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A country worth fighting for

- Schalk Mouton

Column: South Africa is a country on the ropes. Its critical infrastructure, including its energy supply, is crippled. Do we still have some fight left?

My chakras are misaligned, my aura is waning, and my meridians are all clogged up. I am so drained of energy, that even my reiki therapist refuses to take my calls.

Waking up in the morning, the house is in darkness. The solar battery has run out after working overtime the previous two days when the electricity failed to come on after loadshedding. Getting up, I knock my head on the cupboard and trip over the cat – a cliché, but even clichés have a way of worming their way into brutal reality. In the kitchen, I sit down for a moment while coming to grips with the fact that I have to start my day without coffee – as far as I am concerned, the only scientifically-proven natural remedy for restoring an intermittently fading aura.

On my way to work, I risk my life on multiple occasions trying to cross intersections where the traffic lights are either out, or blinking red. Not that they matter, because if you do actually stop at a traffic light in Joburg, you run the risk of someone driving into you from behind.

At work, I climb the seven storeys of stairs – twice – as I forget my cellphone’s power bank in the car. Finally, I stumble into the office, sit down at my desk, stare at the dark screen of my computer. As I shake the last few grinds out of my coffee container, I once again call my reiki therapist … ‘The number you have dialled…’.

A dark hot pot

Yup. We are all here, living the same life, drowning in the same dark lake. And the lake just seems to get deeper. Whenever you feel you should be touching ground, the ground shifts, putting you right back in the deep water. It’s like a dream from which we never seem to awaken. We are the frogs in the pot of boiling water.

In the last few weeks, the wheels have really started to come off where energy is concerned. Yes, the whole world is in an energy crisis; a catch-22 situation where, while we all need to produce more energy to cater for growing populations, we need to transition to untested ‘cleaner’ energies to make sure we fight climate change. However, in South Africa, it feels as if that pot is just becoming unbearably hot.

Thinking about getting out of this cauldron reminded me of a conversation with my friend, Ant, at a braai over the holidays. Ant is one of many who in the last couple of years packed up and left to live ‘abroad’. A year or two ago, Ant emigrated to Zimbabwe. Yes. Emigrated. To Zimbabwe.

Of all the people sitting around the dinner table that night, Ant was the only one who looked refreshed, with a smile on his face. The rest of us – all South Africans – looked frayed, battered, and as if we couldn’t wait for dessert to be served so that we could get home before loadshedding trapped us in darkness.

South Africa and Zimbabwe | Curiosity 15: #Energy ©


When Ant decided to emigrate to Zimbabwe, he was the joke of the town. Nobody thought he was serious. Even the Zimbabwean Home Affairs Department didn’t know what to make of him, as nobody emigrates to Zimbabwe. Ever. Ant’s emigration application took almost a full year, as Zimbabwean Home Affairs had to custom design and print his application forms, as such things didn’t exist.

These days, Ant could not be happier. Living in Harare suits him. He runs his family guest house as well as a travel business, and generally lives a carefree life.

About 12 years ago, when a group of our friends joined Ant on a trip to Mana Pools on the banks of the Zambezi river, we unknowingly had a glimpse into our future. Our trip took us through Harare, where we stayed over at Ant’s sister. At the time, it struck us as extremely funny that households in Harare did not have either electricity or water for much of the day, and families had to plan their days around times when they had these luxuries to do the necessary cooking, bathing the children, and to read their books – things that require electricity. Imagine that! Today, Ant says, that is part of history. People in Harare have no such problems anymore. 

People power in a frontier town

Like most other residents in Harare, Ant supercharged his house with enough solar panels and batteries to power-up Koeberg power station, and still have electricity to spare. While Zimbabwe is something of a frontier town where not much works, residents band together and have found ways around most of their challenges. If you know the right channels and are willing to pay the right price, you can get anything you could ever want.

Every now and then, at a certain public parking space in Harare, a container truck arrives from South Africa. As it starts to unload, residents flock to pick up their orders, which may include anything from luxury watches, cricket bats or other sports equipment for the kids, to groceries, flat-screen televisions, garden furniture, and, yes, you guessed it, full solar systems. With their arms full of loot, they return home and everything is hunky-dory.

The reason that Ant and most of his new countrymen are so happy-go lucky is that they have given up hope. The citizens of Zimbabwe have learnt to rely on themselves, and nobody else. They have given up hope that their currency would recover (most of them have plenty of US Dollars – the currency in Zimbabwe – but they can’t get the money out of the country). They have given up hope that they will have a regular supply of water or electricity, that they will have any form of a functioning law enforcement agency, or any sort of government service. What they have, they have built, bought, managed, or arranged themselves. They are content with life as it is and have very few hopes and wishes that anything will change.

We in South Africa, on the other hand, still cling to some hope that things might miraculously improve. We have been watching our little pot simmering for decades, hoping in vain that things don’t boil over. In the first quarter of 2023, it seems, where energy supply in the country is concerned, things have come to the boil and South Africa’s electricity supply – like so many other critical infrastructural services – has broken down beyond repair.

Perhaps, to keep some semblance of sanity, we as South Africans should take a leaf out of the book of Ant and his fellow Zimbabweans, and give up hope. If we don’t care about not getting government services, then we won't have anything to worry about. If we look after ourselves, our families, and our neighbours, we can wangle our way through life without grandiose hopes of growing the economy, living in a country that is respected in the international community, having a currency that holds some value in the world, and being able to build a happy prosperous life for our children and their children in the country that we all love.

Taking matters into our own hands in this way, however, means that we are giving up hope. And by giving up hope, we admit that there is nothing in this country still worth fighting for. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.

But South Africans have shown that we refuse to just lie down and take things for granted. In 2019, we managed to reduce the heat in our little pot down to a simmer, when we all took to the streets to get rid of the main instigators of state capture. The question is, is there still enough fight in us for our country reeling with battle fatigue?

If you ask me, I say: “Hell yes! There is!”

  • Schalk Mouton is Senior Communications Officer for Wits University.
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced by Wits Communications and the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation.
  • Read more in the 15th issue, themed: #Energy. We explore energy research into finding solutions for SA's energy crisis, illuminate energy needs of people with disabilities, address the energy and digital divide in an unequal society, and investigate the origins of fire control.