I am in so many ways a stranger here in South Africa, but the people here are a source of consolation. Friends and strangers offer solace when they realize I have strong ties to South Louisiana.
I find Americans generally callous to the suffering in the rest of the world, and even to the sorrow endured by the people of our own Gulf shores as Gustav prepares to come ashore. While Americans seem more focused on election politics than plain and simple humanitarian concerns, the people here offer this American love through conversation, hugs and good wishes. They are worried about our people in South Louisiana while most Americans totally ignore the medical disaster of HIV and the natural disasters that plague Africa.
Africa thrives on the bonds of community, village and family, and while I am here people take me into their homes and hearts and are genuinely concerned about a strange entity called a hurricane that threatens their friend's extended family. The African worldview (white and black alike) includes the basic concept that we are all spiritually connected.
As I look at this progressive news outlet, I see nine headlines pertaining to shenanigans at the RNC in Minneapolis. How much is enough? There is one regarding the hurricane.
South Africans today are enduring death and destruction from fires whipped by gales force winds and smoke filled highways are now death traps.
Winter is at its end here in South Africa. The land, people and animals are parched and hungry for the soothing spring rains.
Yesterday perhaps fifteen firefighters and villagers were killed in fires that roared through KwaZulu-Natal. The niece of ANC President Jacob Zuma perished when fierce winds in excess of 60 mph tore a section of tin roof that hit the child. At least 40 homes were destroyed and runaway veld (grassland) fires consumed lives and hope for hundreds of the poorest of the poor.
Fires continue to rage in the Mpumalanga area, where I am situated today. Forestry plantations which were devastated by fires last winter in the Graskop, Kaapsehoop, Piet Retief and Bushbuckridge areas were also affected.
SAPA news service quoted protection services officer Derek Horne, who urged motorists not to use the R66 and R34 routes, warning that flames were jumping across the road in some areas.
"It's like a war zone here. The fires are out of control. Please tell motorists to stay away," he said.
We happened upon the beginnings of one fire outside of the Orpen Gate at Kruger Park yesterday. It was devastating to see cattle straining against a steel fence that blocked escape from flames that were within several yards. There was absolutely nothing we could do except get out of the area as quickly as possible and make some phone calls trying to locate the farmer.
To me, those poor creatures were a metaphor for the people in South Louisiana who are about to be impacted by Gustav.
Thank you so much to colleagues at OEN who helped me out and posted the information regarding the Disaster Accountability Hotline when I was in and out of comms. You have no idea how grateful I am to you, and you each know who you are.