The bigness of the challenge

Steve is 52 years old and lives in Oranjezicht, Cape Town. Kathrin is 38 years old, lives in Victorskloof, Hout Bay with her husband and three children.

What is your profession and what work do you do? I’m professionally an engineer, I have a degree in chemical engineering, also a masters in energy studies. I work on an interface between energy, poverty and development in designing tools and doing projects that present policy ideas. Also, I work on trying to get hold of the various national and international incentives to make things happen – of course, all of this has a climate spin-off – that’s how I’ve come to know Michael.

Where were you trained? In Cape Town, I was trained. I did all my formal education in Cape Town. Of course I’ve learned a whole lot of things elsewhere, as well…

Is there something you would like to learn? Well, I’m just on the brink of learning about how addiction works and how it has impacts on my life. There’s a saying in English which goes: “If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.” I have to start defining what “properly” is and what “excessive” is. I know I’m going to go into a struggle about what is normative in society, what is ethical behaviour – and I know I’ve always run away from this. I’ve been socially disintegrated because of this. I don’t comfortably fit into social normative. I suppose I’d like to learn to live increasingly abundantly. I reflected on our first meeting, you and Michael, you are also socially disintegrated – just in that you are in a place that has high fences, your neighbours are far away, there isn’t much of a community. By being here you have disintegrated socially in terms of your immediate community.

What do you do in your free time? Because I’m not bound by any kind of time frame, and because I don’t have a job where I’m expected to be there from one time to another time, I’m not hooked into systems which demand that time is “on work” or “off work” – it’s all just time. And I use it how I’d like to use it. I’m lucky enough to set my own agenda. I don’t see time as being my energy that needs to be stored, or used extremely well, it’s something that can be given away, or passed on. I watch a bit of sport, also, I’m very lucky to have a place which I have built about three or four hours outside of Cape Town, which I can just hang onto. And then there are some regular trips to the Karoo.

Do you have a hero, a mentor or somebody you admire? I’ve had a number of heroes at different stages of my life. When I was young, I had sporting heroes. I’ve been fascinated, of course, by some of the great statesmen and political leaders, who emerged from the struggle process or came out of prison. Of course, Mandela is high up there, but also Walter Sisulu and others of that brigade. You know, one of them is a Malian guy, called Youba Sokona, who is Coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) based in the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Youba fascinates me, because he says it the way it is and he always is developing fresh arguments backed up with a whole bunch of stuff, and he’s never scared to put it out there, whatever the forum.

Are you currently saving money for something? No, although, not quite true, I’m trying to pull together some money for my daughter’s trip.

Do you have a dream that cannot be bought by money? Nothing really specific – I suppose this is the nature of how I’ve been living for a while – I’m not sort of looking ahead. Living more abundantly, but that doesn’t mean consuming more.

What do you think you will be doing in 10 years? I have no idea – if I’m still alive in 10 years time, that in it’s self would be interesting. I’ve never lived for longevity. But, if in 10 years time, I can be doing the same things as I’m doing now, I’d be very satisfied with that, as an outcome. I’d like to see my children grow up to be adults, properly.

Where will you be when you are old? I mean, I don’t know if I’m going to get very old. I’m not thinking about retirement – I’m thinking about just living, you know. I’ve got no idea – I do want to have a sense of being able to smile to myself and say, you know: that was a life well lived.

What is your favourite food? Right now, I’m really enjoying making stews, quite spicy stews, either with chicken or mutton.

Do you have a favorite book? No, I don’t think so, I’ve got a lot of books I really enjoyed. I really enjoyed Hermann Hesse, for example. I haven’t read a lot recently.

Do you have a favorite movie? I’ve enjoyed a few of the films about fathers and sons, like “A river runs through it”.

What music is your favorite? I quite like some of that trancey music; rock’n’roll I like a lot. Particularly some of the music of the seventies: The Doors, Little Feet, those kind of bands.

And what TV-show? Dr. House, I’ve enjoyed that. I quite like crime movies. I like a good investigation with twists in it. I‘ve got into one of the South African soapies, Isidingo.

What do you like about South Africa? Well, I like the space, we’ve got spaces in this country where for hundreds of square kilometers there’s less than two people a kilometer. Unspoiled parts of the country; you can walk in the hills and mountains of the Karoo and be pretty sure no one’s ever walked there before, and if they have, it was probably hundreds of years ago. I like the people; we’re an edgy bunch. There’s lots of little communities which I find difficult to see how they are going to live together, forever. I like the mix, it’s absolute chaos here, but it’s kind of creative chaos. We’re not dealing with small things; we’re dealing with big things. I like the bigness of the challenge; it’s not about tweaking percentage points. It’s really a melting pot, and it’s either going to succeed fantastically well or go down in flames, fantastically well. Maybe there’s something in between.

What don’t you like about South Africa? I don’t like the current bunch of leadership where I feel that they are not in it for the people as much as they are for themselves. I miss the visionaries who are putting things out there. In terms of political leadership, I’m disappointed; I’d hoped we would have got something better out of the struggle.

What are your hopes for South Africa? I hope that more and more particularly young people grow up to feel that this is their place and they don’t have to struggle from day to day to be thinking how they’ll get their next meal. That they will start developing longer-term views of how they can enjoy this very beautiful space. I hope that we can repeal this current cleptocracy.

Is there anything you would like to say to our Swiss friends and families? It’s lovely to have you and your family here. I mean if I were to think about two countries more different, Switzerland and South Africa would be quite a good example. I think Switzerland is very safe, secure; it’s spent it’s life securing itself, between wars; and times when the whole world has been shaken up. And that kind of stability is so different from what we have here. I mean here we have potential; explosion of revolutionary kinds of things, and every now and again you get a glimpse of it.

Thanks, Steve.

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