When it rains in South Africa...

South Africans have this interesting fascination with rain (which, understandably, has a lot to do with the greater part of the country being a semi-desert, arid place). And for the people who are directly dependent on the rainfall and seasons, like my farming family, rain is always an otherworldly blessing. 

It’s like experiencing a miracle – not very different to celebrating a wedding or welcoming a newborn into the family.

During the recent December break, when the rains finally started to come down after what has been one of the driest years I've seen in my life, Christmas was an even more special occasion.

Thunder had been threatening since Christmas Day, and when large, loud drops descended the day after, everybody in the house instinctively grabbed a chair and went to sit on the stoep in a straight line facing the mountain ahead – just looking at the rain.  

We didn’t communicate, apart from the occasional eyebrow raise my dad gave every time it came down hard. And when the curtain of rain passed, everyone jumped in the bakkie to go and see if the rivers were flowing.

Photo: Karin Swart

In Cradock, where we live, the Great Fish River flows through the town, and a rise in river levels is headline news.

When the river would come down, we all used to go to its banks to witness the power of the flowing water, and to listen to the frightening sound of the gushing water.

It’s rained in Cradock again now. And I’ve been getting WhatsApp updates from the family group since dawn. They’re at the riverside again.

WATCH: Northern Cape, Free State, Eastern Cape flood after heavy rain

But it seems we aren’t so unique in our fascination with the river and the rain.

A photo on Facebook also show a bunch of Kalahari folk camped out at the side of a flooding river. These campers are far from Cradock, in the Kalahari, and yet they share the same awe for water I grew up with.

Most of South Africa, in fact, shares in this love for the rain. And I think it might be because rain is like an equaliser.

We’re all equally dependant on it and we’re all equally powerless against it. But it brings us together. Remember with the floods in Gauteng late last year?

Photos of motorists forming a human lifeline, waist-deep in gushing water, still make my eyes water. And the story of that truck driver that braced the turbulent waters to save a woman who became trapped after her car was swept away still send shivers down my spine.

Fire has a similar equalising effect. While my father is rejoicing in the rain, firefighters in the Western Cape are fighting relentlessly to save people’s lives and homes. Like the truck driver in the rain, they’re risking their lives to save people they’ve never met in their lives (and perhaps even to fight fires that have been deliberately started).

Luckily the fires, like the rain, bring new life to the unique vegetation found in the Western Cape floral kingdom. 

Either way, this is what it means to live in South Africa.

It’s risky business living here. The elements are against you. But boy, when it rains in South Africa… that’s something to experience. 

What to read next on Traveller24

WATCH: Northern Cape, Free State, Eastern Cape flood after heavy rain

Weather Update: Central SA to brace for heavy rainfall

PICS: Guests evacuated, structures burnt as Western Cape fires rage on

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