In Britain, there’s an initiative that takes place every night. The locals apparently clap outside their homes in symbolic gratitude for the heroic efforts of the country’s National Health Service (NHS).
One of the most fervent clappers, at least immediately following his recovery from COVID-19, has been British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. But it has been an act of uncommon hypocrisy not least because the two nurses who attended to Johnson in his hours of direst need wouldn’t have been allowed at his bedside had Brexit actually already taken place – because they’re both migrant workers.
There’s also the small issue of the woeful underfunding of the NHS, which pre COVID-19 the ruling Conservative Party in the UK was hell bent on cutting even further. Clapping for the heroes really is an empty gesture because many of the people actually doing so are the same ones who gave Johnson his electoral victory in December – the biggest landslide since Maggie Thatcher swept back to power in 1987.
Virtue signalling though, is hypocrisy’s age-old handmaiden and social media has been a godsend for virtue-signaller. We’ve all been infected by the pandemic; continually overlaying our profile pictures with the outrage du jour; be it our dying planet, the over-dyed president of the US or the death grip of the lockdown regulations.
Ultimately it all amounts to the same – nothing. South Africa tried to adopt its own version of clapping for heroes: a discreet and genteel blowing of vuvuzelas and banging of pots and pans every night at 7 that is fast fading – on Week 11 of the Lockdown – in parts of Joburg’s northern suburbs and Cape Town’s peninsula.
In Newlands, Cape Town, though someone was so enthused by this empty exercise that they saw everyone’s vuvuzelas and pots and pans and then trumped them with a ship’s horn every night at 8.
“Dear Newlands Community,” explained Christina Teichmann, “we received a complaint from a neighbour regarding the ship’s horn that we blow every night at 8pm to salute the health workers… We had the impression that it helps to keep our spirit high. However, we take the complaint seriously and would like to get your views on the matter.”
@SeanDLloyd took her at her word: “A f@#$ing ship horn? Are you all the way jas to do this every night?” he asked.
Many would agree. It’s far easier to pin lapel badges on their jackets (or social media avatars) or pull on a slogan-ed T-shirt than actually do something tangible. Be the change you want to see; help out where you can, donate to organisations like Gift of the givers or the Angel Network, feeding the most desperate.
You don’t have to tell anyone about it. Most of all, keep your distance, wash your hands and wear your mask.
And, if you’re in Newlands, let the essential workers about to go on night shift grab that hour’s extra sleep without waking up with their hearts in their throats thinking a ship just docked next door.
Originally published on 30 May 2020 in the Saturday Star