At the start of the pandemic, when it was continents away, South Africans were watching from a distance with hilarious names being created for the Coronavirus by those in the digital space. Humour is a coping mechanism for South Africans – they hide their fears and anxieties and create atmospheres that do not anchor us in turmoil.
Then when the Department of Health shared on 5 March that South Africa had its first confirmed case of a person who is infected with the corona virus, we started to think about the common phrase in international relations that “the personal is international.” There’s no way to distract ourselves from how alarming it is when the rate of people who have been confirmed to be infected with the virus has rapidly risen to 1,187 by the 29 March.
There has been constant communication from media, government and the health sector, about the most effective ways to reduce the chances of infection such as washing our hands as frequently as possible, sanitising and social distancing to reduce transmissions. There has been some co-operation between these measures that were communicated by the government and health practitioners and the acts practiced by citizens. We have images of people standing far apart from each other in social spaces like grocery shops, people taking turns when they are to make use of essential services, and there are fewer people on the streets and taxi ranks.
[Source: City of Johannesburg twitter account]
This is an invitation to the reader to think with me in trying to gain a holistic understanding that medical issues are social, political and historical in South Africa. Last month President Cyril Ramaphosa made an announcement that there would be lockdown for three weeks commencing on 27 March, which was necessary to reduce infections and transmissions. In the duration of this lockdown only essential services are being provided and only people who work for those essential services are going go to work. Among other measure, the president has enlisted the assistance of the military to help enforce the lockdown.
I had a sense of hope that there would be no violence inflicted on citizens when in his address to the Ramaphosa said: “Walk amongst our people and defend them against this virus. You are required to do so in the most understanding way, in the most respectful way, in the most supportive way. The people of our country will… be looking upon you as the defenders of our nation and you will need to restore trust and confidence… Many of our people are fearful, they are doubtful, they are concerned. They are concerned about the virus, they are concerned about their livelihoods… they will be looking up to you to give them confidence that everything will be alright. They will be looking upon you not as a force of might but as a force of kindness, as a force that is going to give them that assurance that, one they will not get the virus and two that you will be looking after them… I send you to go support our people…”
My optimism also came from the memory of soldiers in the streets of Zimbabwe when they removed then President Robert Mugabe from office. Although the soldiers were in uniform, were carrying weapons and were in military vehicles, in many pictures that made it to the media were not of violent soldiers, but rather peaceful demeanours were citizens were taking photos with them.
[Source: The Zimbabwean]
In less than a week of military presence in South Africa, we have been alerted, through news reports, that soldiers and police officers were using rubber bullets on people who were on their way to buy groceries at a supermarket in Yeoville, Johannesburg on 28 March. Numerous people get their salaries around these dates and considering that people were at a grocery store, which is an essential service, the act of firing at them becomes unwarranted.
A number of people (particularly online) were concerned by the volume of people who were travelling, especially, from provinces with decent medical care to less developed provinces. As much as the concern is valid, if we consider things like water scarcity and lack of adequate medical services in less developed provinces, the legacy of special planning does not allow many people to raise their children where they live. And maybe it is almost instinctive to want to go home and be with your children in a time of national crisis.
This pandemic has also disrupted the functions of the everyday life such as the practicing religion. Numerous people are familiar with the weekly vision of seeing women in their church regalia in the communal practice of praise and worship. This kind of interruption may result in a psychological strain because these are gatherings that offer spiritual revival. The aftermath of this necessary but sudden interruption might also have devastating effects on those of us who will not go to therapy in the upcoming weeks.
[Source: Masonwabe Ntloko]