Covid-19 lockdown: SA is slaying it as a country of paradoxes

The age-old philosophical conundrum of whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest if there’s no one there to hear it took on a new meaning on Sunday. Uncle Cyril took to our TV screens to issue a stern uitkak for all those that think they’re COVID-19 proof and have been partying like it’s March 14 2020.

The problem was Eskom started load shedding in earnest five minutes beforehand, so a lot of people didn’t get to hear the president. They didn’t really need to, not if they had social media. As the millennials would say, it was lit on Monday morning.

A visitor to South Africa, not that we’re allowed any, would have thought the world had imploded. What had happened instead was that Ramaphosa had summarily prohibited all liquor sales without having the decency to call “last round” (and spark a round of panic buying and massive social proximity outside bottle stores), re-instituted curfews – and allowed taxis to run at 100 percent capacity.

It was that which slayed the netizens more than anything else. After all, for those still asphyxiating themselves on cheap over-priced black-market gaspers because of the continuing fatwa on legitimate cigarettes, you can still go to the casino and blow your social grant, but you can’t have a dop. You can’t see your family ostensibly because of social distancing, but you can travel in a 100 percent full taxi to get to work – albeit with the windows open, which means getting soaked in Sea Point or hypothermia on the Highveld.

We’ve gone from Kafka with Ebrahim Patel’s cropped shorts and open toed sandals to Schrodinger’s Cat. The cat, much beloved of the instant philosophers on the web, is locked in a box with a radioactive particle. You don’t know if it’s dead or alive until you actually open the box and observe it for yourself. Which begs the question: can the cat be dead at the same time it is alive?  It’s like seeing one of those industrial dumpsters at the side of the road with the injunction Empty When Full painted on the side.

How do we flatten the spread of the virus by banning booze, but stuffing taxis? How do we stop people smoking by stubbing out of the sale of legitimate cigarettes but allowing illegal sellers to flourish? How do we allow people to gamble with their lives by taking a punt with strangers at a casino, but not protect their mental health by allowing them to see their loved ones at home?

Perhaps the biggest paradox of all is why do we get so surprised? South Africa is the text book definition of a paradox: we’ve been told for more than 10 years to help Eskom by using less power, but paying more. We shut the country down to protect lives and then the moment we re-open the economy to save livelihoods, load-shedding kicks in with a vengeance.

So, if Ramaphosa bans booze but Patel doesn’t stop supermarkets from selling yeast, pineapples and sugar will people still brew their own and get bladdered?

Originally published on 18 July 2020 in the Saturday Star