of the world. With our children and grandchildren living here, except for Rebekah at Kenyon College in Ohio, our hearts grow a little heavy as our time to leave draws near. Let me close this month’s letter with a view of sunrise from our deck at Belvidere.
With our best wishes to you all for the upcoming holidays,
Cape Town and Belvidere, April 9, 2019.