Nelson Mandela Foundation

In early February, a national disaster was declared regarding the widespread flooding in parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. Reports estimate the damage caused by disruptive rains amounts to over R300-million and has left a trail of destruction affecting entire neighbourhoods, schools, roads, clinics and even a railway line. In Matsulu, Mbombela, a giant crocodile was spotted crossing the street after the river overflooded. 

It is easy to see the flooding as ours to deal with alone. However, in reality, the flooding that took place in parts of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal is part of a global weather phenomenon called ‘La Niña’. 

The La Niña weather phenomenon occurs every two to seven years when the equatorial Pacific Ocean gets up to 3°C colder, or warmer in the El Niño cycle. 3°C in the middle of the Pacific may not sound like much, but according to research, it can disrupt global weather patterns and its effects can be felt in the polar stratosphere 8km above the Earth. As La Niña caused flooding in parts of Mpumalanga and KZN, Australia has had three years of above-average rainfall due to prolonged La Niña conditions that brought severe floods. Our partners in New Zealand are also sharing reports of catastrophic flooding there too.

What I am pointing to is how our calamities and crises are barely ever isolated. Suppose we understand this well and instil this reality as a value system. In that case, we will be rigorously expanding the principle and practice of ubuntu, and demonstrating that social bonding goes beyond borders. It is about acknowledging how vulnerable we are to each other, that we make each other human. It is a meaningful practice in sharing the grief of catastrophic events, of the loss of life and livelihoods, it is accepting how vulnerable we are to one another. What I am highlighting is just how urgent the need for us to be socially bonded continues to be.

As my colleague, Kneo Mokgopa, once wrote: 

What will you do when the mother of grief asks you, “what have you done with the grief I gave you?”, what will you say?

Will you tell her that you took the grief and swallowed it? Will you tell her that you buried the grief, deep down underground, where it won’t touch anybody ever again? Or will you tell her that you shared your grief with your friends and family, and here it is unfolded?

People that do this well and have continued to be a lighthouse in times of real darkness have been Dr Imtiaz Sooliman and Gift of the Givers. You may not know this, but Gift of the Givers is the largest disaster response NGO of African origin on the African continent. When a truly major earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria, they were immediately on site, supporting the rescue efforts, providing medical relief and other kinds of emergency aid. In fact, they have been working in Syria for some time and many of their members were caught in the destruction after the earthquake struck. 

Reflecting on why they do what they do, Dr Sooliman is quoted saying “you feel the calling, you feel the need, you see the suffering of man and you want to do something. There's a lot of prayer involved. You've been shown what the right way is; what to do and what not to do. And things are put very clearly in front of you”.

There is a profound sense of clarity driving their mission, and I believe it is a clarity we can emulate. What is clear is that we live together and that our lives are inextricably linked. What is clear is that we need each other. Even what we might refer to as fascist organisations share this need to connect, that’s why they publish their manifestos in Times New Roman or Ariel, they crave deeply to be understood even by people they claim to hate. 

It has barely been two months into the year and we’ve already been faced with such difficult challenges. What is clear is that time is running out, with the energy crisis, our leadership crisis and the climate crisis. We urgently need to address our woundedness, our national traumas, and our unanswered history, we urgently need to learn how to be socially bonded even across borders, and how to share in one another's grief. Because if a change of 3°C in the Pacific Ocean can cause flooding in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, then imagine what we can achieve with all of our brilliance just here.