The Good News for 2020
2019 was a tumultuous year, and though we did not necessarily mention it in conversation, we all hoped that the slate would be clean as the clock struck 12 on New Year’s morning. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case.
The start of the new year saw news riddled with the smoke of a thousand Australian fires – with devastating natural consequences, as well as death and destruction to humans and human structures. Tensions in the Middle East made us hold our breaths as the USA and Iran clashed to the point where World War III felt almost imminent. As tensions seemed to die down, death was unfortunately also the consequence of an Ukranian flight over Iran – a total of 176 lives lost.
In the UK, uncertainty over Brexit is still causing tension and unrest, the royals are sparring: some want to make an exit and live normal lives, another is on unofficial embroiled himself in a worldwide sex trafficking scandal. The US has seen more terror attacks within its borders as well as at its Camp Simba base in Kenya. In Yemen, starvation and loss of human life are a daily reality. In Mozambique and Rwanda, heavy rains and flash floods have claimed several lives while Bangladesh has lost 50 lives due to extreme cold weather. And in South Africa, New Year saw multiple public shootings which claimed lives, while the halt in load shedding has also ended.
Tired of the bad news
It seems the bad news is everywhere, and it’s near impossible to escape the devastation which surrounds us. One almost instinctively gravitates towards these sensational stories – it’s become so normal to reach for the bad news that we forget what this does to our mental state and don’t buffer the bad with some positive cushioning.
Yet, though we cannot exactly isolate ourselves from the world and ignore the realities around us, it’s necessary at times to simply take a step back, inhale deeply, and focus on that which is wholesome.
So, with that in mind, Rand Rescue would like to focus on those events and news stories which can make you smile. Those stories which have made us see the silver lining for humanity and earth and give us a glimmer of hope for the future.
Millions of donations to Australian wildfire relief
We’ve all seen the devastation of the wildfires in Australia which have claimed more in natural habitat than the Amazonian and Californian wildfires of 2019 combined. We cannot possibly tell you any more negative news about this catastrophe – but we can tell you about the good stuff.
Celebrity donations are slowly piling in, with donations from the likes of P!nk (Alecia Moore), Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Chris Hemsworth, Elton John, Kylie Jenner and Russel Crowe. By far the most sizeable is the fundraiser organised by comedian Celeste Barber – with the total raised currently standing at $32 million and counting. The ingenuity of fundraising has also caused a few blushes, with a nude model raising more than $700 000 by selling photographs of herself, sparking a trend amongst others in her industry which has seen the amount pass the $1 million mark.
But not everyone has donated in the form of money. New Zealand, the USA, UK and Canada have all sent firefighters to help the local firefighters and volunteers. Restaurants of all cultures are pitching in to help feed stranded families and firefighters. Farmers, schools, public and private buildings are being offered as rehab centres and mobilisation points for volunteers. And the Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild has mobilised thousands of people from across the world to use their crafts to assist. The guild has seen auctioning of art and craft work for the cause, children from Holland are singing in the streets to raise money, and in an extremely heartwarming display, grannies, mums, dads, girls and boys are all knitting and sewing to make pouches, koala mittens, bat wraps and blankets. These animal rescue crafts are sent from international locations to assist the animals affected by the fires and has seen thousands of resources crafted by ordinary humans sent to help out the people in Australia.
Even South Africa pitched in! With wildfires ravaging the Western Cape region persistently over years and causing widespread natural devastation, the Western Cape Government has offered to assist Australia. Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning MEC Anton Bredell stated, “Over the past ten years we have built up a highly experienced network of firefighters. Some of these crews have been deployed to assist other countries with wildfires in the past. Our initial offer to the Australians included a firefighting team of approximately forty highly experienced, wildland firefighters and a command element, with the possibility of expanding on this if required.”
Though nothing can make up for the devastating losses, some of the areas which have burned are now showing their first signs of returning life, with new sprouts, flowers and greenery reaching through the soot.
Indeed, one cannot quite subdue the dread at the great losses, but in times of darkness humans truly have the capacity to reach out and help each other. We are capable of banding together to show empathy and kindness to other humans and our animal counterparts.
Bless the rains down in Africa
At the end of 2019, South Africa saw widespread flooding as a result of relentless rain pelting down in areas of Gauteng, North West, KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Unfortunately, these rains did not touch one of the places which needed it most – the Karoo.
Farmers had struggled for months as rains remained elusive and local dam levels plummeted to a combined level of 16%. The drought had already seen numerous initiatives from governmental and private sources. In December, the government in partnership with Coca-Cola had arranged delivery of 90 000 litres of water to the area.
But just when it seemed things couldn’t possibly look up, the heavens opened and quenched the parched thirst of the Karoo with up to 60 mm of rain in certain areas in the course of a single day. This is almost a third of the average annual precipitation in the Karoo and only 5 mm less than the overall annual rainfall for areas like Steytlerville. The drought had taken such a toll, the number of farmers in the area had steadily declined by approximately 78% in the past century, and the last five years have been particularly hard on farmers, which made the rains even more of a blessing.
The rains down in Africa have therefore painted many smiles on the faces of farmers in the area and given a much-needed reprieve to a parched land.
Rover finds a forever home
South Africans were devastated in December 2019 to learn that a cruel fiend – a bodybuilder who’d wanted to ‘test his strength’, deliberately broke his bone’s leg. The terrier cross was eventually rescued by the SPCA following calls from concerned neighbours speaking of a dog ‘screaming’ in agony.
Such was the extent of Rover’s injuries, that his leg could not be saved, but South Africans donated en masse for his veterinary care, and now Rover has found his forever home with a loving family. There had been more than 300 offers to adopt the abused dog, with 30 formal applications.
The teenage abuser had been arrested, but had subsequently skipped his court hearing. Though the police had not found him yet, it’s best they up the ante as civilians have already tried to find the animal abuser, with one man offering two months of his salary for the whereabouts of the purported criminal.
Clean oceans to clean rivers
Dutch philanthropist and engineer, Boyan Slat, is taking his ocean-cleaning initiative to the world’s rivers in 2020.
Following his highly successful Pacific Garbage Patch cleanup which saw two shipping containers of pollution removed was the first and most successful conservation effort of its kind to remove such a large chunk of the garbage patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating island of waste which was first identified in the 90s. Scientists had said that it would take thousands of years to clean, but Slat’s System 001/B vessel had made easy work of a great chunk of the waste. The initiative had started off as a crowdfunder, with Slat quitting his job to take on the task, and it had swiftly gained support from numerous philanthropists and businesses.
Now he will target the source of the waste – rivers which contribute near 80% of the rubbish found in the oceans.
Identikidz reunites 318 kids with parents
South African initiative, Identikidz, is not entirely a novel idea, but the company has definitely proven that they can deliver on their promise.
Since the launch of the programme mid-December, more than 120 000 children have been tagged. The programme runs each year for a certain period during the festive season, and take-up has increased drastically in 2019. The simple programme places staff and Identikidz counters in easy-to-find areas along Cape Town and surrounding beaches. Children are ‘signed up’, given a bracelet and their caretakers’ contact details captured. Staff are then deployed to keep an eye out for children who seem lost, and children and caretakers are urged to convene at the Identikidz area if they are lost or looking for their loved ones.
The programme has been highly successful and seen a significant reduction in missing children, with a further 318 missing children reunited with their parents or caregivers through Identikidz. Authorities also believe that the visibility and mere presence of Identikidz may be efficient in limiting the presence of nefarious characters on the beaches, further increasing the safety of children.
China yields to nature
There has been loads of negative news about Chinese policies and the toll these have taken on the environment. In his book, the Great Run, South Africa’s Braam Malherbe – who was the first and last person to run the entire length of the Great Wall of China, speaks about the harrowing state of nature in parts of China and how these will probably never make a recovery.
But while the world was criticising, China listened and acted. Not only did the country reach its 2020 carbon emission target three years ahead of schedule in 2017, but it is also implementing some other much-needed initiatives and strategies to prevent the destruction of natural resources.
In 2019, the country announced that it would henceforth seek to focus on non-animal test methods for regulation of cosmetics. The country has invested more than $350 billion over two decades in sustainability efforts, targeting 65% of China’s landmass. Though the country has much to make up for, its environmental efforts and investment are currently unrivalled in the rest of the world, and while other countries seem to be barely trying to cut emissions (such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States whose emissions are five times what they should be), it is clear that China is making an effort.
The government already started subsidising electric cars years ago – an initiative aimed at reducing carbon emissions, and the initiative is paying off. In 2018, Chinese residents purchased 1,1 million electric cars – more than the rest of the world combined.
In other positive news, 2020 will see the launch of its new panda park whose plans had been finalised at the end of 2019. The park will be three times the size of Yellowstone, covering an area of 27 132 square kilometres. The new habitat will make it possible for disconnected wildlife whose populations had been fragmented by logging and construction to once more connect, find mates and improve genetic diversity.
Stranded travelers get Christmas gift
On Christmas Day, a WestJet flight heading to St. Johns, Newfoundland, was diverted to Deer Lake due to strong winds which prohibited them from reaching their destination. Approximately 80 passengers were taken to a Holiday Inn to wait out the storm, but unfortunately the particular venue has no restaurant or shop and given the date, stores and restaurants were also closed.
The stranded passengers will have had nothing to eat for nearly 24-hours, if it weren’t for a friend of one of the passengers jumping in. The man quickly mobilised the Facebook community asking for donations of food and drink for the passengers and the local community at Deer Lake with assistance by the Salvation Army jumped in and delivered enough food to feed all passengers. But the charity didn’t end there. Locals also organised a motorcade to transport the passengers to the airport with their own cars when the weather finally allowed for flying.
Northern Ireland breaks 3-year stalemate
Brexit has brought a lot of uncertainty and heartbreak for some, and the pressure is especially palpable in Northern Ireland. Given the stipulations of the Good Friday Agreement, Brexit has placed the autonomous region between a rock and a hard place.
The Northern Ireland Assembly, also known as Stormont, is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland, which allowed Northern Ireland a measure of legislative autonomy for matters such as housing, employment, education, health, agriculture and the environment. In 2017 the assembly collapsed as opposition leaders within the assembly could not reach an agreement on crucial matters. Following the 3-year suspension, an agreement between parties was finally signed in January 2020.
Though there are still those who oppose the assembly and the agreement, a power-sharing agreement was finally concluded between unionists and nationalists with Arlene Foster appointed Northern Ireland’s first minister as part of the power sharing agreement. Given Northern Ireland’s violent history, an agreement between opposition parties is a favourable outcome amid Brexit tensions.
Niassa reserve cuts poaching to zero
Though the heading doesn’t hold true for the entire world, it certainly holds true for Mozambique’s Niassa reserve. The park had previously seen devastating losses due to poaching, losing almost three quarters of its elephant population in 6 years. The park’s administrators met with local governance to find a solution and intervened through a drastic overhaul of its anti-poaching initiatives.
Niassa park did away with using game wardens for anti-poaching and enlisted a rapid-response police task force for the protection of their elephants instead. Though the wardens had attempted to curb the poaching, they didn’t have the equipment or infrastructure to do so. The rapid response police force on the other hand, had access to better weapons, aerial surveillance and transportation (helicopters and a plane) and most importantly had the power to arrest poachers.
The poaching unit was authorised by Mozambican president Felipe Nyusi and the country further intervened through stricter poaching laws.
Though the death rate for elephants still exceeds the birth rate in Africa, Niassa has cut its poaching to zero, with no poaching recorded in an entire year in the region. Hopefully other nations can follow suit and institute plans to safeguard our natural resources.
Weinstein, Epstein and the rise of global voices
Though talking about fiends like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein in articles aimed at spreading positive news is a difficult task, we’d nevertheless like to point out some of the good – which is how the world is increasingly listening to the voices of victims.
It is a slow progression, and we can hardly say that the dent which is necessary has been made in the world of human and sex trafficking, but the world is becoming more conscious, more involved and more vocal about the wrongs.
Perhaps what makes it so relevant to Rand Rescue and our community of international saffa expats is the trauma of our home country in the grips of such devastating sexual violence statistics – our number is still highest in the world according to the World Population Review, with an estimated 132.4 incidents per 100 000 people. The impact is so devastating that this is often the very reason for South Africans fleeing their home and settling elsewhere abroad.
What the Weinstein and Epstein cases are telling us is that in this we can at least no longer be divided. It is possible to rile together and bring down powerful predators through worldwide collaboration and camaraderie. It is possible to stand together across borders and pursue justice in favour of a safer and healthier society for all.
Investec writes off debt for 3 600 poor
In another positive, Investec Bank had made the decision to write off debt of 3 600 South Africans and hand over the title deeds to these low-income households.
The properties, valued between R80 000 and R100 000 each, belong to some of the poorest South Africans – many of whom are grandparents caring for large households. The deeds had come into Investec’s possession as part of a deal with a client who’d acquired a loan from Investec 10 years ago. Part of the security for the debt included rights to mortgage bonds.
On closer inspection, Investec realised that the individuals responsible for paying the debt on these properties were not merely over-indebted but would not be able to pay the debt in their lifetimes. The decision was therefore made to write off the debt and hand over the title deeds to these individuals over the last two months of 2019.
The company stated that it was not pushing for businesses to take responsibility for South Africa’s housing crisis, but that the business nevertheless felt a moral obligation to intervene in a situation which may have proven devastating for the poorest households in the country.
Looking forward to a blessed 2020!
We hope these news stories have ignited some positive fire in our readers and eliminated a bit of the bad taste of some of the less fortunate stories we’ve been seeing since the start of the year.
We hope to assist all those who have moved abroad or are considering emigration with their cross-border finances. If this is you, simply leave your details and we’ll contact you for a consultation.