President: 2 – South Africa: 0. Cometh the hour, cometh the man says the old proverb and Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa has certainly proved that with a second master class in statesmanship in just over a week.
He closed down the country in clear and unequivocal terms, along with a real roadmap to recovery – premised on two key pillars, the same ones he hammered on Sunday before last; maintain social distancing and keep safe.
And what did South Africa do?
We panicked, big time. Shopping was impossible, even though, he’d said there was no need, that food outlets and pharmacies, petrol stations and cell phone towers and yes, even media, both Jurassic and digital would all remain open.
In the melee, we probably ramped up the rate of infection 10-fold, as people queued cheek by jowl in the hypermarkets; segueing from last week’s toilet paper mania to fresh meat and filter coffee. And this was Tuesday this week, three entire shopping days before the lockdown – which a huge part of our population obviously thinks is going to be like a real-life edition of Survivor.
There’s a bizarre dissonance between what people are told is going on and what they actually think.
It’s difficult to work out if people have a death wish or actually really believe that the Coronavirus would only become infectious after midnight on Thursday. There’s no point in social isolation if you’re going to jostle in behind each other for the next pack of boerewors or enough brandy and coke to last you till the end of the days.
It’s matched perhaps only by people plaintively asking if they can still go for a run after they’re placed on lockdown – or the Capetonian who blustered that his human rights were being infringed when he learnt the ban extended to swimming in the sea.
Spare a thought for the many South Africans who are homeless and will effectively have to be interned for the duration. Or the hundreds of thousands of others sharing tiny homes and dependent on piece jobs that have just vaporised for the next three weeks.
It’ll be a different story if this virus takes hold as it has in Italy. The footage of overcrowded wards with patients dry drowning as their lungs congest has been harrowing. The only light relief has been the posting of footage incensed Italian mayors filmed ranting at their residents threatening to use flamethrowers to get them back into their homes or actually walking the streets and almost getting stuck into residents as volubly and as expressively as only Italians can.
They’re not doing it because that’s their schtick, they’re doing it because they are sick to death of all the body bags.
For South Africa it’s still a bit of a laughing matter for now, at least though finally the joke’s not on us, thank goodness.
As the netizens of the Twitterverse pondered this week, can you imagine trying to deal with Covid Onety-Nine with the giggling Nkandla Crooner? Then again, he’d probably have looted the hell out of that too.
Originally published on 28 March 2020 in the Saturday Star