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Toughen up, you gasping Europeans, you’re part of the 40°C Club now so soldier on African-style


Hans Mackenzie Main is a writer and columnist.

Our dear friends in Europe, you must toughen up. You are part of the 40°C Club now. Membership means you sleep in your sweat without complaint. We do things differently here.

News has been trickling in from the north, telling of raging wildfires and soaring temperatures. Records have been broken, they say.

People in the cities are sitting barefoot in the fountains, they claim. Some even have their shirts off.

The heat is reportedly unbearable and has officially been declared “extreme weather”. It is also being extremely well covered by photographers. Journalists are curtailing their passion for verbose language and deciding to write headlines that simply read “Hell” above pictures of smoke and flames rising above luxury yachts floating on placid lakes. In Britain, hedgehogs are dehydrated. Birds are falling from the sky.

The full extremity of the situation became all too clear when the story broke that London — of all places — had recorded a maximum temperature of 40°C. As we’re a species obsessed with numbers, the figure sent shock waves throughout the world, no doubt leading many, if not to say it out loud, at least to think: “Oh my God, if it can happen there, then surely it could happen here.”

And although such thinking is valid in places like Alaska and Scandinavia, here in Africa, in places like Upington, De Aar and Hotazel specifically, anyone who reckons a high of 40°C is worthy of a news article has not looked at the weather forecast for quite some time, or is spending far too long in the freezer aisles at the local supermarket.

If you haven’t been here, believe us when we assure you that here in Africa the mercury passes 40 with the regularity of a hurricane ripping through a US city for the umpteenth time.

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In Africa, it gets so hot that you can actually fry an egg on the bonnet of your car if you are neglectful enough to let the vehicle stand in the sun long enough.

In Africa, we take the heat. We don’t sit with our feet dangling in fountains above shimmering coins, for we have few fountains and even fewer coins. We walk into the heat — we take it on the chin, under the arms and on the stomach — and do what needs to be done for the day.

In Africa, to say “wow, it’s a hot day” more than once amounts to what you call whingeing. Only when the heat interferes with a sporting event or our satellite TV signal — often it’s both at once — does it get a mention in the press. Even then, in the trying circumstance when a match might be called off or some technical team gets too heat-struck to drive to fix the signal, the heat is simply heat.

Around here, we don’t have extreme heat. Heat of a great magnitude is normal. It is expected. At the very worst, it’s notable.

And while we’re on terminology: in the ­arena of fires, ours don’t run away. They merely rage, for a while, and run their course.

Our dear friends in Europe, you must toughen up. You are part of the 40°C Club now. Membership means you sleep in your sweat without complaint. We do things differently here. In the daytime, we keep the windows shut to keep the heat out. Remember to do that and the 40°C Club is akin to Club Med. A regular casa do sol. The place to experience true joie de vivre.

Our thin-skinned cousins, embrace the sun with open arms. But do make sure those arms are caked in SPF100 or above. Wear your socks with your Birkenstocks, but wash those socks, every so often, after a deep soak in — yes, unfortunately — really hot water.

Play your sports. Sit in your fountains. The wonder of the 40°C Club comes around just once a year and then, before you can wipe the stream of perspiration from your eyes, it’s over.

It’s winter in the southern hemisphere now, as you know, and most of us are listening to our teeth chatter in Club Zero and Below. Our short sleeves are tucked away in the back of our cupboards; we haven’t been outside before 10am in weeks.

The outlook is bleak — the skins of the whites in the population even bleaker — but again, we’re soldiering on, for the weather is a part of life. We must accept it as it comes. And if the heat records are being shattered left, right and centre up there, as you say they are, find some comfort in the fact that you can do nothing to change it, regardless of the fuss you’re making.

Screaming the numbers from the rooftops only places you closer to the blazing-hot sun, does it not? So simmer down and sweat. Drink it up.

In a few months, this will all be over and you can all go back to talking about the weather to fill the awkward silence between two people, and nothing else. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Ha ha. Nothing like a bit of equality to brighten the demeanor.

  • R S says:

    Heatwaves and possible load shedding. All the UK needs is our levels of crime and it’ll feel just like home.

  • Gordon Laing says:

    Whilst learning to cope with the heat i.e. “toughen up” is fun to say the deeper message of the heatwave is not that “there’s nothing you can do about it” but that the critical need is to address the causes of climate change or else things are only going to get hotter / wetter more frequently and we South Africans are certainly going to feel the effects of that – think KZN floods, Day Zero in Cape Town and now the Eastern Cape happening on a regular basis.

    • Sydney Kaye says:

      Has it crossed your mind that there is nothing we can do about it. Civilisations have been obliverated in the past by climate. It is more than possible that even with the advances in technology and science our defenses will be puny against nature.

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