It’s time Mr President, it’s time

Norman McFarlane
An azure sea laps a deserted beach, the expanse of golden sand inviting sunbathers, umbrellas, picnic baskets, children cavorting in the hot sun.

In the distance at the waters edge, a lone runner appears, his rhythmic stride leaving footprints in the sand, dampened by the wavelets breaking on the beach and then receding.

A policeman appears and moves toward the runner, who, seeing his pursuer, picks up his pace.

The music accompanying the video clip, measured until now, increases in tempo as the runner lengthens his stride: the chase is on.

The policeman yells at the runner, waves at him, exhorting him to stop, but the runner effortlessly lengthens his stride and easily outruns his by now flagging pursuer.

The video clip doing the rounds on social media, captures the zeitgeist of the lockdown, almost seven weeks in, with no apparent end in sight.

When you addressed the nation on March 23, President Ramaphosa, and announced the 21-day lockdown to flatten the curve (how easily that phrase now rolls of the tongue), most, if not all South Africans, responded to the thuma mina moment willingly.

For the first time in a long while, perhaps since that drop kick by Joel Stransky arced over the posts at Ellis Park and won us the 1995 Rugby World Cup, we truly stood together as a nation.

We settled in for the long haul because it wasn’t really that long, only three weeks, and who can’t stay at home for three weeks, to make sure that when the infection rate really starts to climb, our healthcare infrastructure will be able to cope, and tend to the many who would require care? “It’s cool, we got this,” many of us said.

Yes, even back then, there were those who didn’t obey the regulations, but most of us did, most of the time.

We watched with interest every briefing on television, by every minster, explaining the state of disaster regulations, which spelled out what we could and couldn’t do, what we could and couldn’t buy,  where and when we could and couldn’t go.

As we listened to the likes of Police Minister Bheki Cele warning us with gleeful, gloating, triumphalism of dire consequences, if we broke the rules, the first frisson of doubt began to assail us.

Two weeks into the lockdown, you dropped the second bombshell – lockdown was to be extend by a further two weeks, to end April. It came as a shock, but again, most people accepted the need for the extension.

As we contemplated some of the really absurd, counter-intuitive regulations, we hoped that they were an oversight, soon to be revised, but that was not to be.
The wine industry had to fight tooth and nail to get the ridiculous – and potentially catastrophic – suspension of harvest set aside, and the unjustifiable ban on wine exports took even longer, only being set aside when level 4 lockdown came into effect on Friday May 1.

But it is the dawning realisation that decisions are being made that affect us all, by people whose motives appear less than pure, that is tarnishing our willingness to comply, as the realisation dawns that lockdown is likely to endure for months before a semblance of normality returns.

The about face on the tobacco issue, the halting, unbelievably flimsy justification by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and your subsequent hasty yet unconvincing attempt at damage control, call into question who is actually making the decisions that so dramatically affect every aspect of our lives.

The ludicrous suggestion that  allowing unfettered e-commerce is somehow or other “unfair” to other retailers is easily resolved by allowing all retailers who can currently trade, to sell whatever they have in stock, including alcohol (with appropriate limits) and tobacco, which would help to fill the R285 billion rand hole in revenue collections that SARS Commissioner, Edward Kieswetter, spoke of recently. 

While people who live in the leafy suburbs are better equipped to ride out the economic impact of the lockdown, it is our neighbours in disadvantaged areas – many of them eking out an uncertain existence prior to the pandemic – who have endured the battering ram of hunger and privation.

That you express surprise at the “fault-lines this pandemic has exposed in our society” is at best, disingenuous.

You’ve always known about them – hunger, unemployment, inequality, poverty – and that you and your colleagues sat on your hands while your predecessor’s plundering of the public purse ensured that we would be woefully ill-prepared economically to deal with this pandemic, will be an enduring indictment of your wilful inaction.

It is also the inequity of application of the regulations that galls.

Why is it that Communication Minister, Stella Ndabeni Abrahams, who does know better, gets a R1 000 admission of guilt fine for breaking lockdown regulations, while a pensioner in Somerset West gets a R2 500 fine for travelling to the chemist to fill a chronic medication script which he cannot produce, because it is in electronic form on his chemist’s computer?

Why is a couple arrested for stepping onto the beach for a few seconds to retrieve their infant daughter who has unwittingly strayed?

As the ruinous societal consequences of this brutally hard lockdown worsen, as more businesses close, as more people lose their jobs, as more people face starvation, we shall all become that defiant runner on the beach.