The South African Drought and the Media

This article analyses the current environmental issue of the drought in South Africa and critiques the reporting by the media of the issue through reference to three online media articles from namely, Aljazeera.com, Yahoo news and SABC.co.za. It also proceeds to provide an environmental humanities analysis of the articles based on the journal article Humanities for the Environment — A Manifesto for Research and Action (2015) by Holm, P et al. concerning the articles’ drivers of change and proposed solutions and how these relate to the concepts of the “Great Acceleration” and the “New Human Condition”. It also discusses the absence or presence of solutions given by the media regarding the environmental issue and how these link with the collaboration between the academic, policy and the community sectors.

A summary of the main points of the arguments made in each of the online articles from Aljazeera, Yahoo news and SABC news regarding the drought in South Africa is provided in the table below (fig 1) to further explain each articles point of view and the details of the issue mentioned in each.

The South African Drought and the Media

MAIN POINTS OF ARTICLE

ARTICLE

WHO / WHAT ARE THE DRIVERS OF CHANGE? WHAT IS HAPPENING? WHAT CAN BE DONE? HOW TO GET IT DONE? WHAT ARE THE MEANS TO DO IT?

Aljazeera.com

(17 January 2016)

Strong El Niño. Drought, heatwave, record breaking temperatures, wildfires. Not discussed. Not discussed.

Not discussed.

Yahoo News

(24 March 2016)

El Niño weather pattern. Drought, heatwaves set to weaken. Above average rainfall predicted for autumn. Not discussed. Not discussed.

Not discussed.

SABC.co.za

(20 March 2016)

Drought conditions Increased use of underground water sources, vandalism of these sources, drilling of boreholes. Government helping communities with alternative water sources.

Borehole drilling for public use.

Not discussed.

(Figure 1: The South African Drought and the Media)

In the article Humanities for the Environment — A Manifesto for Research and Action (2015), Poul Holm discusses the concept of the “Great Acceleration”. This refers to the consumption and technologies brought about by the human race over the past 70 years that has contributed to Global change and ultimately been responsible for climate change and the issues surrounding it (Holm 2015:980).

In terms of the three above mentioned articles, all three can relate to the “Great Acceleration” as the topic the articles speak about is that of the drought in South Africa. The drought has been described as the worst on record (Fox 2016:sp). This can be linked with the growing increase and prominence of the effects of climate change, which include global warming and of which the “Great Acceleration” is responsible. The increase in the consumption and wastage of water sources has led to a shortage of the resource, global warming has resulted in an increase of the average temperature and therefore more evaporation as well as less rainfall in some regions and ultimately harsher droughts.

Although the drought is climate related and is thus directly out of our control, indirectly, political, cultural and societal ways of thinking play a large role in determining the creation, severity and solution to these sort of issues. In terms of the drought, the political and societal factors that drive this change are determined through means of participation. If the government had acted sooner when water started to become scarce the problem may not have accelerated so fast. If communities had been educated, come together and saved water it also would have prevented the issue from getting worse. On a bigger scale, if the global political community had acted to counter climate change and its effects earlier and with more enthusiasm it could have prevented the severity of the situation altogether.

Holms also mentions the concept of the “New Human Condition”, which refers to the way in which one chooses to respond to and cope with the situation, consequence and responsibility of being a driver in planetary change (Holm 2015:983). The absence of solutions to the problem of the drought as evident in two of the given articles, namely Aljazeera and Yahoo news, relate to the “New Human Condition” in the sense that the news of a negative sense is broadcast widely while positive news is seen as naïve or less likely and thus overlooked somewhat. The SABC article is evidence of this because even though not entirely negative, the positive aspect of the article is short and summarised while the negative parts are exaggerated on and repeated. These ways of broadcasting that the media uses by emphasizing the negative aspects of the news while undermining the positive aspects, relates to societies response to such issues. One responds in alarm to the issue but this also creates a sense of denial (Holm 2015:983), lessening the effect of the issue and therefore lessening the feel to act on the subject as well.

The absence of proposed solutions evident in the articles from Yahoo news and Aljazeera therefore cannot encourage engagement with the corporate sector which thus results in no interest from businesses to address the environmental concern. It is then left up to the communities facing the problem to have to try solve the problem alone or find their own source of help from businesses or companies by themselves. The media helps to broadcast issues such as the drought to the public nationally and internationally and helps spread the news faster, encouraging businesses and other associations to act and provide assistance. Without the help of the media, it is very difficult to spread the news of such disasters and appeal for help quickly and effectively. If the media did propose solutions, businesses that could partner with the community in such a case could be those involved in environmental aid, corporate companies and private businesses that are willing to sponsor water tanker trucks to deliver to the areas and the municipalities of other regions that have water to spare.

The article from SABC.co.za does propose some form of solution. It states that the government is busy helping the communities who are struggling with the drought and whose rivers and dams have completely dried up drilling boreholes for public use. Therefore, it proposes the engagement with the government and Department of Water and Sanitation to help these areas while partnering with local businesses to do the drilling and sinking of boreholes. Other partnerships that could also be included in the process is that of sponsorships by bigger companies and industries to provide equipment, labour or other means.

These proposed solutions given in the third article do stem from collaborative processes of research, stakeholder engagement and public participation, as the community, government, departments and other local businesses will aim to work together to provide solutions towards the direct solving of the drought. The government could provide funding and research while the community and local municipalities work together with each other as well as local businesses and other sponsors to oversee the proposed solutions and conduct the drilling of the boreholes. It can also aim to educate the public about these solutions and what is involved. This creates understanding and communication between the public and the academic. One that furthers the knowledge of situation and therefore leads to better participation and solutions. This way there is a collaboration between academic knowledge and research, and the creative knowledge of community members and locals.

In the long run, such collaborations can also provide further insight into future situations as well as current issues to prevent them from getting worse. It can also help to solve other problems that are arising due to climate change. It creates more awareness of these environmental concerns and promotes further engagement from the government with local communities to tackle such issues.

The solution of drilling public boreholes as proposed in the article from SABC.co.za are practical as it is making use of underground water sources to combat the water shortages in communities due to dams and rivers being dried up. This solution can be easily achieved by the public, but only with the involvement and collaboration from the government as funding and research is needed in terms of the academic side of the solution. The community then proceeds to provide additional and vital information through its understanding and “on-the-ground’ knowledge of the situation in that area. The solution calls for collaboration between community members, businesses and the Department of Water and Sanitation.

This article has provided a critical environmental humanities analysis of three online media articles regarding the status of the current drought in South Africa, namely Aljazeerah.com, Yahoo news and SABC.co.za. It has made reference to the article by Holm, P et al. 2015 Humanities for the Environment — A Manifesto for Research and Action to substantiate the argument. It has also referred to the two concepts of the “Great Acceleration” and the “New Human Condition”, as mentioned in the article, to iterate how the drivers of change and proposed solutions mentioned in the online articles relate to the theories of collaboration between different sectors as proposed by the environmental humanities.

 

SOURCES CONSULTED:

Fox, E. 2016. Extreme Drought Persists Across South Africa. [O]. Available:
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/south-africa-drought-160117111204356.html
Accessed 24 March 2016.

Stoddard, E. 2016. Much Needed Rain Forecast For South Africa, But Too Late For Summer Maize Crop. [O]. Available:
http://news.yahoo.com/much-needed-rain-forecast-south-africa-too-summer-123457223.html
Accessed 24 March 2016.

Boreholes Are Essential In Times of Drought. 2016. [O]. Available:
http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/ce0897004c189c7a9907b9986a5bd2d9/Boreholesundefinedareundefinedessentialundefinedinundefinedtimesundefinedofundefineddrought-20162003
Accessed 24 March 2016.

Image Credit: Author 2016.

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