Smelling a rat or worse
As newlyweds, my brother and sisterin-law did some heavy breathing for all the wrong reasons.
They lived in the Vaal Triangle, Gauteng, often dubbed the Vuil (Dirty) Triangle.
My brother, then an engineer in training, worked at the Iscor plant, often blamed for the heavy air pollution.
An asthma sufferer, my sister-in-law was not a happy homemaker for the duration of their stay in Vanderbijlpark.
Neighbouring industrial town, Sasolburg, added its own flair to the atmospheric cocktail of bad smelling air.
When the wind blew in the wrong direction, it carried the smell of sulphur, making you feel as if you were entering the gates of hell.
The newlyweds moved to the upper end of Gauteng, which became increasingly capped by yellow tinged skies, especially during winter, when there was no wind.
It was particularly noticeable over the high-rise buildings of the city centre when you drove from the northern suburbs, where we were fortunate enough to stay.
Escaping from Gauteng some 13 years ago, settling in Mossel Bay, the clean air was truly a blessing to me.
The worst “air pollution” constitutes when red bait washes up at the Point or if you happen to cross Church Street when a truckload of fish from the harbour passes by.
Gladly, whether you like the wind or not, should the air not be fresh, a little help from mother nature is always at hand.
Friends visiting from up north, always comment that “the air smells like lavender” around Mossel Bay, giving me a new appreciation for fynbos and other sweet smelling natural vegetation.
In recent years, travelling back to Jo'burg by air to visit, the yellowish brown smog seemed more and more like a toxic impenetrable dome covering the metropolis.
As the plane prepares for landing, I instinctively feel like holding my breath as we dip into the smog before hitting the landing strip. It therefore came as no surprise this week, when the news broke revealing the world’s largest NO2 air pollution hotspots across six continents, indicating that Mpumalanga is topping the chart.
Mpumalanga is home to a cluster of twelve coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of over 32 gigawatts, owned and operated by Eskom. According to Greenpeace Africa, this confirms that South Africa has the most polluting cluster of coal-fired power stations in the world. Satellite data further points to the alarming fact that Johannesburg and Pretoria are also highly affected by extreme NO2 pollution levels blowing across from Mpumalanga and into both cities, due to close proximity and regular east winds. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is a dangerous pollutant and also contributes to the formation of PM2.5 and ozone, two of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.
It's a sad, or worse, sickly state of affairs. Long gone are the days of saying "stop and smell the roses".
A simple breath of fresh air, soon, will be luxury enough.
As the plane prepares for landing, I instinctively feel like holding my breath as we dip into the smog before hitting the landing strip.