Let’s take back the many billions lost to state capture thieving

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WHILE everyone else was getting hot under the collar listening to Minister Gigaba, I was at the launch of the second edition of the South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas – pretty hot stuff too. (Once the online tool is available – watch this space – it’s going to be invaluable to local and national decision makers in government and business – and I predict a small group of lay people will spend hours exploring it.)

One presentation gave me déjà vu – the models were familiar from science dating back a few years, and the message is only getting stronger as the science gets sharper.

Dr Rebecca Garland (senior researcher in the Climate Studies, Modelling and Environmental Health Research Group in the Natural Resources and the Environment Unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research – try reeling that off after two glasses of pinotage!) showed an animated map of sub-Saharan Africa turning red and frying on the screen, as temperatures changed from 1970 to the end of the 21st century.

The deepest red smothers Namibia, Botswana, parts of Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Northern Cape, the North West, Limpopo. And red spells danger for rainfall too – heavier rain is predicted for northern Mozambique and Tazania, but arid South Africa is already a strong pink from 2015 to 2035, shifting to red as the decades progress.

Climate change is not good news for righting the wrongs of poverty and inequality.

And yet, I felt oddly buoyed by a sense of hope. Because Dr Garland used two different models: one showing the future if we carry on regardless, the other including a level of mitigation (not daydream levels of ideal mitigation, but a reasonable and feasible amount of serious effort).

It won’t be the same. but life will continue

And the visual impact was profound. Yes, the future – the immediate future – holds massive and frightening changes, but if we put real energy and commitment into mitigation, it won’t be the worst future, like that in New Scientist’s 4-degree map, where virtually all of Africa is desert; life will continue, albeit very differently.

It’s akin to a feeling my Cape Town friends have had, as Day Zero has shifted further back in time: okay, we will never again be able to use water as freely as we once did, but at least we may never reach a point where the taps run dry and we have to queue for water (offering a quick prayer that good rains do come this winter).

We face lots of demanding changes: shifts to more resilient crops; moving the boundaries of national parks; getting more and more of our energy from wind turbines and solar installations; mandatory water harvesting on every new building; changes in work patterns to allow for long midday breaks when heat is dangerous… but there could still be a South Africa.

If we do the work. If we make a genuine effort to mitigate as hard as we can. If we model innovative adaptation and mitigation to other countries, in fields like energy, agriculture and manufacturing. If we exert pressure at international fora for global mitigation.

I’m full of admiration for our scientists (we have hubs of climate change science which are among the best in the world), and for those of our businesses and industries which have grasped the nettle and started working out how to survive and flourish in this new world.

We need vision and energy from government

But without vision and energy and drive coming from government, we cannot put the whole country on the necessary emergency footing (there is drive coming from the Department of Science and Technology – but it needs to be all departments working in concert; the challenges of climate change do not occur in neat silos, they cut across all areas).

And so, in two key speeches, waddaya get? Mr President, in SONA you mentioned the drought in the Western Cape briefly. Neither the words ‘climate change’ nor ‘environment’ passed your lips.

Minister Gigaba did a little better, mentioning climate change twice. He noted the water crisis, and said, “Government stands ready to provide financial assistance where necessary: a provisional allocation of R6 billion has been set aside in 2018/19…”

Do you fully understand the nature of this threat? What about the necessary investments we need to make our future possible? The infrastructure… the new skills training… the research… the communication campaigns and more…

And then I find myself thinking about what we have missed out on over the last nine years. Time, of course, time to tackle things. Real and inspired leadership (I hope our new president is a big enough person to catch up, even a bit); a long-term vision that works off climate change as its base; effective people in appropriate fields who’ve left for greener fields; and of course, the money.

Somewhere between R100bn and R250bn lost to the state capture thieving, right?

Oh, and that’s only over the last three or four years – the thieving was happening long before that!

Never mind the billions lost to “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” (that’s what you’d expect when leadership is rotten), let’s Get Back Our Money!

Let’s demand that all the traces of our money, laundered through the international banking system, be hunted down and recouped if at all possible; let’s call to account all those companies and individuals who have been complicit in this, and demand reparations; let’s look into the pockets of the biggest thieves of all, and Take Back Our Money!

  • Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter.

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