Getting priorities straight

I like to think of myself as being reasonably even-tempered. But, like everyone, there are certain things that get my blood boiling. One of these is cruelty to the helpless and innocent.

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Right now, thousands of head of livestock across South Africa are suffering because of the drought. This is certainly horrific, you might say, but where is the cruelty in that? No one is wilfully withholding water and feed to these animals, surely?

Well, according to reports coming out of KwaZulu-Natal, this is exactly what the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs seems to be doing. Someone in that department is choosing to not do his or her job and in the process is stalling the department from sending a confirmation of disaster declaration to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF).

Without this declaration, DAFF cannot approach National Treasury for disaster aid. Although DAFF knows about the effect the drought is having on agriculture in KZN, it is neatly restrained by its own red tape.

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Farmers are used to disaster aid being notoriously slow. What makes it different this time, however, are the severity and scale of the disaster. Usually, when farmers in one region are hit by a disaster, farmers from another region will send aid. This time, feed and water are scarce everywhere.

For some farmers, this is not the first year of drought. Others were lucky enough to have a good 2014/2015 season, but this was on the back of two or three years of drought. There is precious little money to buy feed for one’s own animals, never mind one’s neighbours.

It is therefore with a feeling of hopelessness that one reads about the slow response of some government officials. Where is the sense of urgency, the sense of responsibility to the citizens they are employed to serve? All public servants must start putting their duty to the country first. However, we know what President Zuma thinks about his constitutional duties to the country, so dare we hope to expect anything different from those he appoints? I sincerely hope that there are enough honourable men and women in public service who still take pride in their work.

Meanwhile, farmers in the KZN Midlands are facing another threat to their livelihoods: large-scale mining for subterranean energy sources. Some 10 000 farms are reportedly in the firing line. And we all know which comes out the winner where mining, the environment and agriculture meet.

Every day, each of us makes countless decisions about what or whom we prioritise. Those decisions directly or indirectly affect the lives of others. It’s easy to recognise the impact made by the choices of someone such as a president or company CEO, but, as we’ve seen in the KZN drought situation, don’t underestimate the power of the little guy.