Panic-buying just wipe privilege

22 March 2020

Vusi Nzapheza
  • Straight & Two Beers

    Toilet paper stockpiles absurd

    It’s a phenomenon we last witnessed just before the first democratic elections in 1994. Scores of white people stockpiled essential items in anticipation of post-election chaos that never materialised.

    In the wake of the global devastation wrought by Cov­id-19, some South Africans, and indeed people in Europe, Australia and the US, are once again panic-buying.

    No sooner had President Cyril Ramaphosa announced extraordinary measures to contain the spread of the coro­navirus than the middle class­es emptied the shelves of some essential items such as canned food, bags of flour, porridge and toilet paper.

    Once again, the fear of the unknown has forced people to be selfish.

    Images on television screens of towns and cities under lock­down are certainly behind their fears. Instead of solidar­ity with their fellow human beings who cannot afford to buy in bulk, their rationale is every man for himself.

    The media is awash with coronavirus stories and at the time of writing there were over 200 confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa.

    Precautionary measures such as the premature closure of schools for a month and the cancellation of Easter pilgrim­age have sparked panic even as the government insist­ed it has the situation under control.

    Clearly, the hoarders have little faith in our leaders.

    This column was written in the comfort of my study as I heed the call to self-isolate.

    Self-isolation is a no-brain­er for me since all I need to telework is the internet and a phone.

    My occasional distraction is the presence of the fridge owners who have been given a month-long vacation. Howev­er, these bundles of joy know I brook no nonsense when I’m locked in my study.

    For the life of me, I have not stockpiled any essential items because I realise that doing so will deprive those without the means to stockpile of the items they need during these unu­sual times.

    However, I have ensured that my bar is fully stocked since pubs and shebeens have been instructed to close at 6pm. Besides, who needs to go to a pub with those hap­py chaps ready to shake your hands at the drop of a hat?

    The rows of empty shelves where the toilet paper used to be set me thinking.

    If everyone buys only what they need, there will be no shortages. According to ex­perts, if some people start pan­ic-buying, the strategy will be for you to follow suit.

    But this does not explain how stockpiling toilet paper saves you from infection.

    Washing our hands and self-isolation will save us but wipe privilege offered by tools of toilet paper is not up there with the measures of contain­ing the pathogen.

    According to Steven Tay­lor, author of Psychology of Pandemics, our evolutionary aversion to things that disgust us heighten when people feel threatened with infection.

    “I think this is one reason they latched on to the toilet paper because it’s a means of avoiding disgust,” he told AFP.

    For those of you who missed the big toilet paper stockpile, remember that the good old newspaper or telephone direc­trory wipe just as fine.


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