Monday, 31 December 2018

No 74 – Jacklyn Cock’s Writing the Ancestral River: A brief review


Most mornings for the last fifteen years or so I have gazed out over the coastal plain, the sweeping triangle between Grahamstown, Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred. To my right the skyline is formed by Featherstone Ridge, beneath which rises one of the main sources of the Kowie River. The river curls through the hills below, via sacred pools, game farms, the Waters Meeting nature reserve near Bathurst, pineapple and cattle farms, to its egress into the Indian Ocean at Port Alfred, whose lights I can see at night, off to my left. Even further left, almost due east, are the hilltops above the Blaauwkrantz River, another tributary of the Kowie; across one of the Blaauwkrantz gorges ran the railway bridge which dramatically and fatally collapsed in 1911.  And at my back, just over the ridge, is Grahamstown (Makhanda), through which wavers another source, disparagingly known as the Kowie Ditch, so polluted and cramped a crease it has become. At is highest reach, where it crawls through reeds and Rhodes University’s playing fields, it was known in my student days as Kotch Creek – apparently the spot of choice for barking up the effects of one’s drunkenness.

All this – roughly the district once known as Albany – is the purview of Jacklyn Cock’s recently launched new book, Writing the Ancestral River: A biography of the Kowie, published by Wits University Press. Jacklyn Cock is a sociologist with a distinguished list of publications. She made a name for herself as a champion of social justice with Maids & Madams (1990), a study of domesticity, race-relations and womanhood that during the apartheid years was daringly progressive.  She moved on to focus on links between gender and militarisation, and on environmental  affairs, editing with Eddie Koch Going Green, a 1992 collection of essays on South Africa’s parlous ecological state. Later Cock published The War Against Ourselves (2007), a powerful study of how environmental degradation and the oppression of poor and racialised people have so often gone hand in hand.

Cock brings these approaches to bear in Writing the Ancestral River, though it’s a much more personal book. It’s personal because this corner of the Eastern Cape is her own ancestral  territory: a scion of the legend-encrusted 1820 Settlers, she was raised here, and her affection for the river, its history and its wildlife sparks through frequently. Often touted as exemplary of the Settlers’ enterprise and tenacity, even moral worth, was Jacklyn’s own great-great-grandfather, William Cock .

Jacklyn’s research forced her to face the dark side of Settler history on two fronts. Firstly, as we have become hyper-aware in the post-1994 era, this region hosted decades of violent occupation and open war, followed by the more covert war of apartheid. The Kowie catchment area had been inhabited, perhaps for millennia, by Bushmen, whose paintings still enliven rock faces throughout these hills, Khoi herders, and at least a century of Xhosa  agriculturalists. Cock economically rubbishes the hoary, self-justifying  myth that the English and the Xhosa arrived simultaneously, and/or that the land was conveniently empty and wild, just longing to be tamed, improved and redeemed from darkness. In fact, of course, the Xhosa were forcibly evicted in successive waves of firepower and disease – our own Hundred Years War.  In this, Cock is drawing on the work of a number of revisionist histories, including Clifton Crais’ The Making of the Colonial Order, Ben Maclennan’s A Proper Degree of Terror, and Noel Mostert’s monumental Frontiers. She draws heavily on the recent work of Julie Wells on Makhanda, the Xhosa leader responsible for the 1819 attack on the embryonic settlement of Graham’s Town (which Cock relates in some detail). William Cock played a crucial role in subsequent military operations and scorched-earth clearances, directly and indirectly by supplying the armies with food and goods – at a handsome profit – so he became Port Alfred’s “most distinguished son”.

Secondly, William Cock was central to the environmental damage wrought by nineteenth-century settler enterprise. Settler firearms rapidly obliterated almost all wild animals, and settler agriculture gradually obliterated most forest and thicket. William Cock’s role was to promote Port Alfred’s ambitions to become a major port by dredging out the mouth of the Kowie, thus altering the flow, and damaging the health of the estuary forever. Jacklyn devotes a lot of space to this effort, and equally to the later great modification of the estuary and wetland, the luxury marina. Local opinion seems divided on the value or otherwise of this modern development, but Jacklyn is pretty clear that both port and marina have proved ecologically unsound white elephants whose flaws have come back to haunt their promoters. Meanwhile, almost entirely unaffected by the marina’s luxurious excess, the town’s black townships remain as segregated, impoverished and environmentally unhealthy as ever they were under apartheid.

Vervet monkeys survey the Kowie valleys
The more personalised nature of Writing the Ancestral River has liberated Cock from too rigid a structure, or too academic a style. So she can meander between historical narrative, family reminiscence, and excursions into Xhosa sacred rituals at the Kowie catchment’s deep hidden pools, or the fate of the endemic Eastern Cape Rocky fish.  The detail is impressive, yet it is eminently readable, heartfelt, rich, enlivened by quotations on rivers from poets and writers around the world, scientifically informed yet infused by a note of elegiac lament for all that has been lost and damaged, both natural and human.  At the same time, it is feisty and unflinching. She begins her excellent concluding chapter:

Rivers epitomise the connection between social and environmental justice. Recording the story of the Kowie River involves acknowledging the legacy and continuation of deep injustice: the violent conquest of the indigenous population whose descendants continue to live in poverty and deprivation, on the one hand, and the silting and pollution of a river and the destruction of a wetland, on the other.

No ‘biography’ can be complete, and Cock has validly chosen to focus on certain nodes in the history and nature of a complex catchment area. A still fuller study might have said more about the ancient Bushman presence, or the stories associated with the Blaauwkrantz tributary. She does quote ecologist Jim Cambray to the effect that pineapple farming has done more damage to the river than even the estuary modifications, but gives no further details or tales relating to Albany’s primary crop, nor to the centres it spawned, particularly Bathurst. And given her evident passion and feeling for wildlife, it’s a pity we don’t hear her views on the transference of much of the catchment recently to wildlife tourism or hunting reserves, especially the impact of ‘extra-limitals’ like giraffe and impala which I can see from my own ridgetop porch. But as I say, you can’t do it all.

I do particularly regret the lack of a detailed map or two, so that one could follow some of her winding paths more closely – the omission is doubly odd, given that the edge of such a map appears in the top half of the book’s cover.

These quibbles aside, I recommend this book firstly to anyone interested in the history and ecology of this micro-region, secondly to anyone interested more generally in river health and how this can be viewed through the combined lenses of human social justice and ecological biodiversity. Cock demonstrates just how inseparable these dimensions are: it is simply not possible to pursue capitalistic enterprise and ‘development’ without incurring severe environmental costs, and we ignore these at our own peril. Already up to 60% of our rivers – in line with most parts of the world – are all but fatally compromised by our toxic exudations: mine tailings, pesticide runoff, untreated sewage, silting-up dams, hormonal residues and plastics. We need such biographies of all our rivers, large and small, and we need the ignoramuses in positions of influence to read them, and act decisively in the interests of health instead of profit, sectarian allegiances and self-interest.

Dawn over the Kowie sources (c) Dan Wylie

*****


Thursday, 20 December 2018

No.73 - Unravelled: Makhanda 2019, Take Two


 
"Makana's Kop: Dust storm 2019" (c) Dan Wylie


“Sudgint Skosaan!” And he feels himself violently pummelled. He buries his head in the pillows. This woman has a voice worse than a blerry hadeda. And why is his wife addressing him as “Sergeant”?
            Because the station is calling, there’s some woman her husband has been slag’d, he has to go down there.
            “Jussis, it’s still early, I just had a fourteen-hour day, fufuksake.”
            “There’s no one else. Only my man, he’s the heee-ro.” But she is mocking him, and not for the first time he regrets knocking her up at eighteen and doing the honourable thing. And getting twins for his pains. Girl twins, nog al. He kicks himself into his uniform, straps on his weapon. Thirsty.
            In the dusky yellow kitchen Shereen is standing dangling an empty plastic water bottle from her little finger. The twins are at her knees, squalling.
            “So go and get some from Suleiman. If he has any left. It hasn’t rained for four days, he might have run out.”
            “And who never got us rainwater tanks, huh?”
            “How was I supposed to know Melville Dam would kiss out?  Bacon and eggs for brekkers?”
            “You wish. There was no meat this whole week, now you want? Where’s all your famous con-tacts, ay? You the po-lice, you should be able to get us some. And you going to get water, or what?”
            “Move your own lazy pins,” he snaps. “Or send the twins. You just told me I gotta get to the station.”
            “They’re only two, you bozo.”
            “Twins are always two, you moron. I gotta go, as they say in the movies.”
            All this is not without affection, but Cornal Skosaan is grateful that, almost alone amongst townspeople, his police vehicle has some petrol, and he can drive away.  The streets are mos’ empty, but at the Beaufort Street police station, despite the early hour, there is a queue of clamouring complainants. Like a blerry herd of hadedas. There’s an hour to go before the captain gives his morning briefing; they’d got slack about this, but since the storms they’ve all had to be more on their toes, so much shit going down. He gets the daily sitrep from Xoliswa the desk corporal, reading over the grumble of the back-up generators – no Eskom for, what, three weeks now.
            Skosaan, still feeling gummy, tries to fix the cases in his head.
            1. The Traffics are mostly out on the King highway pile-up, two big trucks and a tanker spill, causing a blockage for three days now, mudslides meant recovery vehicles couldn’t access.
            2. Someone complained about assault in the queue out to the water-spring on the Port Alfred road; that queue stretched two kays all the way back into town; some were lining up dozens of barrels and selling water for profit and citizens getting antsy about that.
            3. Spikes in house break-ins and domestic violence cases; those that had left – about two-thirds of the population, estimated – were having their houses raided for food or whatever, or squatted in; those that were left, were getting more stressed and taking it out on their nearest and dearest. Tell me about it, Skosaan thought ruefully.  Situation normal, only more so.
            4. Complaint about taxi drivers shooting at each other, competing to get people out, or at least to the nearest flooded river, where people then swam or waded across to taxis on the other side. Two hundred bucks a pop. Latest shooting at De Wet Steyn bridge, no bridge there now; no casualties, fortunately, but two kids swept away and presumed dead.
            5. Report of two gang attacks on trucks headed for the supermarkets, out on the Bedford road; so several police vehicles and an Army escort had gone to see what was cutting; not clear yet if they could get across the Fish River at Carlyle Bridge, though waters were just beginning to recede now.
            6. Report that vandals had stripped away several kilometres of electricity cable along the PE road. That’ll make life easier for everyone, Skosaan reflected bitterly – except for one or three skellums working the black market. Situation normal, only more so.
            And there was more; his mind went numb. His stomach growled.
            “We’re all spinning like tops,” said Xoliswa.
            “When are the East Lunnun cops getting here to help out?”
            “Who knows? Stuck the other side of the Fish, probably.”
            “And all these people outside?”
            She shrugged, again. “Who knows? I’ll get to them. This guy” – she points with her pen at a young man standing at the desk – “can you believe it, he wants his birth certificate notarised.  In the middle of all this kak.”
            “I need it to leave town,” the man responds testily in isiXhosa.
            “You’re leaving? How?”
            “I don’t care how, I am going. First my shack is full of sand from the dust storm; then the cyclone came and washed it away, whum! Just like that. I lose half my documents, my clothes, everything. Now I can’t find even any food. You want me to pay twenty rand for just one potato? No way! For one week everybody helped everybody, it was hard times but someone would help you: some water here, some pineapples there. But now, just two more weeks and everybody is like hyenas, they just want to eat you, eat your money.”
            Not everyone, Skosaan hoped, or knew; but he nodded; it was getting much harder, as the town had basically shut down, food and fuel supplies down to the tiniest trickle. At least, after the months of drought, the rain had brought water. Just not through the taps.
            He asked Xoliswa, “So where’s this murder case I’m supposed to see about?”
            “She’s back here in your office. I can’t make sense of her, she is from Senegal or Pakistan or somewhere. Shouting and crying.”
            Skosaan sighed and walked through to his office. If violence was going to erupt, surely it would klap the foreigners first. Repeat of the 2015 xenophobic outbreaks, blerry terrifying.
            The woman was nearly catatonic with grief, choking, sobbing in broken English, with some of what sounded to him like French maybe. She ripped her doek from her head and thrashed it against the desk; she had fashioned her hair into corn-rows, just as Shereen had done; in fact, the two women looked rather similar, except this one was a lot darker. He wondered briefly how Shereen would behave if he was bumped off. Or, alternatively, the other way round. And felt a heart-spasm of panic.
 Jissus, he wasn’t trained to manage this stuff. He yelled through to Xoliswa, “Where’s D.I. Nyezwa, she should be handling this.”
            “Down at Bathurst with the taxi thing,” she yelled back.
            Shit. Skosaan turned back to the woman. He got her a bottle of water, and one for himself, from their admin stock; at least they had that still. After a while he calmed her down enough to ascertain that she was indeed from Senegal; her husband was Zimbabwean, running a little spaza up in Extension 6. What with all the tall security lights out since the cyclone and the blackout, the usual criminal activity up there had just intensified. The Zim oke, though there must have been precious little left to guard, was sleeping in the spaza overnight; a bunch of men – it must have been a bunch – smashed in and cut him to pieces.
            “He just lying dere,” the woman screams. “No police, no ambulance, no nothing!”  And she collapsed sobbing on the floor. Skosaan sighed again: no surprise there was no ambulance, there was probably only one left operating for the whole town. And where would they take the body? The private morgues had no power to freeze the bodies, only the hospital itself did, and that was overfull – the old and the newborns dying off more quickly, what with lack of shelter and food and clean water, sewage rising out the clogged storm drains. Burials happening daily, with little ceremony, as bad as during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Situation normal, only more so.
            He called out to Xoliswa, “Who’ve we got who can go up and verify this deceased?”
            “You,” she shouted back.  She sounded like she thought it was funny.
            “I must just get some forms, then we go up there,”  he told the woman. He would get her name and stuff properly later. He couldn’t understand why no one was with her, a friend at least. The captain had arrived at his office across the gloomy corridor. “Sir. You wanna help me with a” – he almost said stiff – “murder victim?” The captain gave him a bleak, exhausted stare and closed his door.
            The drive up to Extension 6 had become weird, like something out of a ‘pocalypse movie; you expected, Skosaan amused himself, zombies to come lurching out from between shattered buildings, blea-aa-arghhh! The few people visible in fact moved around like zombies, as if these three weeks had sucked all the stuffing and meaning out of their lives. Except the criminals, of course – they always seemed to have the most energy.
            They had to drive slowly through the muddy flow of water still filling the dip in Raglan Road; and the upper end, curving up towards the flats, was still awash with mud and rocks, all but flooded away in parts; the woman let out a sob every time the police Hilux lurched over a carved-out channel or pothole. The shacklands that had once clung to the slopes on both sides of the road had gone, wiped away by dust, then the gale-force winds of the cyclone, then the flooding rain. Some remnants, buckled corrugate and wire, still lay on the road itself, to be manoeuvred round. Garbage heaped up in giant piles. Only the trees clustered atop Makana’s Kop seemed immoveable.
            As they finally drove onto the flat lands alongside the township, where only the stumps of the roadside gum trees remained, all cut down for firewood, Skosaan spotted a lanky white man in a heavy green jacket, a rifle slung across his back, striding along the roadside. He slowed down beside him.
            “Where to, sir, with that gun?”
            The man gave half a grin, a shrug. “Thought I’d go out to the bush, see if I could hunt anything.”
            “You are...?”
            “Jesse van der Vleis.”
            “Don’t shoot anyone, Mr van der Vlies, I would have to arrest you!”
            “Vleis, not Vlies,” the man called after him as Skosaan accelerated again.
            They turned left towards Extension 6, past the abandoned schools, the locked library, the loiterers with their closed suspicious faces. Eerily, not a single animal: not a cow, not a donkey, not even a dog. All chowed, or starved to death, Skosaan guessed. A cluster of people at one corner where some women had set up a soup kitchen; there were always those who would muck in like that, make a plan, do unexpected acts of kindness. The community would adjust, and survive. In some form. But meanwhile...
            “Where exactly?” The woman wordlessly pointed out the directions with her water-bottle, until they came to the pokey spaza, or what was left of it: the door torn from its hinges, the security screens, such as they were, ripped aside. Its empty black interior. Two young men in attendance, who waved glumly at the woman.
Sergeant Cornal Skosaan could almost already smell the stench of death. He leaned his forehead briefly on the steering-wheel.
            “Okay,” he muttered. “Let’s do this.”
As they said in the movies.

*****
 
"Makana's Kop: Cyclone 2019" (c) Dan Wylie

(Again, this is fiction: no actual person is intentionally represented here.)

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

No 72 - Unravelled: Makhanda in 2019?

Unravelled

"The End of the Edge of Town" (c) Dan Wylie
Jesse van der Vleis slouched out of the alley behind the block of flats known as The Hub, scuttled along shadowed African Street and ducked into the entrance to Peppergrove Mall.  He was taking a risk, doing this on his own, but he had his father’s old 30.03 hunting rifle and a knife at his belt, and dusk was as good a time as any to get out of town. And maybe there was something left to scavenge that he could carry out to his family’s smallholding on the edge of the suburbs.
            The food outlets either side of the mall gate were dark and gutted, early targets of the hungry. Likewise the ATMs in their alcove, though no amount of cash was likely to help you get anything you really needed now. Some shops had been left alone, like the little laundromat and the gift shop on the corner, though the pharmacy on Jesse’s left had been broken into and partially looted.
            His main aim was to root around the back of the supermarket – though that had been everyone’s else’s idea, too, and he had little expectation of finding anything. The big doors at the entrance had been ripped aside, the interior was a black maw, the rows of grey shelves emptied of all edibles and essentials. A few remaining shopping-trolleys lay tipped on their sides, and battered cardboard boxes were piled at the largely untouched magazine racks.
            He kicked at a box in passing, more in frustration than hope. The box yelped. He turned it over with his boot: a tiny grey-striped kitten hissed at him as he bent to look. He picked it up, manky and mewling, by the skin of its scruff. Hardly enough for more than a mouthful, if he were to cook it. Shocking: he actually thought that. On the other hand, if he kept it, what could he feed it? He should probably just stamp on its skull and be done. But there was something plaintive and appealing even in the little creature’s feral spitting, and he elected to stuff it into one of his capacious jacket pockets for now.
            Even the animal-food shelves had been pretty thoroughly stripped – people were eating even Husky and Whiskas, especially the canned stuff –  but he did find a couple of broken bags of cat-biscuit spilled on the floor, and he scraped a dozen handfuls into a twist of packaging and tucked that into the other jacket pocket.
            As he had suspected, there was nothing else left of value, unless you needed a Verimark mop or a double adaptor. Only if you owned one of the half-dozen generators that were still functional and you’d smuggled in enough diesel before the roads were completely cut off. Certainly nothing to take even the edge off his niggling hunger.
            Boots crunching on broken glass and a yell brought him up short: security guard, shit.
            “Oh, Xolani, injani!” he said lightly. Fortunately this was a man he’d known from his time on the university campus. “What a mess, hey!”
            Xolani looked a little suspicious, but escorted him languidly to the entrance; after all, there was nothing much left to secure.
            “How are things up in the township?” he asked the guard.
            Xolani shook his head sadly. “Like here, but worse. The tornado destroyed many homes. Many people have left, they have gone to relatives in King or Transkei, anywhere. Some stay. We survive, you know.” He laughed wryly.
            Of course, ironically, the poor were in some ways best equipped to deal with hardship. The rich felt deprivation most keenly; but township dwellers had in many cases lived without water and electricity for years on end. Despite all the warning signs – several years of water supply issues, Eskom’s death spiral and rolling blackouts which had already begun in 2018, the municipality’s increasing indebtedness and incapacity, the escalating breakages in sewage lines and road surfaces – the richer side of town had proven complacent. Very few had installed rain-tanks of any capacity, or ever bothered to save water much at all; even fewer had installed electrical backups like inverters or solar panels or generators. Even among those, who had thought to lay in more than a week’s supply of water or fuel?
            Jesse cocked an eye at the turbulent overcast sky. “Just a fortnight of storms –“ he clicked his fingers. “And maybe more rain coming, huh?”
            “It all happened so quickly,” Xolani agreed. “But a long, long time to fix up.”
            “I must get home.”
            “Sure, there are bad people move around here at night.” As they spoke, indeed, a clutch of ragged-looking men was emerging from the corners where the Wimpy had been, looking vaguely predatory. Xolani shouted at them; Jesse unslung his rifle, trying to look menacing. The group moved away with that slouching, not-quite-casual pace of habitual opportunists.
            Jesse took a quick scan of the shops on the south side of the mall: the medical lab, the bookshop, the travel and estate agents, the mini-casino – all untouched, though it looked like someone had had an opportunistic go at the MTN outlet. Not that cellphones were much use now, smartphones needing daily recharging and no power to do it, except for a few.
            In truth, almost all looting had happened only in the second week, and been directed at food outlets which had cranked up their prices in response to the sudden shortages. The first week – once it became clear that the PE highway had been washed away (again), the coastal roads and the Port Alfred road bridges flooded, and that resupply wasn’t likely to be quick or sufficient – was just a frenzy of panic buying. The retailers had been slow to ration, so some households went off with weeks’ supplies, leaving most others with nothing. Then the black marketeering had kicked in, raising prices and tempers accordingly.
            Now there was no more than a trickle coming in, trucks having to be diverted onto the Bedford and Fort Beaufort roads, both of them deteriorating into near-impassable conditions in the continuous rain. Gangs had targeted at least a couple of convoys, making suppliers chary of sending more.
            Jesse slunk past the drive-in fastfood joint – shut, too few having fuel enough to drive anywhere – and then past the fresh-water supplier, who had done a roaring trade for a week or so before also being forced to close – and walked through the short alley leading onto New Street. The street was empty, deeply pitted with potholes of long standing, and in a couple of places slick with reeking sewage – another problem years in the making but now critical with the flooding of the antiquated and neglected piping.
           
"The Scavengers" (c) Dan Wylie
At the corner of Somerset Street an army truck was parked with some soldiers lolling about; Jesse was somewhat reassured by their presence, though the military, while keeping a lid on looting in the CBD, had not been able, or hadn’t tried, to curb break-ins in the many abandoned houses in the ‘leafy suburbs’ – and some had, it was rumoured, been implicated in commandeering food supplies on the access roads, or charging informal tolls on people trying to leave. But there was little verifiable news, in the absence of which rumours flourished and fluttered about like bats.
            Jesse sloped past the soldiers, hoping to be ignored, but one hailed him and summoned him over. A sergeant. “Do you have a licence for that weapon, boss?”
            “I do,” Jesse said, but made no move to produce it. Was this guy going to be so officious, now in this time of chaos?
            Apparently not. “What is that in your pocket?” Jesse had momentarily forgotten about his little cargo, which had fallen silent. He grinned, “A dead cat. Supper.”
            The sergeant just nodded, turning the corners of his mouth down, as if to say, That’s what it has come to, and waved him on.
            Jesse kicked his way through a heap of posters left over from the election earlier in the year – smiling Cyril, poor man, won the vote but remained trapped between socialistic revolutionaries and conservative businessmen, unable to generate the investor confidence needed to crank the economy out of overwhelming unemployment and indebtedness, unable to replace the tens of thousands of incompetent civil servants parasitic on a shrinking tax base. The unravelling of Makhanda was just the sharp end of groundswell problems. No resilience; no recovery plans. And now the fury of global warming.
            He moved on past the university. Though in theory it was the middle of the fourth term the campus was darkened and empty. After the first week of storms, the flooding of the dams, the breakdown of the water pumps (again), the blowing of the electricity supply right across the district (again), parents pulled so many of their kids out of both university and schools in such numbers that almost all the schools decided to close. Only a few hostels remained open for those who hadn’t got out before the fuel ran out. A couple survived on the rationed power eked out by the three undamaged wind turbines on the edge of town, but almost all that was reserved for the hospital, the police station – and, it was said, certain officials.
            Which meant, Jesse mused, the economic heart had been ripped out of the community.
            Not to mention his own career as a fourth-year anthropology student; he had no idea when or if he would sit his finals, or would have to raise funds for another whole year, or what. A bit like the 2016 disturbances, which he’d lived through, the ripple effects were potentially huge. Now he was actively contemplating how to live on as a kind of modern hunter-gatherer – just like the allegedly ancient cultures he had been rather distractedly studying!
            For some reason the area of the Drostdy Arch and the corner of High Street had attracted garbage-dumping over the last two weeks, since the municipality had stopped collecting it. One good thing about all the rain was it had put out the fire at the landfill site to the north of town, which had burned almost continuously throughout the preceding months of severe drought. Citizens had briefly tried to fill the collection gap, but without fuel, these efforts had faded. Indeed, there had been any number of wonderful initiatives to band together, to help those whose shacks had been washed away or blown to bits by the gale-force winds, to share what they had. Ironic, Jesse thought, that those who generously shared, ran out of food or water or patience faster than the selfish hoarders and the aggressive exploiters, like the taxi operators who had temporarily made a killing charging exorbitant fees to transport people out of town.
"Trash City" (c) Dan Wylie
A few people were scratching through the stinking garbage, though Jesse didn’t think they’d find much beyond rats and disease (there were already reports of dysentery, a threat of cholera). Maybe he should try to catch a rat for the kitten. He put his hand in his pocket and the animal squeaked and spat and dug its tiny teeth feebly into his thumb. He swore; he could get tetanus from this damned thing. Maybe he should chuck it in the garbage where it would just have to fend for itself, like everybody else.
He had to admire its spunk, though. Maybe he could train it to hunt for him. After all, how long was it going to take to bring things right? Even in the richly resourced US, it took weeks sometimes to get the power back on after an ice storm or whatever. This was more like Haiti after the hurricane: two years later, people still living without the ‘basics’. But if they were still living, he pondered as he started to stride along Somerset Street, how basic were in fact those basics? One had to entertain the possibility that the entire turn of global technological so-called civilisation had always been on a hiding to nowhere, that in fact the hardscrabble lifestyle of the ‘impoverished’ was ultimately the only sustainable one.
He could, in theory, hunt. But what happened when his bullets ran out? What if he couldn’t just order more over Gumtree? A rumbling interrupted his thoughts: a pantechnicon, followed by a fuel bowser, escorted by two army trucks, lurched and ground past him, doubtless headed for the big Shoprite parking lot, where there was some chance of distributing what there was without violence. Jesse briefly considered trotting after them, but he figured that by the time he got there nothing would be left; he quailed at the thought of the inevitable riot of desperation. Maybe he could shoot a pigeon or something.
So he headed the opposite way, turning right where the robots leaned, defunct now for a few months already, and headed for his farm home just outside town. The last of the sunset lay in a crimson shawl beneath heavy grey clouds threatening further storms; a solitary wind turbine stood on the gaunt ridge, its vanes buckled and locked. His stride began to fall into a rhythm. In his pocket the kitten was so still he wondered it was dead. But he did not want to find out – not just yet.
"Who will be left?" (c) Dan Wylie

*****

(This is fiction. Any resemblance to people living, past or future, is unintentional.)