Sunday, September 2, 2018

Once upon a pot...

This is a small daisy, flowers all year, but enjoys Spring. Up close a feast of colour and subtlety.

NATURE, which is a cyclical process of being and essentiality, has an astonishing way of doing her thing. Bountiful rains this winter in Cape Town have nourished, and replenished, the drought-dry soil. But what is interesting here is that all these pictured plants grow in pots. They endure sizzling heat in January, gaspingly hot gale-force winds in February and the challenges of water restrictions in March - and yet, against all odds, they survive. And when one bends close to these plants, and listens, and looks, an amazing micro-world of purpose emerges. Each species is intent on reproduction, growth and sustenance. And each species has its own unique way of doing things, from dazzling colours, hooked stamens laden with pollen, to hairy stems preventing insects from climbing on them to reach fruit. 


A forest of scented lavender.
 
Flowers hardly bigger than a human thumb put out signals for bees.

Geranium. Tough and hardy, but in blushing colour.

The humble nettle. Let if flower and see its beauty, hooked stamens waiting to embrace pollinating insects.

Cherry tomato vine. Hairy stems telling caterpillars to buzz off.

A spiky succulent putting out a  tender Spring message.

Perfumed jasmine after a shower.

Birds hover, waiting to catch unwwary insects.

Hibiscus after rain.

Edible nasturtiums with a seductive blossom.

Geranium flower head, ready to explode.

Sweet mint.

Spring is a season of extraordinary growth.


© Shafiq Morton 2018

Monday, July 23, 2018

Supporting BRICS, the only way to economic progress




In a world fast being polarised by rich-poor divides and Trumpism, South Africa hosts the 11th BRICS summit at a critical juncture in our history

A SUFI sage once proclaimed that Creation was perfect, but man wasn’t. The world of people, he said, was not faultless. The earth was not created that way. If peace treaties were made only between friends, our enemies would devour us. If we were flawless in character, we would not need friends.

However, he added, our challenge was to reach out. We had to make a difference where we could, appreciating that we were as imperfect as the next person, and needed to work on our own souls; this all before we criticise others.

Nelson Mandela – a true world statesman imbued with the wisdom of suffering – profoundly realised the above. When ‘instructed’ by western interests to spurn the company of people such as Muammar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro after 1990, he replied that he would not abandon his friends, those who had helped the anti-apartheid struggle in its greatest hours of need.

In some quarters, pragmatism is called realpolitik, traditionally defined as ‘a system of politics based on practical, rather than moral considerations’. However, in the case of Madiba, realpolitik became practical politics based on moral principles, whilst fully understanding the existing realities.

BRICS, a body consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – and representing the rump of the developing world – is such a case in point. Each country’s politics may raise questions, depending on one’s view, but the over-arching principles of BRICS are far greater in import than localised issues.

The stated goals of BRICS – the promotion of technological information, the primacy of education, economic co-operation, the closing of the gap between developing and developed nations, climate change and the establishment of a development bank – are all vital issues for over one-third of the world’s poorest populations.

To understand BRICS, we have to contextualise its founding rationale. It was born on the fringes of the G8 Outreach Summit in 2006, where disappointment was expressed at its failure to rectify its economic model for managing the global economy, especially in the light of its lack of success in significantly closing the poverty gap.

A child of the 1970s during the neo-conservative Reagan and Thatcher years – especially after US President Nixon had de-linked the dollar from its gold standard – it was felt that the G8 had failed to satisfactorily address pressing global economic issues. The summits had begun to attract thousands of anti-globalisation protestors, who felt the system had failed them.

The first BRIC summit was held in Russia in June 2009, with South Africa invited to make up a vital African component in 2011. South Africa would host the fifth BRICS summit in Durban in 2013. Interestingly, South Africa was invited to BRIC – not because we would complete the most convenient acronym  ‘BRICS’ as The Economist once chauvinistically suggested – but because at that time South Africa had the continent’s biggest economy.

The term ‘BRIC’ was originally coined by Goldman Sachs in 2001 after a study on the global economy concluded that China and India would eclipse the Euro zone and the US in terms of economic power by 2050. Today BRICS represents 20 per cent of the world’s GDP in a growth area serving 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Themed as ‘BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution’, BRICS members meeting in South Africa will be reflecting on issues such as the global order, inclusiveness, trade and the New Development Bank, a BRICS initiative to break the fetters of the IMF and the World Bank, particularly resented in the developing world for their crippling interest rates and unsympathetic pre-loan conditions.

The 11th BRICS summit will also be a golden opportunity for President Cyril Ramaphosa to map out the country’s vision, especially after the moribund and unproductive Zuma years, and to draw Africa closer to BRICS and long-term infrastructural development for our marginalised communities.

To say that this will be a critical summit is something of an understatement. For lurking in the political background is the phenomenon of Trumpism and Euro-zone right wing-ism – the lawless triumphalism of corporate business marginalising the poor; this seen in a cavalier disregard for global warming and gross militaristic misconstructions of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Like any multi-state body, BRICS may certainly not be without its own inner tensions, but its overall long-term vision in galvanising the developing forces of the world cannot ever be underestimated.




Monday, February 19, 2018

Cape Town’s water crisis: we are not alone

Photo Shafiq Morton
THIS piece is not about the blame game, triggered by the ‘worst drought in living memory’. Nor is it about the arrogance and the rank incompetence of our city authorities, who only woke up when they realised that they would be the first administration in the world to run out of water.
No, this is not about the DA and its cloying attempts to shift the blame, and nor is it about the ANC, intent on scoring points against the DA. Locked into five-year election cycles that have ignored long term planning, our political parties have simply dropped the ball.
The point is; water affects every South African citizen. We are a water-stressed country, and water has to transcend party differences.
Today’s status quo – the city of Cape Town unilaterally installing water restriction devices that have never passed SABS or NRCS muster – is the equivalent of a chain store blaming its customers for its poor service, and then forcing them to purchase inferior goods as a result. It is no wonder that the public is angry. 
Bureaucratically, Big Brother now fully controls our water, and we are now captive to the big business of water reticulation. Then there is the fact that plans to heighten dam walls, clean alien vegetation and maintain channels in the catchment areas were either never done, or simply neglected.
The great shame, the why of the water crisis, is that government and council have ignored a host of water experts – sometimes even their own – for decades. In fact, the first caution about water in the Western Cape was issued in 1970. The second warning, the result of research in 1990, said that we could run dry by 2007.
In 2005, a local company, Grahamtec, offered to install a R2 million desalination plant at the V & A Waterfront at its own expense to showcase the cost effectiveness of desalination. The city turned it down.
Since then, South African manufacturers have struggled to get local tenders, despite the fact that their plants have been installed internationally in places such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia, and successfully helped to wean Singapore off the Malaysian grid.
Then there has been the whiff of corruption: suspensions at the state owned Umgeni Water. Our own desalination plants re-labelled overseas and offered back to us at four times the price. Israeli desalination technology, copied from South Africa, being considered the cure all – from so-called water experts, who have exhausted the West Bank aquifer, pirated Syrian water from the occupied Golan Heights, nearly drained  the Dead Sea – and who have covered the land with alien, water guzzling pines. 
But back to the why of the water crisis. In 2007, water researchers issued another warning; this time saying that if current demand continued, Cape Town would run dry by 2012-15. Michael Muller of the SA Water Institute reported that the council was ‘arrogant and over confident’, saying that our water would last until 2022.
To its credit, the city did institute some measures of saving. But as we all know, that was not enough to get through our latest drought cycle – which began in 2015, largely due to the El Nino phenomenon, a change in the surface temperature of the Pacific.
The earth’s ocean currents and weather systems are all inter-linked, and El Nino – or its effeminate twin La Nina – shifts the trajectory of frontal systems, causing droughts in some regions and flooding in others.
For countries such as Australia, Brazil, India, Spain, South Africa and the US, the complex El Nino/La Nina effect has meant drought. For other regions of Asia and the Caribbean, it has meant torrential rainfall and high-strength cyclones.
The harsh reality is that parts of Asia, the Americas, Australia and Africa are all severely water-stressed. In Brazil, over 800 metropolitan areas have become water-stressed; Perth and Melbourne in Australia face similar challenges, and Barcelona – not unlike Cape Town – went to the brink.
This is all happening on a planet – which is covered 70% by water – but where only three per cent is potable, and of that, another 50% is locked up in glaciers.
As a surfer who has monitored the weather keenly for five decades, and who as a radio presenter has done a daily weather report for 20 years, I can safely say that our climate is slowly changing over the long term.
Whilst our cycles of dry and wet years have more or less remained consistent within the limited bands of predictability, there have been shifts. For example, kelp – a cold-water organism – has encroached further into False Bay due to fewer westerly winds, which warm the sea after the cold upwelling of the southeaster.
Our weather systems – admixed with the side effects of global warming – often result in more extreme frontal incidences, such as the Peninsula’s near-cyclone of June last year and the hurricanes of the Gulf.
However, at the end of the day, water crises are rarely a matter of rainfall, but more a case of bad human management. In this, we are certainly not alone. For us to survive, there is a need for a more a more holistic understanding, and environmentally sensitive approach, to water catchment. People should not be punished, as in Cape Town, for going off the grid.
However, whatever happens, our precious water resources must not fall into the hands of greedy privateers, which occurred in California. It is the duty of the state to provide water for us all – without discriminating against the poor, for whom the bucket queues of Day Zero are already a daily occurrence.

An edited version was first published in Muslim Views.