Mail and Guardian
Spare a thought for Haiti
Tiniyiko Sam Maluleke
January 15, 2010
South Africa has disasters — political, ethical and economic disasters.. We have a fat ruling elite which is increasingly drifting away from the needs and realities of the poor and marginalised. We have a ruling alliance which is forever quibbling about current and future spoils — a hobby in which they engage while dressed to kill, drinking the finest wines, driving the best wheels in the land and living it up generally. There is the dead and deadening opposition politics. We also have enough failed matriculants to fill three FNB/Soccer City stadiums. There is an ailing economy that will most probably not deliver the thousands of jobs (or jobs opportunities. Who cares?) More people are on welfare than those in “decent” jobs — a slow ticking bomb, if ever there was one. Meanwhile, Eskom seems determined to get their inane 105% tariff increment in 36 months. Experts tell us that in a few years our energy problems will soon be outstripped by our water-shortage problems. Our leaders appear to have no concrete medium to long-term plans to deal with these and many other challenges.
But after seeing the horrific pictures of the dead, the dying, the trapped and dazed survivors in the streets and slums of Haiti on TV last night, I could not sleep. This was enough to take my mind away from the comparatively “petty” South African issues. After all, the Haitian people have had their unfair share tragedy and disaster. It appears that natural and man-made (yes, I mean man as in male!) disasters have been taking turns at assaulting this heroic people — a sick competition about who can claim the most victims. In contrast, the tragedy of the current and looming South African disasters is that they are almost entirely man-made. As for Haiti, the list of natural disasters that have hit the people of Haiti makes scary reading. Hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes just love this country. As if that is not enough, they also have their fair share of social, political and economic challenges. We are talking here of one of the poorest countries on earth! Additionally, the country has an amazing number of executed, assassinated and overthrown presidents — evidence of a country that has endured political and civil instability for at least a century.
But only a heroic people can take the beating (from man and from nature) that they have taken and still be standing. This nation of descendants of African slaves has proven itself to be resilient from the time they overthrew the French and declared themselves the first black republic in the world (1804). They have seen much trouble since then. But their spirit of resilience and love for life has seen them bounce back from the brink of disaster again and again. The current earthquake is said to be one of the worst ever to hit Haiti and up to 100 000 are feared dead.
Yet even in the face of such tragedy some could not resist making some daft utterances. US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton is said to have suggested that the current Haitian earthquake tragedy is of a “biblical scale”. It is not clear what she means by this. She probably wanted to highlight the enormity of the tragedy. But her reference to the biblical is susceptible — in right-wing religious circles — to being interpreted in some doomsday punishment manner even if that is not what Hillary Clinton meant. Indeed, Pat Robertson, a well-known American evangelical Christian is reported to have suggested that the current earthquake disaster in Haiti may be due to a “Haitian pact with the devil” during the acrimonious Haitian war of independence. Some will recall the unfortunate suggestion of another American evangelical leader, Jerry Falwell, who suggested, shortly after the Twin Towers disaster, that 9/11 was “visited upon” America for such “sins” as feminism and homosexuality. Such stupid and irrational utterances in the light of tragedy are both shocking and deeply deplorable. Two urgent responses to the tragedy in Haiti are appropriate, solidarity with the people of Haiti at this time and humanitarian intervention.
It was heartening to learn that our state president, Mr Zuma, has sent, on behalf of us, condolences to the people of Haiti. The UN has appealed to the nations of the world to assist Haitians at this time. If only the countries of the world exerted themselves as much for charity and disaster relief as they do for war. May the world's superpowers lead by example in this regard. The Red Cross is already doing tremendous work in Haiti at this time. I take my hat off to (South) African charity organisations such as the Gift of the Givers which is already mobilising South Africans to donate and help the people of Haiti.
As a South African, my heart goes out to the people of Haiti. May South Africans join hands with charity organisations to lend a hand to the people of Haiti at this time. May our government also do more than just sending condolences.
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