The state of disaster was quietly renewed for another month this week. There had been widespread expectations (maybe just hope) that it would be lifted entirely. Instead it’s been kicked like a can down the road to be dealt with at a later stage – on Good Friday, ironically.
Apparently, in our 24th month of lockdown and minimal deaths, it’s because the government is worried about how it will control the crisis afterwards. The government likes control – or at least the fantasy of being in control.
Lockdown was an Orwellian wet dream: Bheki Cele’s cops were great at stopping illicit booze and turning puffing blue rinsed grannies into forecourt hustlers, but not so good at stopping GBV behind closed doors. They were worse than useless when it came to open insurrection 15 months later.
As for Ebrahim Patel’s foray into fashion; banning cropped tops and open toed sandals, the less said the better. The regulations weren’t uniform; as always in this country, some were more equal than others, like the taxi bosses who got a free pass from Minister Fokop.
But there were also great moments in the first blush of lockdown. There was a real sense of nationhood. People did care. Springbok captain Siya Kolisi proved why he is the nation’s favourite human being, going back to his roots and making a real difference to the desperate while Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Suleiman showed just why he is the true gift that keeps on giving whether food parcels or boreholes for parched communities. The so-called WMC and the Stellenbosch Mafia dug deep with personal donations to the Solidarity Fund, while the RET-istas couldn’t even manage to scrounge up a bounced cheque between them.
Cyril Ramaphosa rose to the moment with his so-called ‘family meetings’ – even if he cannily dodged the media for months. After everyone and their dog moaned in typical South African style that he didn’t have a vaccine policy – or enough in stock – we now have so much that we will have to destroy it by July.
That’s because the howling mob who wanted action, got action. Then, sitting on the toilet doing their research WhatsApping each other, decided that slugging sheep dip was a better bet than the cumulative efforts of the world’s finest vaccinologists working against the clock. It’s the same WhatsApp group who crucified Manto Tshabalala-Msimang for her Virodene, garlic and sweet-potatoes almost 20 years ago.
The irony of our great constitution is that arseholes and angels have the same rights, which is why despite big business making vaccination passports mandatory government hasn’t. If you ever needed proof that vaccines do work, look only to medical aid funds and life insurers. Neither are the most altruistic of institutions, now they’re charging higher premiums for the unjabbed.
If the government’s worrying about control, it’s easy: forget about vaccines mandates, just institute vaccine passports. Open up the economy; let the tourist Rands flow and let the stadiums fill up – but just don’t let the Tim Noakeses of the world anywhere near the rest of us.
That way we all win.
Originally published in the Saturday Star on 19 March 2022.