Like millions of people around the world, I have been moved and appalled these past few days by the literally earth-shattering events in Japan. Now there is evidence, it appears, that Japan, the country, has shifted its position by as much as 4m; the depth of its coastal waters has changed, its property markings have ‘warped’ and GPS coordinates will need to be reconfigured. How does one even begin to imagine what has happened, to grasp the enormity of it, the scale, the human and physical catastrophe?
Amongst the thousands of images and stories that have crowded the airwaves, two stand out for me, at this moment – along with the photographs of the iron wave of the tsunami sweeping shorewards, the wooden house floating out to sea, the boat dumped unceremoniously on the roof of a building somewhere and, most hauntingly perhaps, the image of a little boy, arms held up in the air, being scanned for radiation by someone wearing a white protection suit. In Japan, of all countries.
The two images are these. In one, a reporter tells how the goods from wrecked shops and stores spill out into the open, onto what is left of the street: but there is no looting at all, nothing is taken, nothing is removed. Everything remains where it is.
In another mental image – we are spared the photographs – we are told that the bodies of two thousand people have washed up on the shore, near one of the stricken towns.
Two thousand bodies, rolling in the waves against a shattered shoreline.
On Sunday, here in Johannesburg, the main story, emblazoned across the front page of the biggest Sunday newspaper, was that Schabir Shaik, the moral pygmy who financed our President in what a judge called a ‘corrupt relationship’ and who is out on parole on the grounds that he is mortally ill and near to death, had come to blows with someone outside a mosque, after Friday prayers.
I looked at the newspaper in disbelief. Japan – Schaik? Where was the sense of proportion? Where was the global perspective? Are we so besotted with our own turpitude and intrigue, that we think the Schaik story is more important, that Shabby Schabir can sell newspapers, at least, while the real news turns up somewhere inside, around page 3 or page 5?
And then I remembered, Jacob Zuma would prove an ‘unstoppable tsunami’, according to Zweli Vavi, our sometimes maladroit trade union leader, in his quest for the Presidency. It is stretching the point, and I would not wish for a moment to forget for a moment the real and terrifying tragedy that is playing out half-way around the world from us, but what damage has followed, and will still follow, in the wake of Jacob Zuma’s election?
Ask Trevor Manuel, perhaps?