Haiti, in particular Port-au-Prince, is up shit creek, to put it crassly. Every day is certainly an unimaginable horror for the poor residents of this broken city; I cannot imagine it.
And as surely as you will find a celebrity speaking out at a Hollywood awards show about how devastated she/he feels about those affected by a natural disaster, you will encounter individuals imploring those of us spared the horror to be thankful for what we have in our own lives. More than that, these people urge us to put into perspective the problems we encounter on a day-to-day basis in our own countries.
702 Talk Radio presenter, John Robbie, is just the latest of these ‘social commentators’ to do so. Yesterday, he remarked “how lucky we are” in South Africa where “we sit and we moan and complain and whinge" about potholes, call centres, Julius Malema etc. He said that this is a ‘reality check’ for us.
Is it not disingenuous to believe that when presented with the unlivable conditions in which the victims of a disaster of this scale must survive, we must reflect on our own good fortune? Do we really have to be extra grateful for what we have because others’ lives are destroyed?
I know I live a good life in South Africa, by and large. I live in a nice flat, eat nice food, do nice things for entertainment, go to nice places, and more.
My life is nice and it is so for two reasons: I got a good start in life, thanks to my parents, who could afford to send me to school and to university, feed me nutritiously, clothe me well, and pay for hockey sticks, squash rackets and piano lessons. The other reason my life is nice is because I work hard to keep it that way. I try to do my job well enough that I don’t become unemployed; I pay my bond, levy, medical insurance, rates and taxes. I try interact with people with a level of decency I hope would be reciprocated.
There are, however, other reasons my life is nice:
I constantly look around me when I am driving anywhere to ensure that I’m not being followed in order to hijacked/killed for my possessions, as regularly happens in South Africa.
I don’t walk around anywhere at night for the same reason mentioned above.
I accept that police will not come out if I call them for anything less than the report of murder.
I ignore the nagging and valid concern that at any moment, electricity might become too pricy and too scarce a commodity to gain access to.
I rarely ponder the implications of the unrealistically early implementation of a National Health Insurance scheme when it has neither the resources nor the capacity to function in place of private health.
I choose not to interrogate the plummeting level of education and the accompanying scarce skills shortage in my country.
I forget that millions of my country’s inhabitants live in shacks with no basic sanitation, and really have no prospects for a better life.
This willingness not to think too much makes my life nice. I certainly don’t need inane urging by John Robbie to think how much worse it could be. I know that people starve in my country every day, and die of illnesses that could be treated in places with better access to health care.
This kind of gratefulness we’re told we should feel lasts around a day – then what? Feeling sorrow for the desperate people of Haiti does not have to overshadow the enormous problems South Africa faces. Perhaps a call centre that does work or a road sans potholes will foster positive sentiment, and maybe that’s a start. Perhaps I’m just naïve.
Moneyweb has published a good article on the issue of donations for poor countries in crisis. Provocatively titled “Don’t give money to Haiti”, this article is worth a read.