As you may have picked up from some of my comments in this podcast, you will know that I am currently working in Lagos, Nigeria. Living here for several months, combined with my travels in the past three years, has really opened my eyes to things I – and I venture to say, many of my fellow South Africans – take for granted.
I need to state that I am not trying to justify poor governance in some of the things that I highlight here – for example, the impact of Eskom’s limited ability to supply power has had a massive impact on the economy – but I think we take for granted the things we enjoy in South Africa particularly and the sometimes much smaller scale of troubles.
Taking Electricity for Granted
Let me kick off by talking about one of the bigger topics that get South Africans a little flustered.
In 2008 South Africa was thrown into the dark as it became apparent that due to poor governance and planning, our fantastic growth in the economy had reached the point where demand for electricity was beyond the capacity of the parastatal power company Eskom’s ability to provide.
What followed was the introduction of a new word into our vocabulary, that of Load-shedding. The concept is that of rationing power do demand cannot exceed the supply. Timetables were published that – depending on the supply situation – dictated how many hours per session and session per week you could expect to be without power if the situation was level 1, 2 or 3.
Like most new systems, there were some teething issues at first but in time the timetables and related apps proved accurate-ish and life moved on. Whenever the power would go down people would take to Facebook – smartphone battery life allowing – to complain about things, but life moved on.
Living in Lagos has been an eye-opening experience for me on the issue of electricity provision.
My apartment, like so many other apartments and homes for upper-middle to upper-income dwellings and office buildings, features a large generator that is larger than any SUV that has been parked next to it. (This beast is outside my bedroom window and the sound resembles that of being on a large Boeing or Airbus).
The provision of electricity in Lagos is unpredictable and I have had weeks where the generators of our offices and my apartment have run for 24 hours for most of the week. I can say that I am not aware of a single week where the lights have not gone out and the generator had to kick in if only for 10mins.
So while power is seldom out for hours here (unless the generator breaks or the fuel runs out) the noise, the pollution and the cost for land owners of providing, running and maintaining such large generators is something I would trade for load-shedding schedule, to be honest.
Taking Food for Granted
In South Africa, we are blessed with a variety of foods in various qualities and price ranges. That said, I tend to feel that on average the quality of our fruits, veg and meat – in particular, red meat – we enjoy incredible value and quality.
On average as I have travelled to some countries in Africa and even a few in other more far flung destinations, even supposed first world countries, I have been amazed at the cost that a meal can quickly add up to.
In South Africa, we will eat as a family of four on two or three pizzas from the local del Forno or another family run, franchised store and have a decent meal. For that same kind of money in most places I have travelled, I will get one pizza or a meal for one person and be happy if the quality is the same, but often feeling it fell short – most likely influenced by the apparent lack of value.
I agree the rising prices of food is a concern, but I must stress that prices are going up in many parts of the world too and I still find that SA offers very good value.
Taking Roads for Granted
We have our share of potholes in South Africa, but my recent trip to two states on almost completely different ends of the USA – while very brief – made me realise that the roads are not paved with gold there.
Also, in some African cities, the first serious rains of the season cause flooding due to massive blockages or non-existent drainage (two weeks ago following a terrible down pour, there were some residents of Lagos even using kayaks to get down their street, I kid you not. As the waters subsided, the roads were left in a terrible state. Recently repaired dual lane roads looked like they had not been maintained for decades.
We have our problems in South Africa, but they are nowhere near the level others have to endure.
I hope we can look to what we do have with more appreciation and yes, push to protect it, but let us enjoy what we have more.
(Listen to last week’s Mostly Me Monday podcast here)