It’s time to wake up and humbly accept our vulnerability and fragility of existence

It’s time to wake up and humbly accept our vulnerability and fragility of existence
SA Navy submarine disaster off Kommetjie, Cape Town. (Photo: Chris Binnington) | Huge waves at Ernst se Bank on Clarence Drive. (Photo: Shelley Christians) | Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. (Photo: Flickr) | Joni Mitchell arrives for the 64th annual Grammy Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, US, on 3 April 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / David Swanson)

The times, and even seasons, are a-changin’, but we must resist drowning in negative or empty distractions, and remain conscious of our roles and place in the world.

Dear DM168 reader,

The wild winds from the west really lashed our coastline this week. On Sunday, I drove with my sister from the airport in Cape Town along the achingly beautiful Clarence Drive to Pringle Bay. 

As I watched the giant salty swells billowing from the depths of False Bay, churning up froth and lashing the shores, an overwhelming feeling of deep respect for the ocean, the Earth and this precarious, precious life washed over me. 

My brother shared with us a scary WhatsApp video of the rustic little beach restaurant at Marina Beach on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast that was pounded by waves charging in from the Indian Ocean, severely injuring five patrons. 

Marina Beach was one of my late mother’s favourite holiday spots and we often ate at that restaurant, gazing at the ocean, which is normally separated from the restaurant by quite a long stretch of sand.

Sadly, this surge of the ocean not only washed away cars and destroyed property, but also took the lives of several people, including three navy divers who were on a training course off the Cape Town coast. Devastating.

Jasper Knight, a geoscientist who researches coastal processes, explained in The Conversation Africa that this storm surge is associated with low-pressure weather systems resulting in strong winds which whip up huge waves coming onshore combined with a spring tide and spring equinox. The spring tide is a monthly occurrence when the Sun, Earth and Moon are in alignment. The spring (vernal) equinox in the southern hemisphere (which occurs on or about 22 September) happens when the Sun is aligned overhead of Earth’s equator and exerts a bigger tidal force on the oceans.

This is the Earth’s weather system. We can see it coming, but we can’t stop it. However rich, clever, beautiful or brave we are. We have no control. We are not in charge.

I imagine that humbly accepting this fragility of our existence is what happens when the truly spiritual fall on their knees, bow their heads in prayer and embrace grace.

There is something primordial and sacred about our vulnerability in the face of nature, that over which we have no control.

A reminder that we all whirl in the washing cycle of birth, life and death. Which makes just being here a privilege and we should never ever take this for granted.

The thing about natural disasters like storm surges, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions is that there is no one to blame. No crazy Karen or Khanyo can demand first-class treatment from Mother Nature. 

How can we not be humble in the knowledge that we are mere blips of biology on a tiny watery rock somewhere in an unimaginably vast universe?

Such humility is something many of those who star in the news seem to absolutely lack, least of all grasp. There’s something deeply unspiritual about the spectacle of narcissistic politicians insulting each other and our intelligence.

Unfortunately, politicians are not the only ones who behave as if we are immortals. Many among us have turned our backs on true spirituality, instead turning to the personality cults of fake prophets who make it okay to be self-serving and stupid. Others have their vanity fed by shysters who promise riches and eternity in return for tithes. Still, others have made religion a pointed finger of pompous piety. 

But religion is not the biggest 21st-century opiate of the masses. Nor will George Orwell’s Big Brother turn out to be a Kim Jung-un or a Julius Malema. He is more likely a combination of the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai — the people who keep us glued to our small screens so they can make big bucks out of clicks and “Likes”. 

They profit from our vanity as we pose for selfies on Insta and show our dance moves on TikTok, sharing with everyone how ecstatic we are when maybe we are not, and when many around us are actually struggling to put food on the table and get a decent education for our children. 

Our phones delude us into believing we are the centre of the universe and, if we just have more, we can be more. 

There is a song by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes from my 1970s childhood that springs to mind when I think of our imperative to be more conscious of our place and role on Earth, to accept the things we cannot change and to keep on working like hell to change the inequities, falsehoods and injustice we can change. You can listen to it here if you’d like, but some of the lyrics include:

“Wake up everybody no more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’ time for thinkin’ ahead
The world has changed so very much
From what it used to be so
There is so much hatred war an’ poverty

Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say
Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands
When you teach the children teach ’em the very best you can

The world won’t get no better if we just let it be
The world won’t get no better we gotta change it yeah, just you and me”

And while we’re singing, there’s another 1970s song, by the flower power artistic genius Joni Mitchell, who reminds us of our beauty and place in the universe, and the hope we can have if we get back to our true selves. In Woodstock, she sings:

We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

That’s my wish for all of us specks of stardust, Dear Readers. Let’s get back to the garden, our feet on the Earth, appreciating every second of what little time we have.

And with that thought, I turn to my five favourite stories that you really should not miss from DM168 this week:

1. André de Ruyter’s dossier bearing fruit

Our Burning Planet’s investigative writer Kevin Bloom, who first revealed former Eskom CEO André de Ruyter’s explosive intelligence files on the corrupt cartels which were strangling Eskom, brings you some good news about progress — finally! — in investigations by the Hawks and Special Investigating Unit based on these files.

2. The ignominious return of the fiendish Ace

Our hilarious satirist Malibongwe Tyilo shares his disappointment at the not-so-spectacular return of Ace Magashule to the main plot of the South Africa Sh*t Show

3. Meet some of our most inspiring teachers

Our Limpopo correspondent, Lucas Ledwaba, and Maverick Citizen’s reporter in the Western Cape, Tamsin Metelerkamp, really gave me hope when their interviews with truly amazing teachers revealed the dedication and heart of some of the teachers and principals who’ve won accolades in the National Teaching Awards. 

4. The Boks’ smoke-and-mirrors tactics

Our sports editor Craig Ray, who is covering the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, gets into the mind games leading up to the biggest game of the early phase: Ireland versus South Africa.

5. Planting dreams in the sky

We have so much to offer in every edition of our newspaper that sometimes you might miss some of our hidden gems. I want to alert you to our monthly poetry column by poet Rethabile Masilo, who reflects on the theme of dreams and muses on the meaning of I Dream’d in a Dream by Walt Whitman and We Are of a Tribe by Alberto Rios.

As usual, please share your thoughts with me at [email protected]

Yours in defence of truth,


This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Poignant, compelling and relevant ruminations … with apt references ! Thanks.

  • Peter Streng says:

    Ms Robertson’s masterclass editorial piece in the DM168.3.49, is at its poignant best….. oh man! it blew my mind!!
    It somehow brought the haunting music and the foreboding lyrics of the 1969 song “In the year 2525” by Zager & Evans to mind.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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