I don’t wish to come across as trivialising the issue of quality and safety of food. However, I wish the attention given to the so-called ‘meat label scandal’ would be lavished on one of the most ignored issues in South Africa namely household energy fires. The media is abuzz with articles and commentary about this. Politicians are calling for wide ranging commissions of enquiries. Parliamentary committee meetings will now be convened to get to the bottom of this scandal. Supermarkets and the meat industry are called to account. Yet a real scandal continues just below our noses and we do nothing about it.
This is a scandal where shacks are burnt every day but no politician jumps up and down in response to this. In the so-called meat scandal, no one has been reported to have died yet numerous people die across our country every month due to household fires. Even more people are maimed with horrific scars if they survive these fires. There are no forensic investigations that take place after these incidents. No political uproar and certainly no parliamentary discussion occurs when these tragedies occur.
The question remains: why does this hypocrisy persist? Is it because scandals sell? Is it because the meat scandal is a key issue for the middle class? Is it because it affects our country’s image in the eyes of the international markets? Is it because taking it on will result in political dividends for politicians? The crux of the matter here is that we are ignoring a serious issue. We need political, media and business figures who will champion the cause for household energy safety in South Africa. The issue of household energy incidents is increasingly affecting formal households from RDP houses to leafy suburbs. As urbanisation increases and our urban infrastructure begins to take strain, more household fires will take place across all communities. Therefore, strategic policy makers, business and community must take this issue seriously. South Africa needs a household energy safety strategy that will prevent fires from taking place in homes.
In the aftermath of the ‘meat scandal’, it is guaranteed that government policies on meat handling and labelling will be tightened. Supermarkets’ supply chain procedures will be improved and the meat industry will enhance its quality assurance processes. Everybody will continue with life as usual but so will fires continue to ravage poor people’s homes. Faulty and unsafe appliances will still be sold and explode in homes. Children and parents will lose their lives. The public health system will be overburdened by people whose lives will be negatively impacted forever. I just wish politicians can prioritise better on the issues they should place first on their agenda, namely the dire conditions under which many of their followers live.
A recent tweet by Abu Malik (@Rubisto) says it all: “Without trivialising pain and suffering, sadly the three children who died in a shack fire will not be trending, you know what will”
- Patrick Kulati is managing director at Paraffin Safety Association of Southern Africa (soon to be Household Energy Safety Association). This article also appeared in the Business Day newspaper.