Well done, you!

As South Africa ends the last of its Covid restrictions, including the mask mandate (which most people have been ignoring anyway) and without any visible safety net in place, it’s well worth remembering that a simple government decree does not end an pandemic.

And I have to say that those anti-maskers claiming “victory” with lines like:

“After our two years of tireless campaigning…”

…do look very much like someone asserting that “Christmas came around in December again this year, thanks to our almost 12 month struggle with the authorities”. You can’t claim that you won if the thing you wanted to happen was going to happen anyway. What next? Taking credit for tomorrow’s sunrise?

And of course this was always going to happen. As I described in the link above, this is a natural (if premature) progression back to “normal life”. And whether or not you agree with the mask mandates, there’s plenty of evidence that they saved many thousands of lives. It’s also probably worth noting that you’ll likely be able to identify the epidemiologists and the microbiologists in your local supermarket or other crowded indoor space, because they’ll be the ones still choosing to wear a mask.

I’m not saying that there will be any sudden huge rise in case numbers. We’re sitting nicely in the trough at the end of the fifth wave. What I am saying is that because of the lack of rules on masking now, when the time comes again that there is Covid around in the community, it will spread much more quickly and easily. And that won’t be a good thing.

So why now? What suddenly changed?
Surely only a cynic would suggest that they might have rushed the big news of the scrapping of the regulations to coincide with the release of the final part of the State Capture report which was hugely critical of the ANC government, including the role of the current president.

Not that I’m that distrustful*.

* I absolutely am.

Being naughty with wood

We have a wood burning stove. I’m not afraid or ashamed to tell you that. I love our wood burning stove and sometimes even worship it on cold Cape Town evenings. So colour me both wholly unhorrified and completely unsurprised to learn that wood burning is – environmentally – a Bad Thing to do.

I think we all knew this already.

I am a little irritated with the way that I was told about this, though.
The Observer led with this headline:

Which might well be accurate, but when I read the article, the only bit in there that actually eluded to that being the case was this one:

Sensors were placed throughout Ashley ward, which encompasses deprived parts of St Pauls and better-off Bristol neighbourhoods such as Montpelier. Oluwatosin Shittu, 40, who lives in St Pauls, found his sensor picked up more pollution during the weekend when some residents were burning wood and during rush hours when cars queued on local roads.

“At the weekend [pollution] was high because obviously up the hill [in Montpelier] people were burning wood,” he said.

The word “obviously” is doing an awful lot of hard work there.
Does Bristol only get cold at the weekends, then? Citation required.

To be fair, I last went to Bristol in 2010, on a Saturday, and it was absolutely feckin’ freezing, so there is some evidence for that, but it’s still a bit of a stretch to a) claim that those are the only days when it’s cold, and b) assume that any air pollution on those days comes from affluent people burning wood in their wood burning stoves. However, one must remember that this is the lefty Observer, the spiritual Sunday read of the Champagne Socialists, so the posh people have to be blamed for everything, somehow.

But is it really an issue?

Steve Crawshaw, who manages the project for the council, said domestic wood burning was a serious and growing problem. He added that the number of days exceeding WHO pollution guidelines in the ward were broadly in line with the city average, but still a cause of concern.

So the alleged wood burning stove pollution on the weekends in Ashley Ward makes it very much the same as everywhere else in the city where more or less affluent people do or don’t have wood burning stoves some or all of the time, then?

Ok.

I’m not saying that any pollution is a good thing, of course, but when you read the stats in that very article, it does seem like a bit of a storm in a teacup. Because if you look at the bad bits about the PM 2.5 pollution that wood burners chuck out, they look quite bad:

The latest analysis from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reveals that wood burners and open fires are now responsible for 17% of the country’s total PM 2.5 pollution – more than the pollution caused by road traffic. Nationally, emissions from domestic wood burning increased by 35% between 2010 and 2020.

But if you manage to get to the next paragraph, it’s actually all ok:

A Defra spokesperson said PM 2.5 pollution had fallen by 18% since 2010.

So it really just seems like a cheap shot at some middle-class people to me.

Back to Cape Town. Which we can’t really compare with Bristol because they’re entirely different places (like Sweden and Bulgaria). No-one here has central heating. It’s just not a thing. So yes, while my family are relatively well off and burning wood, those living in shacks in the local townships are also burning wood. A Cape Town cold front (such as the one outside right now which has already dumped 32mm of rain on us in the last 24 hours) is no fun for anyone beneath it, and burning wood to keep warm turns out to actually be a great leveller in our society.

But how would we keep warm if we didn’t burn wood?

Paraffin and LPG prices are prohibitively expensive as a way to heat your home – whatever size or type it may be (and they’re about to get even more expensive):

Electricity – if you have it – is every bit as pricey, it’s generated by filthy coal…

…and it’s regularly unavailable anyway as loadshedding often kicks in.

There’s no piped gas. No double glazing. Very few carpets.
We don’t need them for 10 months of the year.

So where’s any alternative, let alone an eco-friendly one?

There are only so many jumper and blankets you can put on.

On our positive side, most of the wood that we burn comes from invasive trees, so we are doing our bit to preserve the local natural environment, even as we chuck out toxins and particulates into that same natural environment.

Look, despite the rumours, there’s little chance of any legislation around wood burning coming soon to South Africa. That would deny many millions of people any sort of warmth or comfort. And even if it did, there would be one very obvious issue why it just wouldn’t work. Because if you’re going to ban the burning of wood, you’re clearly going to also have to ban braai’ing. That would be the final final nail in the ANC’s coffin.

So that’s just not going to happen.

Thus, with many apologies to the local PM 2.5 count and to the cursed residents of St Pauls in Bristol, I’m about to go and chuck some more Bluegum on the fire: it’s chilly and needs must.

Called it

Remember this post from last week, expressing disbelief and dismay at the alleged plans to spend R22 million on a Big Flag?

The Government said:

This has the potential to unite people as it becomes a symbol of unity and common identity.
The project is envisaged to contribute towards nation-building and social cohesion. 

And I said:

Well, guess what happened?

This week, pisspoor Minister (apologies for the tautology) Nathi Mthethwa launched the Big Plan for a Big Flag, and the nation – all built and socially cohesed – turned around together as one and told him to Tsek.

Now, having “taken note of public discourse” (which was basically a collection of suggestions, generally ending with the word “off”) and:

In upholding these ethos and the inalienable rights of citizens to be heard, the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture has directed his department to review the process related to the Monumental Flag in its totality.

Now, this is actually a Good Thing. It is very unusual for a Minister or any member of government to actually give a toss what the public think. And that’s because those ministers and members of government are safe, privileged and untouchable. They don’t have to listen, because there are no consequences whatsoever for them not listening.

So Mthethwa apparently hearing the er… “discourse”, and actually having some sort of reaction – albeit merely “reviewing the process” at this point – is to be applauded.

The real acid tests come when: 1. there is a reasonable outcome to the review – and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the project is dropped: maybe they find private sponsorship for it, for example; 2. the next time something like this crosses Nathi’s desk, he remembers this situation and says “no” before it goes any further; and 3. any other Minister looks at this situation and Mthethwa’s reaction, and chooses to listen to the public regarding their feelings on any given project or idea as well.

Optimistic people may think that this could be a watershed moment.
The realists amongst us have already drunk half our glass and we’re ordering a brandy chaser to deal with the inevitable disappointment.

One ocean and over a thousand kilometres of coastline

That’s what our erstwhile absolutely [redacted] useless Minister of Transport has apparently found and added to the nations seaboard.

I mean, it’s pretty well known that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at Cape Agulhas, the former continuing right up to Europe and across to the Americas, the latter heading east to… well… India and across to Australia. That’s just two oceans though, and the name is well represented in SA, from wine to aquariums to marathons. Because there isn’t a third ocean around South Africa.
Google “three oceans” and your only real hit is a company in Hull UK, whose claim to fame appears to be making corrugated cardboard from fish waste.

I’ve no idea either.

But hey, maybe he’s talking about the Southern Ocean. Butno: that doesn’t touch South Africa at all. It’s WAY south of even us.

Ocean - Wikipedia

In fact, if you are going to suggest that we are “surrounded” by three oceans, you’re kind of implying that Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique make up that third ocean.

Which they don’t. Namibia is mostly sand, Botswana is mostly elephants, Zimbabwe is mostly corrupt politicians and Mozambique is our local Al-Shabab terrorist hangout. Those are land, and don’t represent the constituent parts of an ocean.

But that’s not the only thing he is wrong on: South Africa is big, but it’s not 3,900 kilometers of coastline big:

Now, I don’t expect anyone – even a government minister – to necessarily know that 2,850km figure offhand. But where did 3,900 come from, and why would anyone not check it before putting it on a press release and allowing this meat clown to tweet it?

It smacks of complete ineptitude. Almost like they don’t know what they are doing.
How surprising. /s

And finally, what a brilliant and innovative plan to try to capitalise on the strategic geographical position of South Africa as far as shipping routes are concerned. Just 370 years and a couple of weeks after one Jan van Riebeeck came up with pretty much the same idea. Of course, it turned out that Jan and his organisation weren’t the nicest guys around, and so Fikile and the ANC will be right at home in their company.

Census debacle

We have to do a census thing. It’s been at least 10 years since the last one and we need to stand up and be counted – for reasons. There’s an option to do it online (thank the heavens) and I gladly grasped that with both hands, so that the beagle wouldn’t eat the local volunteer. But then I noticed that the URL it sent me to ended with gov.za and my heart sank.
It’ll be shit, I thought.
And it is.
Because in true South African government style, the UI is just horrible, nothing works properly and the things it is asking me are… well… bizarre.

Like:

So, I put our house number (let’s say it’s 25) and then “House”, because we live in a house (I didn’t think it actually needed to know what colour it was from the Plascon range) and now – even though it said that it was going to ask for my address later in the process – it thinks my address is “25 House”. Which is going to get it rejected immediately.
Perhaps a field asking for – I don’t know – my “Address” might have been a better way forward. Because no-one wanting your details in any other circumstance asks:

OK, and could I have your name, unit/flat number and further description of the structure/unit, please?

Do they?

And who lives at “500 Green House”, anyway? The SA Post Office isn’t going to be able to deliver anything to you with an address like that, are they? Mind you, the SA Post Office is so dysfunctional and wrecked by corruption and theft that it isn’t really able to deliver anything to anyone anyway, so why not go for 500 Green House? Just for the giggles.

And it’s already a LOT of work. Especially if you have moved from “8 House” to “25 House” since the last census. Which we have. So I tell it that we’ve moved and it asks “where from?”, but won’t allow me to enter anything but Athlone, Belhar or Bellville. So now I’ve moved from Belhar simply because at least it’s an answer I can give, and it asks “Why did you move?”.

I mean, have you seen Belhar?

But more seriously, I selected that the household had moved. Just moved house. No divorce, no fire, no death or destruction: we just moved house. But then, even though it already knows exactly who lives in my household, I have to jump through all the same hoops for my wife. And my son. And my daughter. One of us now comes from Athlone. I think it’s the missus.

Ugh. Just populate the form for me.
I don’t have time for 176 drop down menus for each person – most of which don’t work (the menus, not the people) – when I’ve already given you all the same information, anyway.

And I wasn’t even halfway through the very first section.

To add insult to injury, the site then crashed. And I can’t get back in. So, long story short, I’ve given up. I’ll try again tomorrow now I’m more aware of the size of the mountain of bullshit between me and the finish line.
I will prepare with coffee and biltong and lock myself away in my office until it’s all done.

Right now though: some football, I think.