This has been quite a year. Like every other year, there have been highs and lows, but somehow the lows in the world at large have felt quite a lot lower than usual, but there have been good personal highs too.
At long last, the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted gears to become more like an ordinary disease rather than a crisis. South Africa ended its 'state of disaster' on 4 April, and all lockdown levels were ended on 22 June. It was disturbing to hear of politically-connected people profiteering from Covid-related contracts when we have lost friends and family members to this dreadful pandemic. Debbie and I feel very fortunate to have avoided contracting the disease. I have to say it has been lovely to start seeing people face-to-face again. I even somewhat tentatively, attended two conferences held locally - one on thermodynamics held at Mintek in September) and one on platinum group metals (held at Sun City in November). Debbie came with me to Sun City and it was nice to spend two nights away in different surroundings.
The power crisis in South Africa has been worse than ever this year, with rotating power outages of a few hours a day being experienced on the majority of days this year. Even the writing of this letter began using battery-backup lights. I can remember the ferro-alloy industry warning Eskom as far back as 2004 that the country was on course to exhaust its power reserves within a few years. Unfortunately, our government has failed to maintain existing infrastructure and to create suitable conditions for investment in new capacity. There is no doubt that South Africa is in a much better place than it was under the old apartheid regime, but it is disappointing to see the lack of capabilities and moral legitimacy of the current government, leading to disturbingly high levels of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. However, it seems that our country is not alone, with many leading countries having spectacularly appalling governance and leadership. I think that Plato's suggestion of 'philosopher kings' was an excellent one, where countries should be ruled by the most capable people who do not actually want the position of prominence. I long to see servant leaders rather than power-hungry politicians. We are, of course, horrified by the Ukraine-Russia war and the loss of life, destruction, and political and economic instability it has unleashed on the world. We think often of the friends we have made in that part of the world, and hope that conditions improve soon.
I have felt very fortunate to have had plenty of local and international consulting work come my way, involving some really interesting projects in platinum group metals smelting, autocatalyst recycling, nickel laterite smelting, and the use of hydrogen in the steel industry, amongst others.
Working from home suits me very well, and has offered the flexibility to build in routines that work well for us. Debbie and I walk together almost every day (for the past two years), and have a variety of routes (within a few minutes' car drive) that take us along river paths, through a small forest, along tree-lined suburban roads, or meander through the countryside fields where the horses seem to outnumber the people. Debbie intentionally finds something pretty or interesting to photograph on each walk, and this keeps us alert to the beauty around us. It has been a good discipline to walk in all kinds of weather - hot and sunny, cold and wintry - even pouring rain has not dissuaded us.
I have enjoyed running very much this past year, most of the time with our border collie, Lexi. There is no doubt that running at least 5 km every day has made me a better runner. My main focus has been on parkrun, where I completed my 100th different parkrun venue (in Clarens) in November, having run more than 360 parkruns in total. I also competed in cross-country, masters track athletics (400m and 5000m in the Central Gauteng regional championships as well as the national championships), and ran the Joburg 10k City Run in September. My running highlight was undoubtedly winning a gold medal in the Harrismith Mountain Race for first place in the grandmaster (60+) age category.
On the family front, we are fortunate to have David and Vou living nearby to us in Bryanston, so we get to do things with Ben (6) and Nick (3) quite often. They are bright, active, busy, and quite lovely to spend time with.
The big family news of the year is that Sarah is expecting a baby in February 2023, so there have been a few visits to Fish Hoek (Cape Town) to see her and Stephan. Debbie put in a lot of work arranging a baby shower in November for Sarah at David and Vou's house, and Sarah flew up from Cape Town for the occasion. It was lovely to get together with friends, some of whom were part of a toddler's group when our children were small, and some of those little girls are now new mothers themselves. While Sarah was in Johannesburg, she completed her 50th parkrun, and it was lovely to be with her on that occasion (as we were with Stephan when he did his 50th parkrun in June in Fish Hoek).
We have fitted in a few short holidays during the year. In January, we spent a few days with the extended family (including my Mom, and my sister and her family) at Thendele in the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg mountains, and I had a memorably lovely 13km trail run along the gorge trail with David. David and I took Benjamin on quite an advanced long hike up the Mudslide and down the Crack, and were very impressed with how well Ben managed - he even ran the last couple of kilometres. We had a brief camping trip to Mountain Sanctuary Park in October where we had a few lovely walks but that trip came to a premature end when our tent was blown down in a severe storm that forced a hurried wet and bedraggled departure. Debbie and I spent a couple of nights in Clarens in November where we celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary exploring the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Our travels for the year were mostly focused on Cape Town, where we visited Sarah and Stephan in June, and Debbie visited again in September, with Sarah visiting us in Johannesburg in July and November.
We finished off the year with a lovely Christmas lunch at David and Vou's house. The whole family was there except Sarah and Stephan, but we look forward to seeing them again soon in Cape Town.
We are looking forward to what the coming year holds for us, and hope that it will be a wonderful year for all of you as well.
Rodney and Debbie