The abundant wealth of water, power, and fresh air


The abundant wealth of water, power, and fresh air

Johan Fourie's book set GIELIE HOFFMANN thinking about what makes someone rich.


I BOUGHT my dad a new TV set.

A week ago, he told me something he'd read about the Springboks' victory against the All Blacks at Twickenham. There were so many South Africans present, and when it was time for the national anthem, they sang so loudly that it brought tears to the eyes of the former All Black Justin Marshall.

For a moment, I am silent, and he is silent, then he speaks again.

Sometime in the pandemic, the sound on my dad's television stopped working. When I suggested getting it fixed, he dismissed it, saying: “Sometimes you don't want to hear everything."

So, he watched the news, rugby, BBC Wildlife and Boer Soek 'n Vrou without sound. Completely content. A television has never been high on my list of desires, but after the conversation I realised my dad had seen that rugby moment but hadn't heard it. So I bought him a new television on Takealot. One with all the bells & whistles. It's a World Cup year, and one should be able to hear.

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Johan Fourie's wonderful book Skatryk got me thinking. His short columns on economic phenomena and historical moments paint a picture of where we are as a society. It made me reflect on the things that add quality to my life. That makes me feel rich.

I try to own as little as possible. I'm not a minimalist. I love art and furniture and books and tableware and trinkets. But I just don't want to own a lot of it myself. That's why I've easily gone through life without a television. 

Screws and bits

My sister had to install the television. I'm not wired for such tasks. Manuals in bags, tangled wires, screws and bits that need to be assembled — it all fills me with more anxiety than speaking in front of a thousand people.

So we all had a barbecue at my dad's yesterday. My godson is particularly good with all those wires and took the old television out and put the new one in. My sister stood by and guided him. I had to download an app and create a profile. And then the television worked.

After the meal, the old folks took a nap and the two godchildren had free rein of the yard. In the afternoon, they set a course for home, and the new television echoed across the plains. Chase, the adopted boerbul, which has only ever known silence in this yard, was quite unnerved.

I was in bed, blissful.

What makes a person rich? I think of Maslow's needs. A bed to sleep in. Food to eat. Clothes to wear. The night before, I was in Johannesburg for a performance of Antjie Krog's Die Nuwe Verbond (The New Covenant). Days earlier, a building in the city centre caught fire, and so far 77 people have died. A roof over one's head. That, in itself, makes a person rich. Krog touches on important issues in the production: basic physiological needs like water and air are already under pressure. The sound is on, but do we really hear it?

Dumping ground

Something that is part of your everyday life has a significant impact on your wellbeing. For me, it's a growing illegal dumping ground on a piece of open land that I pass every day. For more than a year, I've been communicating with council members and mayors, being sent from port to starboard. It's already four times the size it was at the beginning of the year. Bureaucracy, bankrupt city councils, fragile coalitions and weak leadership cause this element of my daily life to make me feel significantly poorer. The accompanying potholes worsen matters, and by the time I'm on my way to work I feel far removed from the Maslow hierarchy's second level: safety needs.

As a society, in the last century, we began to embrace the top three levels because the bottom two were largely addressed. We could start thinking about love and support, self-worth and self-actualisation. And it's strange how structures we put in place for this drive us forward and make us feel rich: friendships, relationships, our work, freedom and a mission, and casting the net wider than your own life.

But the basics we've relied on, such as water, electricity, clean air and a beautiful environment, remain the building blocks that keep us from falling apart.

My dad is 75. For him, now, time with his loved ones, an afternoon barbecue, a dog walking alongside him and sound during the singing of the national anthem are enough to make him feel rich. Provided he has water, power and air. Something that is becoming less and less of a given.

What can I do to feel less exposed? It's a thought typical of this era of optimisation and self-actualisation. But also in line with good values like active citizenship.

Maybe it's about buying tar and patching up potholes. Maybe it's about trying again with the city council. The image of a building on fire and politicians running around, pointing fingers, haunts me.

I'm starting to understand why people privatise everything around them and start living in bubbles. It doesn't resonate with me. Because in the end, we all breathe the same air. And you can't buy that on Takealot.

♦ VWB ♦

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