Oct 06, 2022
Share this article

While Jews remembered the story of the Exodus from Egypt, South Africa was experiencing a real-life plague of locusts marking the worst infestation it had suffered in decades with local media reporting the swarms as appearing “in Biblical proportions”.

Experts classify swarms as a “Plague” 

The outbreak of brown locusts is now affecting the provinces of the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape.

“The current outbreak is classified as a plague,” entomologist and locust expert Dr. Roger Price told the media. “We have small outbreaks very often in the Karoo, but big outbreaks only occur about once per decade. Previous plagues have been bigger in extent, such as the 1985-1986 outbreak as well as the outbreak in the early 1970s. Uncontrolled plagues during the 1920s and 1930s used to infest the entire southern African region, right the way up to the Zambezi River,” he said.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this was the worst invasion in 70 years.  

Solitary, non-swarming brown locusts are always present in the region and some eggs hatch with very little rainfall. The female locusts lay eggs in dry soil and the eggs can cope with a lack of water. Eggs can remain in the soil for at least one to two years in a dormant state, and maybe longer. The female locusts tend to lay their eggs in the same area year after year, creating a build-up of eggs in one area over the non-outbreak years. When rains do fall, the accumulated eggs all hatch. Due to the build-up of eggs, an exceptionally large number of locusts emerge and begin developing into the gregarious phase which will form the locust swarms.

The infestation began in September, getting progressively worse over the winter, exacerbated by heavy rains that came after a decade-long drought. The government is engaging in a program of spraying but this is being hampered by pandemic supply chain shortages. 

Swarms are often tens of square kilometers in size and a swarm of just one square kilometer eats the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Swarms also can travel 93 miles a day making efforts to control an outbreak even more difficult.

Series of Biblical plagues

This wave very much resembles the Biblical plague in this respect, coming as part of a wave of catastrophes that left the land of Egypt bereft of any food. This week is, of course, the holiday of Passover celebrating God’s miraculous redeeming of the Jews from Egypt via miracles that included a plague of locusts.

This current incarnation very much resembles the Biblical plague, coming as part of a wave of catastrophes that left the land of Egypt bereft of any food.

Locusts invaded all the land of Egypt and settled within all the territory of Egypt in a thick mass; never before had there been so many, nor will there ever be so many again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Exodus 10:14-15 

According to Jewish tradition and based on a verse in Micah, the ten-plagues will reappear before the Messiah. 

I will show him wondrous deeds As in the days when You sallied forth from the land of Egypt. Micah 7:15

Jewish sources predict that all of the plagues will reappear in the final Redemption but in even more powerful forms. It is written in Midrash Tanchuma, homiletic teachings collected around the fifth century, that “just as God struck the Egyptians with 10 plagues, so too He will strike the enemies of the Jewish people at the time of the Redemption.”

This concept was explained by Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, a 13th-century Spanish commentator, who wrote, “In Egypt, God used only part of His strength. When the final redemption comes, God will show much, much more of His power.”